I'm sure it's taken years off my life... The burden of school choice for parents of children with a disability in New South Wales.

Year: 2012

Author: Dunn, Rosemary, Graham, Linda, Fenech, Marianne, Sweller, Naomi

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper reports on the initial findings of the first phase of a three phase study that seeks to explore and document the parent experience of school choice for children with a disability in New South Wales. A series of focus groups were conducted with 23 parents of children with a disability, aged from 10 months to 18 years of age (n=26). The focus group findings suggest that the process of school choice is one fraught with anxiety for parents of children with a disability. The journeys of this limited sample of parents and children into and through school have been ones of compromise, trying to balance the perceived needs of the child and the family against personal ideals and values, bureaucratic process, limited places and a concerning variability of information. The extent to which home education was being considered as a viable alternative by some parents as a result of the unsatisfactory school placements and difficult relationships with other parents and school staff was surprising.

Data from this phase informed the development of an online survey that will be distributed across the state with the assistance of early intervention services and disability advocacy groups. The main themes identified through the international literature and the focus groups led to the development of questions aimed at learning how the experience of school choice in NSW may differ with varying geography, socio-economic status, disability type or severity, age and school stage. The focus groups were of particular value in elucidating context specific issues including those related to funding, the assessment of disability and the advice given to parents by a range of professionals including staff of the various school sectors in NSW. There are potentially significant policy and practice implications for the bureaucratic processes for enrolment, assessment of support and funding requirements and perhaps, most critically, the sharing of information and the subsequent development of the partnerships with families that are fundamental to the success of education for any child if the survey phase confirms those findings suggested by the focus groups.