Leaping Into Action: A 7 Step Guide For Education Adjustments

When we’re working with parents or teachers of sick kids who are missing school, we often run into misconceptions about how the Disability Standards for Education (DSE) apply in this context. Still, the Standards play a pivotal role in ensuring that sick kids can remain connected with their schools, receive a quality education, and thrive socially despite their health challenges.


Here are three common misconceptions:


#1. The Disability Standards for Education (DSE) apply only to students with disabilities, not to those with medical or mental health conditions. This is incorrect. Here’s the definition of “disability” from the DSE:

disability, in relation to a person, means:

(a) total or partial loss of the person’s bodily or mental functions; or

(b) total or partial loss of a part of the body; or

(c) the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness; or

(d) the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness; or

(e) the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person’s body; or

(f) a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction; or

(g) a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour;

and includes a disability that:

(h) presently exists; or

(i) previously existed but no longer exists; or

(j) may exist in the future; or

(k) is imputed to a person.


#2. The Disability Standards for Education limit the provisions of “on equal terms” to students who are physically present. This is incorrect. Although the DSE was originally drafted in 2005 and may not have anticipated telepresence technologies, it does not state that provisions only apply to students who are physically present. In fact, a fundamental tenet of the DSE is to enable access for students whose disability circumstances would otherwise prohibit their school attendance.


#3. The technology and assistive devices noted under “Measures for compliance with standards” do not include the use of videoconferencing or telepresence technologies to connect students to the school during absences. This is incorrect. The DSE states:

… “to ensure [their] access to specialised support services, include measures ensuring that:

(a) staff of education providers are aware of the specialised services available for the student and are provided with information that enables them to assist the student to access the services that the student needs; and

(b) the provision of specialised services for the student, where necessary, is facilitated, including through collaborative arrangements with specialised service providers; and

(c) any necessary specialised equipment is provided to support the student in participating in the course or program; and

(d) appropriately trained support staff, such as specialist teachers, interpreters, note-takers and teachers’ aides, are made available to students with disabilities.

Examples of the specialised equipment mentioned in paragraph 7.3 (d) include adaptive technology and assistive devices.


In summary, “non-compliance continues because of a blind spot in which schools [and families] fail to connect illness with the Disability Standards for Education in order to trigger action. Still, the Standards do not limit equality to physical presence, signalling that students who miss school with a serious illness still have a right to access their schools with assistive devices and to receive ongoing support. In fact, the [recent] pandemic confirms the role of schools and technology in continuing education for students homebound in a health crisis” ~ Megan Gilmour – “Don’t Wait Until They’re Well”


To that end, here’s some guidance for collaborating on DSE provisions …

“The Disability Standards for Education in Practice: Action Plan” – expertly produced by the Commonwealth Department of Education – is a guide outlining seven steps to partnering with your child’s school to set adjustments needed for your child to fully participate in their education.

“This workbook is for students with disability. It guides readers on how to set up reasonable adjustments for their time in education. The resource was co-designed by students with disability and their parents and caregivers.”

~ Commonwealth Department of Education

You can access or download the Action Plan here.

One of the central principles of the DSE is “reasonable adjustment”. Like installing wheelchair ramps to improve accessibility, schools have to make reasonable adjustments to support sick kids with continuity of education during their absences. We know this can be tough for schools and families when the student isn’t physically there.

To help families navigate this with schools, we are highlighting the “Action Plan”. It’s a handy guide that parents can follow by engaging teachers and school personnel. There are companion resources for teachers in the same area of the Commonwealth Department of Education website. Communication, consultation, and collaboration is what helps the student win and eases management for others.


The Disability Standards for Education in practice: Action plan


The 7 steps in the guide are:


Step 1: Research the process

Understand the school’s adjustment process, including timelines, required evidence, forms, contacts, and available support.

Step 2: Gather evidence

Collect relevant documentation, such as medical certificates or letters from professionals who have provided support.

Step 3: Set up a meeting

Choose a communication method, schedule a meeting, and note attendees, date, time, and location.

Step 4: Prepare for the meeting

Create a checklist and agenda, prioritising tasks and discussion points.

Step 5: Have the meeting

Follow the agenda, take notes, collaborate on a plan, and clarify responsibilities and additional requirements.

Step 6: Take action

Support agreed adjustments, track progress, and communicate with the school.

Step 7: Change or renew adjustments

Repeat the steps to check and change plans as needed. This will make sure they still work well and meet the requirements for updating individual plans.


If you’re a parent or a teacher of a seriously sick student, we encourage you to check out the full Action Plan and other resources. If you try them, let us know!

If you need support and would like to chat through the steps, please contact the MissingSchool Helpline at 1300 237 234.

Every action moves us closer to the finish line: a world where every sick child is seen and heard. Don’t forget that you can make a tax deductible donation to MissingSchool before 30 June and help end loneliness for sick kids.

There are many ways to help:

Every action moves us closer to the finish line: a world where every sick child is seen and heard.

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