1. Disability
  2. Disability rights & the law
  3. Rights

Education rights for children with disability

Whether they attend mainstream or special schools, children with disability have the same education rights as all other children. In Australia, the right to educational opportunities is protected by law.

Your child with disability: education rights and entitlements

In Australia, all children aged six years and over have to go to school.

Your child with disability has the right to go to a mainstream government, independent or Catholic school, regardless of her level of disability. She might also be able to go to a government or independent special school. You can decide which option you think is best for your child and your family.

Special schools have eligibility criteria that your child must meet before he can enrol. To find out whether your child is eligible to go to a special school, it’s best to contact any schools you’re interested in.

At school your child might be entitled to services and resources like teacher aides, special equipment and therapy services.

You can find out more about school for children with disability, including school options, choices, enrolment and support.

Disability Standards for Education 2005

Your child’s education rights are protected by a law called the Disability Standards for Education 2005.

The Disability Standards for Education 2005 are part of the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992. These Standards set out the rights of students with disability and how education providers, like schools and universities, must help students with disability.

The main aim of the Disability Standards for Education is to give students with disability the same educational opportunities and choices as all other students.

Who is protected under the Disability Standards for Education?
The Standards protect any person with disability who is enrolled in, has been enrolled in, or who has approached an education provider about enrolling in a preschool, school, college, university, TAFE or any other organisation that educates people.

Who has obligations under the Disability Standards for Education?
The Standards cover the following education providers:

  • preschools and kindergartens (but not child care centres)
  • public and private schools
  • public education and training places, like TAFE
  • private education and training places, like private business colleges
  • universities
  • organisations that prepare or run training and education programs.

What obligations do education providers have?
The Standards say that education providers must consult, make reasonable adjustments and get rid of harassment and victimisation.

An ‘adjustment’ is something the provider does to make sure a student with disability has the same opportunities as other students to take part in the provider’s programs. ‘Reasonable’ adjustments balance everyone’s needs – the student with disability, other students, staff and the education provider.

Reasonable adjustments might include things like changing seating arrangements in a classroom so that a student with a wheelchair can move around independently, or using videos with captions for a student who has a hearing impairment. 

If an education provider can show that making an adjustment is unjustifiably hard, it’s not against the law for the education provider not to make that adjustment.

When do the Disability Standards for Education apply?
The Standards cover the entire time that a person goes to a school or education or training course – from the time she applies to enrol right up to the time she finishes.

The Standards say it’s against the law to discriminate against someone because of disability at any of the following times:

  • when an education provider is deciding what will be taught in a course
  • when a person is enrolling in a school or course
  • while a person is taking part in school activities or a course
  • if a person needs support services to take part in school activities or a course
  • when a person finishes school or a course
  • if a person is suspended or expelled from a school or course
  • if a person is harassed or victimised while taking part in school activities or a course.

Discrimination in education

The Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 says it’s against the law for education providers to discriminate against students with disability.

If a school suggests it might be better for your child to go somewhere else, the main thing is to negotiate what would be best for your child. You could get more advice or get an advocate to support you.

If an education provider doesn’t carry out its obligations to a person with disability in line with the Disability Standards for Education, that person (or someone on his behalf) can make a formal complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

National Disability Insurance Scheme and education

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is a national scheme that funds reasonable and necessary supports to help people with disability reach goals throughout life.

The NDIS will fund supports that enable your child with disability to go to school.

Types of supports that the NDIS might fund include:

  • support for daily living activities at school like eating or getting around
  • transport so that your child can go to school
  • equipment or technology to help your child, like a wheelchair or hearing aid
  • support for the move from primary school to secondary school, or from school to post-school options.

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Last updated or reviewed
16-01-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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