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Expert advice on supporting kids starting or returning to school

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The dreaded return to school is more acute for some than others, it can be utterly traumatic. There are several things parents and teachers can do to make it easier for vulnerable students like the victims of bullying, kids with a disability or those from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Dealing with bullying and cyberbullying

“Every parent just wants the bullying behaviour to stop,” said Associate Professor Barbara Spears of UniSA, “but If your child has been targeted by bullying here are some ideas for parents to consider:

1) Listen to your child: they have shown courage in reporting to you about their experiences, and in sharing their emotions

2) Reassure them that it is not their fault;

3) Ask them how they want you to deal with it: what would make them feel comfortable

4) Communicate openly with the school; partner with them to support your child and to stop the bullying; establish the facts of the situation and follow up communications

5) Be patient but constant: the school leadership and teachers will be working to making it stop; keep checking on how things are progressing and what they have done to prevent it occurring further.”

“If your child is bullying others: it can be quite a challenge for parents, who may not be used to seeing that behaviour in their child.

1) Come to terms with your disbelief, and talk openly with your child and teacher about what is happening and why; consider your family sanctions/consequences for inappropriate behaviour 

2)Take what the school or teacher says seriously: often there has been a long lead-up before it gets to you and they will be able to provide some evidence and support.

3) Be partners with your school to help it to stop; together you will be more effective

4) Look at your own behaviour: are you modelling inappropriate behaviours such as negative comments online, or gossiping about others.

6) Call the behaviour for what it is: bullying.  Silence maintains bullying. Shine a light on it by not calling it mean behaviour, or “just joking” around.”

Professor Spears suggested the following resources for assistance with bullying: and

For further comment or an interview on bullying and cyberbullying, contact Barbara Spears on 0403 168 300, or at

Inclusive schooling for students with a disability

“Beginning school for the first time or transitioning into a new class can be a stressful time for young people and their families,” said Professor Denise Wood of CQUniversity Australia.

“This is particularly so for young people with a disability who may need particular adjustments and supports to be able to participate on the same basis as other students. Schools have a responsibility to provide an inclusive environment for all students, and teachers and support staff play an important role in ensuring that each student receives the support they require to be a successful learner and to be able to participate in all aspects of the school’s activities”, she said.

“Therefore, it is important that the young person, family members, caregivers, relevant professional staff and teachers are all part of the planning process. Such planning should focus on the student’s strengths and achievements and also identify goals, effective strategies for learning, and reasonable adjustments required to enable the student to achieve their goals within an inclusive school environment.”

Professor Wood suggests parents refer to the Planning for Personalised Learning and Support: A National Resource for further information on the key steps that can help in planning personalised learning and support for students with disability:  

School transitions for students from a non-English-speaking background

“Students learning in and through English as a second or additional language or dialect (EALD) are a very diverse and growing cohort of students in our schools”, said Professor Chris Davison of UNSW Sydney.

“They include those children perhaps born in Australia enrolling in their first year of school with little or no English through to students in their late teens arriving as immigrants. Research tells us that students can take from 5 to 10 years to learn English to the same level of proficiency as their peers, depending on age and background, so it is crucial that EALD students be supported to learn in English while learning English”, she said.

“They need social language so that they can be comfortable in school, start to make friends, and to take part in classroom activities with other students, but they also need appropriate curriculum content for their age and stage of development.

Professor Davison suggested the following resource for teachers of primary and secondary level students who are learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) in Australia, which was developed to support teachers, parents and students:

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