Monday 27 November 2017

Six school possibilities for SEND kids

Child in a bright red raincoat plays in tyres in a school playground surrounded by fences

Surely every parent hopes they've made the right choice of school for their child?  There's a lot of pressure to make the right choice matters. This is where your child will spend their formative years, and you want them to flourish educationally and socially in the right environment.  However, when it comes to a child with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) it can feel overwhelming and complicated.

There's so much to consider and so many different types of schools.  We've looked at all sorts for our boys, and even our neurotypical daughter.  It's easier to get in some types of schools and more challenging for other types.  Ultimately, we're all just after a school that works for our kids.  So what are the options?

1. Mainstream school

A mainstream school is a school run and (mostly) maintained by your local authority.  Often thought of as your 'local' school. It also includes voluntary aided schools like Church of England schools. Apart from donations, there are no fees.  Most schools are mainstream schools whether they are free schools, church schools or academies.

They commonly have up to 30 kids in each class which is run by a teacher and often supported by a teaching or learning support assistant (TA or LSA).  For a child with SEND there are things to think about when choosing the right mainstream school.

A child who may be struggling in mainstream school can receive support from the school without any need for further work as part of the schools existing SEND budget.

2. Mainstream school with support

However, if a child needs more assistance to learn within a mainstream school then the school or parents may seek an EHCP. This is a legal document that provides support for a child in which ever type of setting they are in.  Often a child with an EHCP in mainstream have their needs met by therapists visiting the school or having a TA/LSA to help them at times of the day they are struggling.
Inclusion in a mainstream school can help breaks down the stigma of ‘being different.’

In some cases, this will benefits a child educationally. They may have the same, similar or differentiated curriculum to their peers but are often provided with the same opportunities and qualifications that may not be as easily attainable in some specialist schools.

3. Specialist school 

It is always the initial thought to help a child stay within a mainstream setting but if this is not suitable because of the child's special educational needs then you could look at a specialist school or specialist unit attached to a mainstream setting.  A child going to any specialist provision is likely to have an EHCP to support them.

A specialist school is entirely for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Some specialist schools are focused on types of conditions, others on types of support. Most have smaller class sizes and a higher pupil to teacher ratio.  They are usually better equipped to deal with specific disabilities and staff have a greater level of training. The curriculum will be aimed at their cohort needs to may not provide the same subjects or variety that may be available in a mainstream setting but there is likely to be less bullying due to difference.

A specialist unit will provide children an opportunity to spend some time in a specialist unit with the advantages involved in this and some time in an attached mainstream environment.  Our David attends a specialist autism unit attached to a mainstream setting which is working well for him.

Both of these are still maintained (and funded by) the local authority but the difference is they are specifically set up to meet the needs of children with SEND.  It's worth looking around to see which specialist schools or units you may wish to get your child into.

Girl at a desk looking at an iPad

4. Split provision 

Split provision is where a child spends sometime in one setting and some in another.  This is similar in a way to a specialist unit, but where the two provisions are separate.  A common example may be spending a few days in a mainstream school each week and the rest within a separate specialist school.

This may meet the child's educational needs by taking advantage of the best of both settings.  It could be practicing social skills in the mainstream school and or accessing therapy in the units.  Some kids who don't like change can struggle with this - others can either adapt to a weekly routine or enjoy the variety.  It all comes down, as everything, to your kid.

5. Independent Specialist

An independent specialist school is one specifically set up to meet the educational needs of children with some kind of SEND but is funded independently of the local authority regular allocations. Many of these schools were set up to fulfil a need not met in their area by the local authority.   So despite not being funded directly through the local authority in which it is located, children with EHCP's  could have their place funded by the local authorities that that they come from.

6. Independent

An independent school is often called a 'private' school.  A private school refers to any learning institution that does not receive public funding from government / local authority. Independent schools, like this one here, are private schools that are overseen by a board of governors or trustees. They usually retain the right to select their students and are funded in whole or in part by charging fees, which may be paid by parents or local authorities for SEND children. Some independent schools are partly funded by charitable trusts.

Most independent schools have small class sizes and an extra-curricular programme based around the aspirations for their pupils.  They can have a focus on particular learning, careers or faith and can be girls, boys or co-educational.

Your choice

I've termed these are school 'possibilities' because not all parents will be able to choose between these based on their location and the provisions in their area.   If you watched The A Word recently, you'll have heard that Joe's parents drive nearly 100 miles on their school journey to get the setting they think is right for their child.  How your child will react to the proposed journey to school is definitely worth considering.

It is also worth considering that (with the exception of 3. and 4. above) that this list is roughly in order of preference for many local authorities.  In law a mainstream school must accept your child if there is any way in which they can meet their educational needs without negatively impacting on other kids, if that is your wish.  But in the same instance local authorities must also the wishes of the child and parents into account too, whether that's for mainstream, specialist or independent.

Getting your choice is a whole other ball game.  Some SEND parents look at home education instead of a school setting.  This may be choice but is commonly down to the lack of availability of alternative options.  Along with the growing number of children needing SEND support, there has been a 64% increase in families in England using home education.   At the end of the day, we all just want our child to be able to access a suitable educational, be happy and thrive to the best of their abilities, whatever their setting.

What did you think about when looking at school for your kids?  Is there anything you would add?

I'm not an expert - just a SEND mum who has been through and is going through the processing of choosing schools and sharing what I've learned with you.  If you have concerns about your child's special educational needs you can seek some support


  1. We decided on mainstream for my son at first, but coming into Year 1 I worried that they would not manage as well with him, once all the other kids were sitting down for more formal learning. We applied for a split placement as I naively thought it would be the best option for him, getting the best of both worlds. The request was turned down and we have since learnt that they do tend to favour full-time requests when there is pressure on places. By asking for a split placement we were essentially saying that mainstream could still cope with his needs. (They are doing fantastically for him still, but we'll be applying for a full-time place at the special school for next year.)

    1. That's interesting Sally, and I'm sure people will really appreciate you sharing that. Supply and demand issues can make things more complicated! Fingers crossed for you.

  2. Ah yes. It's a great list, and it would be nice if all these options were indeed open to parents. Sadly there are no specialist units at secondary level in our county, and many parents whose children are not learning disabled end up with no choice but to home educate. The system is not working for these children or their families :/

  3. A great list, as many parents would be unaware that there should be this many options available to them (certainly in some areas) We've been lucky that the school we chose for Jude and Tommy caters for them up until they're 18, so I'm 99% sure they will be there until then. Good luck in finding the right school x

  4. Bit of a raw one for me at the moment! I think this is really useful for autism and non-autism parents to be in the know. I wish every authority offered the full range!

  5. I despair of the educational provision for children with special needs in this country. So many children are poorly served by the "choices" available. As other commenters have mentioned, there is, in fact, rarely much of choice. The whole system lacks nuance. My son is academically able and capable of high achievement, but learns in an utterly different way to his mainstream peers. He also has significant social/language/sensory needs. Special/specialist settings can't meet his academic needs, but mainstream is challenging and ill-equipped to offer the level of differentiation and support that he requires, meaning he is not really reaching his potential. It's terribly frustrating.


  6. We looked at mainstream and specialist settings and it soon became pretty clear that the specialist setting was right for EJ, as she has very high support needs and needs a very sensory based curriculum. The issue for us came with the LA then declaring that there were school catchment areas for the special schools and if we chose the out of catchment one (which of course we had already set our heart on!) we may not receive assistance for transport... which until now has been fine (but a bit of a pain having to commute 7 miles at rush hour)... but come September when my little one starts our village school would have been a huge problem had we not finally been granted transport help... phew! #accesslinky


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