Tuesday 19 January 2016

SEN: Choosing a mainstream school

When your child has special educational needs (SEN) it feels like there is an even greater weight to getting the right school for them. Many children with SEN can attend regular mainstream schools and have their needs met well there. Both our boys have an ASD diagnosis but only one is in a mainstream school.  Our eldest son positively blossoms in this setting. So what can I share about getting him a mainstream school?

1. First identify your child's SEN

Whether it's via the final or draft EHCP or it is based on medical, therapy and psychological reports, start by getting an understanding of what your child's educational needs are. What extra support will they need in school either to access education or maybe for emotionally well being.  

2. Visit all your local schools

Lots of people assume that as you get to 'pick' the school for your SEN child if they have an EHCP that you will just pick the best performing school in the area. This may be your final choice but don't assume the 'best' school in the area is the 'best' one for your child.

Look at your child's SEN and think about what suits them. Would a smaller school be better? Is outside space really important? Or is natural lighting important. What about access? Drop off? School experience with areas of your child's needs? We'd like every school to have everything. It's a bit like buying a house though. We'd all like lots of bedrooms, and a big garden, and a garage and a drive etc etc. But there are things we would like to have, and things we need.  Which things at school are most important to your child? 

For example, we really wanted classrooms that were physically bigger so  Anthony always has some space and didn't have to climb over kids to go in and out the class. Seems like a small thing but it could make a big difference if it's important. 

3. Speak to the school's SENCOs

The Special Educational Needs Coordinator or SENCO, will probably be responsible for developing the school’s SEN policy to make sure all children get appropriate support and high quality teaching and coordinating all the provision for children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEN). 

You will be working with this person, so meet them and see how they work. It's worth baring in mind that not all schools have a full time SENCO as it depends on their needs.  What we liked is someone who at least appeared organised, knowledgeable and above all seemed to care. 

4. Have a back up school 

A school has to take a SEN child if they are the school named in the child's EHCP, but only if they can meet the child's needs and it won't affect the safety or learning of other pupils. 

This means they can turn you down. One of the 'best' schools around us pretty much told us they would object to our son coming. 

As every school is different not all mainstream schools can meet the needs of every SEN child. They have a responsibility to do all they can to meet your child's needs with support from the borough but sometimes they just can't.  Some have break out rooms for small group activities, others don't have for example. 

Finally, if a school is full, you could have to wait for a place. You can't turf another child out of school for yours. That's obviously unfair. 

5. Visit a specialist unit

What, but I'm talking about mainstream? Everyone's initial preference should be for mainstream if it is suitable. It's inclusive and gives children a greater possibility of functioning in society sooner. 

Looking at units, however, is a great way to think about what the other schools offer in comparison. What bits about the units do you or don't you like and how are these characteristics represented in the mainstream schools. 

And what if mainstream schools can't meet the EHCP requirements? Then at least you have an idea of alternatives. 

I know it's a big decision. The more information you have the better.  Ultimately you know your child best so you are the best person to decide where they will be happiest and most productive. If you've been through choosing a mainstream school what advice would you pass on? 



  1. Such an informative post, I am sure it will help others. Thanks for linking up to #TheList x

  2. Such valuable information for anyone looking at their options. I totally understand what you say about visiting the school and comparing it to buying a home. I think you can only get a real "feel" for a school and relate it to your own child and their needs by actually visiting and meeting the staff. This must be even more critical for families and children with a SEN. Thanks so much for sharing with #DreamTeam x

  3. When looking for a school, 'outstanding' schools do not mean outstanding SEN provision- trust me I have learnt this the hard way! What you need is an experienced and inclusive school that wants your child- meltdowns and all and has an ethos that is about educating more that the curriculum, but life educating and letting every child bloom. Talk to parents of children at the school- they will soon tell you if the school has good past experience with Sen children or not- and do not just go for your village school- look further afield if necessary. This is from personal experience- it is a huge learning curve!! But your child will always be learning and progressing from your guidance even if they have to spend some time out of school, don't worry, you will get there xxx

  4. A dilemma I am struggling with at the moment as a decision about senior school looms :-(

  5. Great post, will help many with their decisions I'm sure. I think there are some parents who see an EHCP as a way to 'choose' a school - this was said to me when our girl got hers - but you come to realise that the choosing bit is not all that easy... This will at least help parents to get think more broadly before visiting schools.


I read all your comments and appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me and our readers. I welcome any feedback on my posts and you can always contact me directly. Thank you.

Have a look at our most recent posts:

@rainbowsaretoo facebook.com/rainbowsaretoobeautiful Ann H on Google + rainbowsaretoo pinterest rainbowsaretoobeautiful bloglovin Instagram rainbowsaretoobeautiful