Meresbrook Pollard Solicitors- I am looking for a school or college for my child with SEND: Help!

I am looking for a school or college for my child with SEND: Help!

Finding a school or college for a child or young person with a special educational need or disability can be a time of great worry for parents and carers.

I am often asked two questions:

  1. Am I able to express a preference for a particular setting? Do I have a choice?
  2. How do I know that the school or college is the right one for my child?

Let’s take each one at a time…

  1. Am I able to express a preference for a particular setting? Do I have a choice?

The law says that parents have the same right to express a preference for the school they wish their child with SEN to attend as parents of children without SEN, but, subject to the school being able to meet their child’s needs, the placement not being incompatible with the delivery of efficient education to other children or with the efficient use of public resources. It is within this area that there is sometimes conflict between parents and local authority officers. For example, parents may express a preference for a particular setting only for the local authority to say that it cannot meet the child’s needs. They may say that their placement there would have a negative impact on the education of the other children. The local authority may only agree transport costs to what they deem to be the nearest appropriate school.

It is in everyone’s best interests that disagreements are resolved but ultimately there is a Tribunal process when agreements cannot be reached.

  1. How do I know that the school or college is the right one for my child?

This is a much harder question to answer as there is much to consider. Let’s break this down to make it easier.

First of all, what sort of setting do you want for your child? You may want your child to attend a local mainstream school or college. This means that they go to school or college in their community. This brings lots of benefits such as friendship groups and being close to home. On the other hand you need to be aware that although every teacher is expected to teach children and young people with SEND they are not always well enough equipped to do so. Make sure then that you ask about the extent of differentiation in lessons in order to match the learning activities to your child’s needs and what additional support will be available. Have a look at the general environment too. This is especially important if your child has autism and or sensory issues. Busy and noisy corridors can be frightening for a child with autism. Consider the acoustics, lighting and ventilation.

Above all though, ask yourself does the school feel friendly and welcoming? Are the staff interested in your child or do they show concern about their degree of need? Look at how the students get along with staff? Are the relationships positive and do you get a sense of your child fitting in well?

Many mainstream schools offer specialist provision in units or bases. These may offer ‘the best of both worlds’ in that there may be higher adult to staff ratios and teachers with SEN- related qualifications and expertise. An important thing for you to find out though is the extent of opportunities for your child to access mainstream lessons. This is key as the reason for you perhaps wanting such provision is the fact it is in a mainstream school so you will want your child to benefit from all its advantages – such as subject specialist teachers and the facilities and being part of an inclusive learning community.

Special schools make provision for children and young people whose needs cannot be met in a mainstream school. You will need to check the school’s specialism, curriculum and facilities to make sure that your child’s needs will be met. Therapists and specialist input from other agencies is often an advantage of a special school. Whilst special schools can be inclusive (measured by participation in learning and progress) your child will be educated alongside pupils all of whom have SEND. You will need to weigh this up.

Things to do…

  1. a) Go on the school or college’s website and look at the: Prospectus; SEND Policy; SEN Information Report (schools); and the Equalities Policy.
  2. b) If you know other parents of a child with SEND who goes there try to speak with them.
  3. c) Arrange a visit. It is important that you go during the school day to see it ‘in action’ and make sure you meet the key people (depending on your child’s needs). I would suggest that you meet the head teacher and the SENCO at least.
  4. d) Visit the school or college with someone else – your partner, a friend or a professional who knows your child. If you go alone you may not be able to gather all the information you need. Before you go write a list of all the things you want to ask about.
  5. e) After the visit make some notes about the questions you asked and what you saw. This is important if you are visiting several schools as they can all blur into one. Notes will help you identify your preference and be handy when you speak with the local authority. Remember, if you find yourself in conflict with them your notes will form the basis of your arguments.

Things to ask and look for …

  1. a) Have a look in classrooms. Is there evidence of children and young people getting the support they need? For example, are there visual prompts and timetables in place? Are ALL students engaged in the lesson and enjoying their learning? Does it look like the teacher has provided a range of activities for the students based on their needs and abilities?
  2. b) Are transitions between activities and classrooms (in a secondary school or college) smooth and well managed? Would your child find them difficult or would they need some adjustments (for example, leaving for their next lesson a couple of minutes before the others)?
  3. c) What support is available for your child outside of the classroom? Ask if there is someone your child can go to if he/she has a problem. Will there be a key worker for your child? If your child can become anxious is there a ‘safe retreat’ for them in the school or college? Will your child be able to request ‘timeout’ if a situation in a lesson becomes too much for them and they need help to calm down and ‘get back on track’? Ask about what adjustments are available during assessments and examinations.

When you visit the school or college go with your gut reaction. If your instinct says that it is not the right place then it probably isn’t. Remember that you know more about your child than anyone else. When it comes to your child you are the professional!

For further information and advice about choosing a school or college placement, contact:

Michael Purches, SEND Consultant, Meresbrook Pollard Solicitors

[email protected]

01274 780442