Navigating life with a child that is disengaged from mainstream school: Stories from our MSA families

Darnelle is a parent of an MSA student who was disengaged from mainstream school and struggled to read at the pace and level of what was required of him. Her son would pick up sounds without understanding what he was reading. As a parent, it became difficult for Darnelle to support her son academically, not to mention socially and emotionally.

Unfortunately, Darnelle’s family is not alone with these struggles. A wide variety of data indicates there are a significant number of middle school-aged students disengaged from mainstream schooling due to social, emotional, or behavioural difficulties. In addition, data from the Grattan Institute suggests that up to 40% of students in Australian schools could be classified as disengaged.

A student who is disengaged from mainstream school is generally working at a level that is below what is expected of them in one or more subjects. If a student is disengaged, this can lead to low attendance, behavioural issues, school stress or school refusal. The pressure to keep up in a mainstream school when a student is unable to meet the required expectations can burden a child to the point of disengagement.

Darnelle said, “It is really difficult to watch your child fall further and further behind and not be able to do anything. We tried so many things to help our son, but nothing was working, and it was so hard because he was happy at his previous school, but we just couldn’t do it any longer. The struggle for him to just read the basics was impacting all of us on an emotional and financial level.”

Darnelle invested in speech pathology, occupational therapy, and alternative therapies to assist with her son’s learning. Unfortunately, he showed no signs of improving. It wasn’t until Darnelle discovered MSA that things started to improve for her son.

Darnelle initially committed to trialling her son for six months at MSA to see if he would experience any improvement in his learning. Darnelle’s son has now passed the two-year mark at MSA and can now fluently read and write, which is something, Darnelle’s son said, “I never thought I would be able to do.”

One of the focuses at Mastery Schools Australia is meeting a disengaged child where they are at academically, socially, and emotionally. In doing so, the child can feel more confident in their ability to learn and re-enter mainstream schooling when they are ready.

If your child is disengaged or struggling in a mainstream school, you can contact Mastery Schools Australia by calling (07) 5551 4080 or visiting our website

Written by Ashlee Thomas