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Finding the right school when mainstream education doesn't suit your child

Finding the right school when mainstream education doesn't suit your child

For some parents, it’s obvious that mainstream education simply can’t meet the needs of their child, or the educational philosophies of their family.

Unfortunately, mixed messages and ill-informed opinions abound about less conventional teaching options. Often ‘unique’ schools like Montessori, Steiner or schools with specialist programs aren’t considered because of a parent’s pre-conceived ideas that may have been informed through views expressed by their peer group.

Finding the right school for you relies on ignoring the hearsay and doing your own research about the dynamic alternative approaches now available.

Why look outside the ‘norm’?

There are many reasons why parents, guardians or carers might look outside the mainstream education system for their child’s schooling. These could include:

  • There’s not a school in your area that meets your philosophical needs,
  • Your child is gifted in a particular capacity not covered by other schools in your region,
  • Your child needs specific learning support not available in mainstream schools,
  • Your child does better in self-directed learning environments than structured learning,
  • Your child suffers social anxiety, sensory issues or behavioural challenges, or
  • You want to have greater input into your child’s learning.

Some parents are nervous about making the change to an alternative educational model, but children can thrive in these diverse environments and have similar - or better - long term career and wellbeing outcomes to mainstream students.

What are the options?

In Australia, alternative education models are required to meet the same standards as regular schools in terms of safety, qualifications of staff and academic benchmarks. Each model comes with its own set of rules and philosophies.

Examples include:  

Steiner schools

Steiner schools are based on holistic education, with an emphasis on teaching through the arts. Students create their own workbooks and progress at their own pace.  

Steiner kids are said to manage stress well because they simultaneously access academic, artistic and practical or physical learning at all times. This is often an ideal learning environment for students who struggle to ‘sit still and listen’, who have previously had negative experiences with authority or who are essentially imaginative learners.

The Sophia Mundi Steiner School in Abbotsford, Victoria is the only Steiner school in Australia with the unique offering of Steiner pedagogy from early childhood to Year 10 and the International Baccalaureate Diploma programme for Years 11 & 12.

The Kamaroi Rudolf Steiner School in Belrose, New South Wales offers a balanced approach to learning, combining a high standard of academic education with importance placed on imagination and creativity.

Warrah a Rudolf Steiner organisation in Sydney's North West educates children with disabilities, from kindergarten through to Year 12, in a natural environment set across 30 acres of beautiful bushland.

Montessori schools

The Montessori tradition groups children into four stages of development rather than traditional age-based year levels. This means children work in multi-age spaces, learning and cooperating with peers.  

Montessori students progress through work at their own pace using specific tools and activities, with an emphasis on ‘real world’ objects (sewing materials, glasses, kitchen gadgets) rather than imagination games. This is ideal for self-directed learners, but potentially less appropriate for highly playful children.

In Victoria, the Melbourne Montessori School in Brighton and Caulfield provides children with the opportunity to learn at their own pace, developing a lifelong love of learning by encouraging children to work in a non-competitive environment. Children usually stay with the same teacher for three years, leading to strong teacher-student bonds and a deep understanding by the teacher of individual student characteristics.

Specialist independent programs

Across Australia there are many schools that offer alternative programs to mainstream education.

Melbourne’s Preshil has operated for over 80 years with a uniquely inclusive and individualised teaching program based around creativity and personal goal setting. The emphasis placed on relationships, respect and child-lead learning rather than just the ‘three Rs’ is, in fact, being embraced more and more across the education spectrum.

The Canadian Arrowsmith program is seeing promising results in the area of learning difficulties. This program is relatively new to Australia and is being offered by over a dozen schools already.  

One thing is for sure; our children are individuals and what works for one child may not be the best approach for another. If you’re keen to explore alternative education options for your child, go straight to the source. Arrange an interview or walk-through at the school and talk to parents of children who attend.