Access and Participation

Communication between students, their families and education providers is necessary for deciding reasonable adjustments for students with disability. There are many different ways to communicate. Decisions about how to communicate and how often will depend on the student’s needs and the school context.

Communicating Day-to-Day

Informal communication is a brief, unscheduled exchange that occurs many times and in different ways. Informal communication between school staff and families may be face-to-face, by email, by telephone, or through a diary carried between home and school by the student. Families and education staff can decide what mode of informal communication suits them best.

Planned (Formal) Communication

Formal communication is a less casual exchange between individuals or groups, usually face-to-face or in writing. Scheduled meetings and consultations are types of formal communication. Formal communication is often useful when planning and reviewing reasonable adjustments.

Formal communication can assist people to reach agreement on decisions and actions, particularly during a consultation meeting. Conventions such as an agreed agenda, appointing a chair of the meeting, nominating a person to take notes and taking turns to speak, usually make meetings more efficient and productive.

Formal communication is useful for:

  • Discussing the likely impact of a major transition, such as enrolment in a new school, the start of a new school year, or a change of teacher
  • Discussing issues that have not been addressed informally
  • Bringing together a range of people to hear several perspectives on an issue
  • Making decisions as a team.

When communicating formally, people are expected to consider how their words will be received and acted upon. It’s important to be clear in formal communications so that opinions are interpreted and recorded accurately. Individuals may be held to account for an opinion or decision expressed in a formal communication.

Effective Communication

Effective communication – both informal and formal – is the key to identifying and planning reasonable adjustments for students with disability. Informal communication can help to build trust between home and school, while formal communication assists individuals to reach agreement and indicates who is responsible for carrying out decisions and actions.

Non-verbal communication is important too. Messages can be conveyed by tone of voice, glances, gestures, postures or silence. For communication to be effective, each party needs to identify and affirm what is being communicated when unsure.

Read more - Disability Standards for Education Fact Sheet 3

Regular informal communication builds trust

Informal Communication: In Practice ...

Examples of informal communication are:

  • A teacher phones the student’s father to tell him his child has not eaten her lunch for the past few days, and suggests they discuss how to approach this.
  • A parent writes a note in the diary to say that their child had a seizure last night and may need more monitoring and assistance with tasks today.
  • A parent and teacher have a quick discussion after school about an upcoming school concert.

Formal Communication: In Practice ...

Examples of formal communication are:

  • A school principal meets with two parents to discuss their child’s enrolment application.
  • A meeting is held between a student with disability, his parents, his teacher and a speech pathologist to discuss reasonable adjustments.
  • A teacher and a parent meet regularly every month to discuss and review adjustments for a student with disability.
  • A draft summary listing agreed decisions and actions from a meeting is circulated by the note-taker to all participants, via email, for confirmation.


Communication is the exchange of information by speaking, writing, or other means and can be non-verbal, such as when a person conveys their feelings through a gesture, posture or facial expression.

Informal communication is a casual or spontaneous exchange that is more likely to occur in a social context. It relies on social norms to convey meaning and is therefore less reliable and less precise than formal communication (i.e. people communicating informally may assume they understand each other when they may not).

Formal communication is a more deliberate exchange typically used in meetings and written correspondence (or between people who do not know each other very well). It relies on language conventions and customary codes of polite behaviour. Formal communication is a more precise and reliable form of communication that can be used to hold individuals to account.

Complex issues may need a formal meeting

Video: Supportive Schools - Merrylands HS

Download video transcript
A teacher and a parent talk about the meetings they held to work out how to support the student’s engagement and participation at school.

© Commonwealth of Australia. Creative Commons BY 4.0


When Nina’s mother learns that Nina dislikes ball games because she has been the last person selected for a team by the appointed captains, she decides to talk to the school. How might she do this?

An unscheduled visit may be interrupted and the teacher might not be able to give the issue her full attention.

Scheduling a time to talk with the teacher ensures that the issue will be discussed promptly.

Although arranging a meeting with the principal may be necessary later, the first step would be to try to find solutions with the teacher.


People communicate in a variety of ways, ranging from informal or spontaneous conversations to formal communication in scheduled meetings. Maintaining effective communication between home and school can assist all parties in deciding reasonable adjustments for students with disability.