Monday 26 April 2021

Finding a school for a SEND child

SEND child on climbing frame

David is approaching his secondary transition.  For those whose kids are starting on their educational journey, secondary transition is the move from primary to secondary school. It's not going to be easy.  David is a child with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) and needs a whole host of support in order to access education.  

We've been through this journey with Anthony, who has since thrived in his specialist secondary school.  I know our transition for David will be much harder due to his needs and the pandemic has made it even harder.  But I can share what options we know of, if you are looking for schools for a child with SEND.  

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: In primary school this in run by a teacher and often supported by a teaching or learning support assistant (TA or LSA); In secondary there are often classes and sets which move around subject teachers and there's just the subject teacher for each lesson as standard.   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.

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 changing their schedules, providing equipment, 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 break down the stigma of ‘being different.’

In some cases, this will benefit 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.

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 primary setting which has previously worked 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

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.

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.

However, this may not be the LA's choice, which we cover later.


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 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 when it was on, you'll have seen 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 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.  In most cases the LA will name the closest school to your home that can meet your child's needs in their EHCP.  This is often the most cost effective as it cuts down on transport costs and another school further away can be deemed an 'inefficient use of resources' despite being a parents first choice. 

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

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