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Starting secondary school

Girl starting high schoolSecondary school should be a time of fun, learning and development. Your child will have the chance to further develop their independence and understanding of the world around them, make new friends, and pursue new activities and interests.

Moving to secondary school can also be a daunting time for you and your child. There are many things that you and your child can do to make sure that the move from primary to secondary education is smooth.  Below are  some ideas about how you can help your child prepare for the move to secondary school, get the most out of school, and have fun!

Selecting a school

Selecting the right secondary school for your child is very important, as it will influence their educational, social and emotional development. You should be able to feel confident in making a choice that you and your child will be happy with.

All children are entitled to a place at their local secondary school. Your residential address will indicate which secondary school your child can attend. Some parents may choose to send their child to non-local schools. You will need to contact the local regional office for more information and any restrictions on your child attending a non-local school.

You also have the option of sending your child to a Catholic or independent school.

Starting your search for the right school
When deciding which school you would prefer, start preparing early. A good start is to find out about the schools in your local area.

  • Search on the internet. Each school should have its own website where you can read the school's Annual Report. This report will provide information on the school's achievements for the previous year  and other information.
  • Ask other parents about schools in your area. 
  • Ask your child's Teacher of the Deaf and other professionals. 
  • Ask staff at your child's primary school.

Types of school
There are different types of school and you will need to decide what type would best suit your child.

  • Mainstream secondary schools
    In these schools, deaf children will often go to all of the usual lessons, and depending on their level of need may have extra support such as an itinerant support teacher.

    Public, Catholic and Independent schools all support children with a hearing loss in their regular classes. You can contact your state Education Departments and ask for a list of schools in your area.
  • Mainstream secondary school with a specialist unit
    Some mainstream schools have units for deaf children. Usually they cater for children with a severe or profound bilateral hearing loss. One or more classrooms in the school may have been adapted especially for teaching deaf children. In some schools, deaf children are taught only in the unit. More often, deaf children will take part in mainstream classes and have some classes in the unit. Teachers of deaf students sometimes team teach in the mainstream classroom.
  • Schools for deaf children
    These schools usually teach Auslan as the child's first language and English as the second language. These schools use a bilingual-bicultural approach where the goal is proficiency in both Auslan and written English and easy socialisation in both the Deaf and hearing communities. There are a very limited number of schools for deaf children in Australia.
  • Special schools for deaf children
    These schools exist to meet the needs of deaf children with special educational needs or disabilities. These schools will have specialist equipment, staff, support and teaching strategies to help meet the needs of the children who go there.

Whichever school you choose for your child, it is important that it will meet their needs, and is suitable for their age, skills and ability.  If you would like to know about how a school meets special educational needs, ask to see their policy on special educational needs.

Children may need to travel outside their area to attend specialist schools. Normally your child will be offered a special school place if it is felt your child's needs cannot be met in a mainstream school.


Researching the schools
Once you have a list of schools it is a good idea to research those that interest you in a little more depth.

  • Documents
    Ask the school for their Annual Report.  This should give general information about the school, and information on its policies such as special educational needs, religion and bullying.
     
  • Visits to schools
    Many schools will have open evenings or open days, where parents can look around the school and ask questions. Visiting a school can give you a more complete picture of what the school is like, and how your child will fit in. There are many things that you can consider when preparing to visit a school.You may also find it helpful to make an appointment to see the school's special needs coordinator to discuss your child's needs and how the school will be able to meet them.

    The special needs coordinator may also be called the Head of Special Education Services, Special Education consultants or Special Needs teachers.
Meeting your child's needs

Support at school
It is important to meet your child's particular support needs. There are different ways of helping deaf children work to the best of their abilities. Accommodations and adjustments are put in place for students to access the curriculum. Accommodations are changes to the environment that will allow students with additional needs to participate fully in the same learning, syllabus content and outcomes as all other students of the same age /stage.  Accommodations may include sign language, access to technology, modifications to the learning space and changes to the delivery of content.

Sometimes pupils may be given pre- and post- lesson tutoring. This means that a member of staff, for example, a teaching assistant, will work with a child in a range of ways to ensure that they have fully understood their lessons. They may work with a pupil before a lesson to prepare them for the subject matter, go over any new words or phrases the teacher may use, and show them materials that will be used in the class. This helps pupils to follow the lesson more closely. Tutoring may also take place after a lesson. This time is used to help children make sure that they are comfortable with what was covered in the lesson, and if not, to help them go over information, check the meaning of any new words, and to make sure that they understand what work they need to do.


Communication
A child cannot learn unless there is effective communication.  The school should be able to meet your child's communication needs. The Teacher of the Deaf who is supporting your child should work with the school before the start of term to make sure that all school staff understand how to communicate effectively with your child.

If your child needs and uses Auslan or Signed English to understand lessons then it is important that the school has staff qualified in signing to interpret. The interpreter must be able to listen to what the teacher and students are saying - the content, inflections and intent - and competently interpret this into Auslan for your child. Communication support at school should be agreed and in place at the start of the school year, and should be regularly reviewed.


Equipment and technology
The school should make sure your child can use technology to fully participate in lessons and in school life. If your child wears a hearing aid or cochlear implant, make sure your child knows how to deal with any problems.

