All families want their children to have the best schooling possible and for families of children with a disability, this may require a higher level of communication with the school about what the child's learning needs are.
- Regular meetings with your child's school can help to set them up for the best education
- Meetings can be held with you, your child, a teacher and a school leader, about once a term
- There are a number of topics to discuss in school meetings ranging from Individual Education Plans to assistive technology and funding
School meetings are a good way to keep that communication consistent and make sure that everything is in place to facilitate the student’s learning.
Chief Executive Officer of the national representative organisation Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA), Mary Sayers, has provided advice around questions you might have, so that you can go into school meetings with confidence and support your child to the best of your ability.
Q: Why would I need a school meeting for my child?
A: Each year of school represents a new year for students. It might mean a new school, new teacher, new subjects or new activities. It might also mean new challenges, new skills to develop and new people to meet.
One way to get a new year started off well is to bring together the most important people in a student’s educational experience – the student, the family or caregivers and the school. It’s an opportunity to discuss the year ahead, plan for success and agree how communication will facilitate that great start.
You might need to discuss the following:
- Development of Individual Education Plans, which covers curriculum physical and social inclusion
- Reasonable adjustments/accommodations and assistive technology
- Communication tools between the school, student and home
- Resourcing and funding
Q: Who should be at the meeting and why?
A: The student, family/caregivers, classroom teacher and a school leader who will support the classroom teacher with any resources, time or experience needed.
It’s important your child is there so that they feel like they have a say in their learning and the decisions which are made. This will help them engage in their education and help to make sure they are at the centre of all of the decisions.
Having all of the other people who will be supporting the student there makes sure that everyone is on the same page and all understand what support the student needs at school.
This might be easier in primary school, where your child is likely to only have one teacher, but for high school meetings it is unlikely that all your child’s teachers will be at the meeting, which is when it is most important to speak to a school leader who can communicate information from your meeting to all other staff who support your child.
Q: How often should we have these meetings?
A: How often meetings need to happen might vary from student to student.
Under the Disability Standards for Education, education providers must consult in order to understand the impact of a student's disability and to determine whether any adjustments or changes are needed to assist the student.
As a guide you might want to consider a formal meeting once a term (a minimum of four meetings a year) however, you should seek a meeting at any time if issues arise that can’t be addressed via other communication methods.
Q: Is there anything I should take to a meeting?
A: A plan – what do you want to get out of the meeting, what do you want to have agreed by the end of the meeting?
It’s important to have your own record of what is agreed in the meeting as it can be a valuable future reference. Therefore bring a notebook and pen or other recording method you agree on with the school, as you need to ask permission to record audio or video.
You may want to consider bringing another person to either take notes or support you. There may be formal individual advocacy support providers in your area that you can work with beforehand or who can join you at the meeting.
You should also bring any documentation or information relevant to the education or health of your child that the school doesn’t already have, or that needs to be updated.
Q: What questions should I think about asking at the meeting?
- How will this meeting be followed up and what are the agreed actions and responsibilities following this meeting?
- How do you think we can set up my child for success this year? What practical things do we need to put in place?
- Are there any roadblocks we need to discuss?
- What will the focus be on in the first few weeks?
- How can we work together to ensure my child is settling in?
Q: What are some important points for the first meeting?
- Introductions – the, student, family then school staff
- Share some feelings about how you feel about the coming year and expectations for the year
- Outline what do you hope from this meeting and what might be helpful for follow up
- What methods of communication will work best between you and the school
- You could consider preparing a list (or even photo page) of times when the student has been successful and how that came about. You could describe what challenges have they overcome with what kind of supports and how they have progressed
- Talking about educational support needs rather than focusing only on diagnosis can be helpful. Many schools may not have experience with understanding what a diagnosis means for a student’s experience at school. Because no two students are the same, while they may have students with the same diagnosis, all students have different needs and experiences
- If your child has therapies during school hours, how will they be supported to make up for missed school work
Q: What should be covered in subsequent meetings?
- Celebrate success and progress – by the student, but also by the school!
- Any experiences of difficulties that have arisen since the last meeting
- Next steps and planning for the future
Q: Why would we need to talk about funding?
A: Public schools are funded by the State and/or Federal government, including a loading for students with disability. There is typically a time lag between when a school enrols a student and receives an allocation, but many reasonable adjustments and resources needed are not costly and may be able to be covered by existing school budgets.
Under the Disability Standards for Education, every student has the right to enrolment and participation in education, and there is a requirement for schools to make accommodations and reasonable adjustments to support inclusion of students with disability. Lack of funding is not a reason for schools to deny enrolment or full time participation in education.
Different school systems and schools approach the use of National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funded therapists on site and during school time in a multitude of ways. The best way forward is to ask the school who they allow on site and when. Many activities are at the Principal’s discretion and can change at any time. Some schools have published policies on their websites that may also guide decisions and discussions.
Families are not expected or required to self-fund equipment or resources for use at school, but may be asked to provide documentation to support school funding requests.
The National Disability Insurance Agency’s (NDIA) expectations of what is funded under the NDIS and what should be funded by schools can be found here.
Q: What should I do if I don't think the school meetings are achieving the right outcomes for my child?
A: Say so. State facts and observations of the student’s experience. Decide what you want to happen and how that might be achieved, but, look for possible suggestions on what might get closer to the desired outcomes.
The Australian Centre for Disability Law has released a downloadable comprehensive ‘Learning Together’ toolkit so that students and families can understand their rights, and advocate more effectively for reasonable adjustments.
What supports has your child’s school put in place to help them learn? Tell us in the comments below.
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