Victoria’s independent school sector is very diverse and includes alternative, religious (non-Catholic), community and specialist schools.
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Independent schools take a very wide variety of approaches to teaching and learning, including of students with a disability or other additional needs. However, like all education providers, Victorian independent schools must comply with the requirements of the Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education and other anti-discrimination laws. This includes an obligation to adjust their educational programs to ensure that students with a disability can access learning on the same basis as those who do not have a disability.
There are a number of independent schools that provide alternative education and/or re-engagement programs for students with disabilities or complex needs, and those at risk of disengaging from school.
- Read more about education and your child’s rights.
- Read about school choices available across Victoria’s independent school sector.
The guidelines for how independent schools should meet the needs of students with disabilities is laid out in the Students with Disabilities Handbook, produced each year by Independent Schools Victoria (ISV). ISV also administers the Commonwealth and Victorian funding programs available to independent schools to help them support their students with disabilities.
“Not once has the school said, ‘I’m not sure if he could be accepted’. It was a round-table approach. They invited us in, they sat us down, said, ‘Right, okay. So you’re looking at getting a new school’. They talked to him. So the indicators that this was going to be a great place was that they were actually really engaging him to begin with…
They invited us to check them out – to consider past students comments about their experience at the school. So they invited us to scrutinise their approach as well. It felt much more even – I felt much more of a participant than an interviewee. And I think my son felt the effects of that as well, that welcoming approach.
They’ve been really clear about their boundaries. [They’ve said to me] ‘Hey, he hasn’t shown up for school, what’s the consequence going to be? Should we be easy on him because its early in the term?’ They’ve consulted with me before going ahead with the disciplinary approaches. And we’ve worked as a team already.
If I’ve wanted to create a meeting time to discuss anything, it’s been an open-door policy, just in a whole lot of ways. The biggest indicator that its changed for the better is that my son is bouncing out the door at 8 o’clock in the morning, saying, ‘Mum, can you write them a note because I think I’m late’. And he is enthusiastic and buzzing.” – Tania
Planning to meet your child’s needs
As in government schools, the key to effective adjustment of school programs to meet your child’s additional needs is regular planning; in independent schools, this mainly takes place through meetings – once per term or more often if needed – of your child’s Program Support Group (equivalent to a Student Support Group in government schools).
According to ISV’s Students with Disabilities Handbook, the Program Support Group aims to bring together those people most concerned for your child, to work together to support your child at school, share information, establish educational goals, plan your child’s educational program and supports (documenting these in your child’s Individual Education Plan) and make recommendations for any resources required to support these. The group should discuss educational and social goals for your child, monitor their progress, and regularly review and evaluate their plan and program. ISV recommends that schools keep detailed records of all meetings and decisions related to your child, including of Program Support Group meetings and any other communications or meetings relevant to your child.
ISV recommends that your child’s Program Support Group include: you as parent or carer; a ‘parent advocate’ (a support person to assist you, if you wish); the principal, your child’s class teacher (in primary school) or other staff member nominated as having responsibility for your child (in secondary school); support education staff (aides) who work with your child; your child if appropriate; and any other professionals needed.
ISV also suggests other professionals who could be helpful, such as: the school counsellor or welfare coordinator, your child’s previous teachers, staff responsible for curriculum development, or your child’s doctor, social worker or therapist. If you require an interpreter, including of Auslan, ISV says that the school should arrange for one to be present at the meetings.
Support and funding
The main funding for independent schools to support students with a disability comes from the Commonwealth government. It includes general funding, as well as supplementary funding provided under the Program for Students with Disabilities – the equivalent of the Victorian government-funded Program for Students with Disabilities in government schools. This Commonwealth funding is available for schools to support students who have a disability in one or more of seven eligibility categories which impacts of their access to education:
- Intellectual disability
- Severe language Disorder
- Severe Emotional Disorder
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Physical disability/Chronic health impairment
- Vision impairment
- Hearing impairment.
Schools can use the funding to support:
- Student support for support teachers, aides, counsellors and resources
- Therapy by a physiotherapist or occupational therapist
- Minor capital workers or equipment (totalling under $30,000).
The Victorian government also provides some funding for students in independent schools to access specialists, including speech pathologists and visiting teacher services for students who have physical disabilities, or health hearing or vision impairments.
Applications and appeals
Your child’s school is responsible for submitting all applications for funding, which must be made through ISV. The application process is the same whether your child is a mainstream or specialist setting. Schools must re-apply annually for Victorian government funding to access specialist services.
New applications for Commonwealth funding must be submitted in hard copy, generally prior to early September in the year before your child is to begin at a school. They must include evidence of your child’s eligibility, including information from previous schools (obtained with your permission) and from relevant professionals.
Every year, schools must request for ongoing funding for students who have previously been approved for Commonwealth-funded support. Students must also be re-assessed regularly; generally every four years, except in exceptional circumstances. ISV will inform your child’s school when a re-assessment is due. In a re-assessment year, further evidence is needed, for your child to receive ongoing funding.
Emergency applications can be made at any time, if your child has a serious health issue requiring additional support, or is changing schools during the year.
If the application for Commonwealth funding for your child is unsuccessful, your child’s principal can appeal – with your permission – by writing to the ISV Manager of Student Services, providing information not provided in the original application and any other grounds for reconsideration of the application.
- For more information, talk to your school principal or visit the Independent Schools Victoria website – search on ‘Students with Disabilities Handbook’.