Your child should use an FM system to cut out background noise in the classroom so that your child can focus more clearly on what the teacher is saying. If the school has limited experience in such matters, the regional support staff will assist the school personnel in the use of the technology.

Find out what equipment the school has that could help your child access school life. There are many different things that schools should be able to provide to ensure that your child is fully included in school life. This is particularly important today where multimedia resources are regularly used in classrooms.  Your child needs the same access to these resources as their hearing peers.

Ask if the school has appropriate alarms. These can be alarms that tell children that it is time for the next lesson, or if there is a fire. Often, alarms for deaf people include a light that flashes when the alarm goes off. If the school does not already have these, ask a member of staff to find out about them.

The school must make sure your child has the same opportunities at school as other students. If the school you have chosen has not got the equipment that you think your child might need, you can speak to members of staff including the special educational needs coordinator or advisor, or your child's Teacher of the Deaf.


The acoustic quality of the school building
Acoustics is the science of sound and it often refers to the quality of the sound environment. For deaf children, poor acoustics in school classrooms can be very challenging and can make it very difficult for them to use hearing aids and cochlear implants effectively. To understand what is being spoken, the teacher's voice needs to be louder than the background noise. If the classroom is too noisy most teachers will have difficulty speaking loud enough to enable good understanding.  In addition, school buildings are often ones in which sound reverberates more than in other buildings and this makes listening even more difficult.  Reverberation occurs when the sound from the source has stopped but echoes from the sound continue in the room. If the surfaces (floors and walls) have a low absorbency then the sound may bounce around the room arriving at the child's ear at different times, making it difficult to listen to what the teacher is saying. 

There are steps the school staff can take to reduce the effects of background noise. For example, they can seat deaf children away from heating/ ventilation systems and other machinery and turn off equipment like computers and overhead projectors when not being used. Mention these things to the school staff so that they are aware that they can improve listening conditions for your child.


Whole school environment
In addition to individual support for your child, it is important that other pupils and staff have good deaf awareness. Find out if the school has or is prepared to take measures such as training to ensure staff and pupils are aware of the issues faced by deaf pupils, and how to deal with these issues. The school could make use of deaf role models. These are deaf adults who come in to the school to work with pupils and provide a positive role model for children. They can show that deaf children can be successful at work and socially with a wide circle of friends and a good social life, and that deaf children should have all the chances in life that hearing children have.


Homework
Homework is a valuable part of schooling. It develops a range of skills such as organising time and researching and establishes good study habits, concentration and self-discipline.

You  need to ask what arrangements the school will make to ensure your child understands what is required. Homework is often set at the end of lessons when students are packing up their bags and there is more noise, making it more difficult to hear the task that is being set. Ask school staff to ensure that all homework and assessment tasks are written down including the deadlines for handing it in. Your child could also get help with managing their time, and keeping their school diary up to date.


Exams and assessments 
If your child requires help to understand the lessons, it may also be the case that they will need help during exams and assessments. Your child should have access to special provisions which reflect the kind of support and assistance usually provided in the classroom so your child can demonstrate what they know and can do. You therefore need to ask whether the school knows how to apply for these special provisions and what arrangements it will put in place for any of its own internal assessments.


Your child's opinion 
It is important that your child is involved in choosing a secondary school. How they feel about their school throughout their school life will affect their development and educational achievement. Ensure they have the opportunity to visit the schools.

If they have attended their local primary school they may wish to transfer to the local secondary school with their friends and perhaps join an older brother or sister.  However, they may also feel they would benefit from the company of a larger number of deaf pupils, perhaps at a school with a specialist unit.


Your child's needs
When choosing a school, think about the needs of your child. The location of the school is important. Make sure that your child will be happy to travel to and from school. Think about your child's needs and personality - when visiting a school, ask yourself if you can imagine your child fitting in at the school.

After school activities may be important to your child. Activities outside of school time can help children to socialise as well as develop skills.  After school activities are usually run by local community groups. You can contact your local council who will advice you on what activities are available for your child in your area. If your child attends an Independent school, there may be sport, clubs and activities your child could go to that are held at the school. Not only are after school activities fun, but they also give children the chance to socialise and develop their interests and skills.

Schools may not have everything in place that your child needs. A key question therefore is how prepared is the school to make the required changes? For example, would it be prepared to invite a deaf role model into the school to talk to children? Or what adjustments would be made to ensure your child can participate in clubs and after school activities?

If you are considering a place in a school with a specialist unit, check the qualifications of staff in the unit. Normally the teacher in charge of the unit has a mandatory qualification in teaching deaf children. 


Applying for a place
Once you have decided which school is best for your child, you will need to apply for a place through the school.

Each education department or school will have its own admissions criteria and arrangements for applying. Check with them what the criteria and arrangements are before you apply. For example, some Independent and selective schools may require prospective students to take exams before they are offered a place. If this is the case you need to find out what arrangements are put in place to ensure deaf children are not unfairly disadvantaged. 


More information on local schools


Information provided by the National Deaf Children's Society. Reproduced with permission.
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03-Dec-2015 8:34 AM (AEST)