Choosing a new school
Before arranging a visit:
- If possible, look at the school’s website.
Each mainstream school must publish their “local offer”, this is the information on how they work with children with SEN. Do they have a Bullying Policy? If it is a special school, look at the curriculum information. Will it be challenging enough for your child?
- Look at the school’s OFSTED reports.
Although these are a ‘snapshot’ of the school and shouldn’t be the only information you use to make a choice, it’s really useful to look at least the last two and see if the school has consistently improved.
- Think about the questions that you would like to ask, write them down and take them with you. Ask your child to give you a checklist of things they’d like.
- When would you like to visit?
Although it is best to visit during school hours, some schools will only arrange ‘school tours’ for groups of parents. Once you have done the general tour, if you feel it is a school you are considering naming in your child’s EHCP you should email the school SENCO to request a meeting to discuss your child’s particular needs and observe the class your child may join.
- Do you want someone to go with you? If you would like someone from the PATT team to go with you, that can be arranged although we will need a couple of weeks notice.
- Is the school easy to get to? Think about transport arrangements.
- Will you be able to meet staff who would be involved with your child?
- Will you be able to talk to other parents of children at the school?
- Does the school have a Parents’ group/Facebook page/PTA
If choosing a special school for your child, it is usually best to arrange the first visit without the child. That way you can discuss whether it is the right place for them and whether a place is available before they set their heart on it. Once you are happy that it is suitable, then a second visit can be arranged.
Questions you might want to ask when you visit:
- How many children will be in my child’s class?
- Does the school know anything about your child’s disability?
- Has the school ever taught any other children with the same disability? Are all areas of the school accessible to my child?
- How will my child be supported outside lesson time?
- How does the school deal with difficult behaviour?
- How is bullying dealt with?
- How does the school help children mix and make friends
- How does the school communicate with parents?
- When can I talk to my child’s teacher/s?
- Will my child be able to have extra visits to the school before they transfer and what arrangements will be made to help them settle in?
Interventions and Therapies
Depending on the child’s needs, parents may want to ask very specific questions to tease out what support might realistically be available. Many mainstream and special schools do not have therapists on site or directly employed but buy in these resources as and when needed. This means they often do not have overall supervision of the therapists or choice about the level of provision and what days the therapists come into school. Some of this information may be crucial in working out whether therapists can work on a daily basis with a child or if they are able to participate in a multi-disciplinary meeting, if none of the therapists can ever meet on the same day. Even if the school does have specific therapists on site, will your child have access to them?
Parents will want to explore the following availability of resources, depending on the child’s needs:
- speech and language therapy
- occupational therapy
- teaching for specific learning difficulties (dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia)
- intervention for sensory needs, such as hearing and visual impairment
- autistic provision (ABA therapy)
- therapeutic input for emotional, behavioural and social needs (for example, art therapy, music therapy, drama therapy)
- counselling and mentoring.
- school nurse
In all cases, parents should ask specific questions, starting with an examination of the qualifications of the professionals involved. For example, will a fully qualified speech and language therapist (SALT) be working with the child or will it be a SALT assistant? Other important considerations include the amount of time that can be offered to a child within the school, whether this will be in the form of direct, group or indirect interventions, and the extent and nature of liaison with parents.
If your child has medical needs, how will they be supported to access medication and equipment?
Parents should look at the general, physical school environment to see if it is appropriate for a child with sensory issues or sensory impairments, where noise, physical movement and lighting could be crucial. Schools will sometimes allow parents to observe classroom lessons (you can always ask). Parents need to listen and watch and try to understand whether the teaching methods could be adapted and whether the academic levels expected would be suitable. For children with physical difficulties, space for equipment may be a real problem. Arrangements for lunchtime and playtime will be important.
Things to think about after your visit
- Did I feel welcomed at the school?
- Do I think my child would be happy there?
- Will my child get the support they need?
- Did I find it easy to talk to the SENCo/Headteacher/Form Tutor?
- Did the children around the school seem to have a good relationship with staff?
- Do I think the staff will be comfortable and confident in managing my child’s behaviour and directing learning?
- Do I think the staff will encourage my child to be as independent as possible?
- Would I feel able to talk to staff about any concerns or issues?
- Will I be able to speak to the SENCo (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) if I need to?
- Will the work be presented in a way my child would understand?
- Did the school show me what they do to help children with a variety of needs?
Most parents have concerns about what it will be like for their child when they move to secondary school, for instance, about having more than one teacher, so many subjects or moving between classrooms.
If your child has significant SEN, you may want to start planning the change of school well in advance.
- contact schools and ask for information about how they work with children who have SEN
- visit schools two years before your child is due to transfer
- speak to the SENCO about SEN provision in the school
- talk to other parents or pupils about the schools
- talk to professionals who work with your child about the schools
- talk to teachers in your child’s present school and ask them for their views about what your child needs and which school might suit your child
- start to talk about secondary schools during review meetings in Year 5.
- if your child has an EHCP, the Year 5 Annual Review should begin to look ahead to secondary school
- at the review in Year 6 the SENCo from the secondary school should come to the meeting so they have a chance to find out what support your child might need.
All secondary schools provide information for parents and will have open days in the Autumn Term when parents can visit the school.
It is a good idea for parents to:
- visit all of the schools your child could attend
- take your child to the open evenings
- talk to your child about the schools • ask your child for his/her opinion
- allow them to share in deciding which school they should go to. Don’t forget to talk to your child about the new school, what they are looking forward to as well as any worries they have.