These are the main school options for children with special needs.
All children have the right to go to a mainstream school. Some children might also have the choice of a specialist school. Or you might be able to choose ‘dual enrolment’, where a child spends part of the week in mainstream, and part in a specialist school. The previous page talks about how to go about choosing a school.
Your child has the right to attend the government school nearest your home – their ‘local neighbourhood school’. If you prefer a school further away, you can apply for a place there. Some families choose a school because there are other Aboriginal families or Koorie education workers there, or because the school might be more inclusive and respectful of Aboriginal culture.
Many families choose a mainstream school so that their child can be with siblings or other family members. Having family amongst the students and staff makes school easier for Janine’s younger son, and for her too.
“He’s got his own little group there. But [his big brother] checks on him every day, makes sure he’s alright. I think that would be the only contact they have. Going to school together, and he checks on him, and then they go home together… Luckily it’s more or less the family that is here, and they’ve all known my kids, and been in the school … It was really just a lot less stress.” – Janine
Some families choose a specialist school because of their child’s particular needs, and the programs the school offers. There are specialist schools for children who are Deaf and/or Blind, for children with physical disabilities, for children with autism and for children with an intellectual disability.
Your child might need to do tests, to see what kind of school will suit them. They might do an IQ test, which is to find out their understanding level. If your child scores above 50 in the IQ test, they may be able to attend a ‘special school’. If they score below 50, they may be able attend a ‘special development school’. Both schools offer learning, but the curriculum is different. Special development schools focus more on basic life skills and communication.
Stacey has seen a huge improvement in her young boy’s development since he started school:
“His fine motor skills are starting to develop a hell of a lot now. He can pick shapes up and see where they go and put them in the hole. Things like that. I didn’t think he’d ever do it … He gets on the bus and smiles, and says, ‘Goodbye!” He can even put his own seatbelt on. He’s talking more … he can actually tell me what he wants now, rather than screaming at me and just pointing.” – Stacey
Uncle Henry’s oldest girl has just started secondary school. She is picked up from home by the school bus, which has supported her attendance at school.
“We were going to send her to [the local mainstream school] but she didn’t like that. So we had to find a school she liked. I’ve tried the school there, and she tried it. And turned out she fell in love with it! She said she was nervous when she first went there … But after a week went past, she loves it. She wants to go all the time. She likes it. All the kids are up there are her friends and that. It’s good.” – Uncle Henry
Catholic and independent schools
You could also try a Catholic or independent school. Most are mainstream, but there are some specialist schools. There are also some mainstream schools that also have alternative programs. Some alternative schools or programs might really suit some children with special needs, like Aunty Faye’s boy.
“It’s for children that’s having difficulty learning – because there’s smaller groups, and two teachers in each class that can give them that personal attention. If I’d have listened to [the local secondary school] I think my son would have dropped out by now … [But instead] he’s going in leaps and bounds. I’m just so proud of him!”
– Aunty Faye
Alternative educational pathways programs
Towards the end of your child’s secondary schooling, the school might offer them an alternative educational pathways program. Not all programs are accessible for people with disabilities, but they can be good pathway to other options like TAFE. Some are based in schools, others in community services. They often have smaller classes, and are more student-focussed than most mainstream schools. There are some programs especially for Aboriginal young people.
Find out about alternative education pathways from the careers officer, Integration coordinator or Koorie educator at school. Or you can ask your local coop, local Council, Department of Human Services or Office of Aboriginal Affairs.