What are Special Educational Needs?

All Children progress at different rates and have different ways in which they learn best.  Some children may struggle and require more help than others due to difficulties with:

  •  Reading, writing, numbers
  • Talking and listening
  • Concentration and Understanding
  • Social skills
  • Physical skills and ability
  • Emotions, mental health or behaviour.

A child who needs significantly more support in any of these areas, compared to others of the same age, may have special educational needs (SEN). Some children may have SEN because of a medical condition or an identified disability. However, for the vast majority of children the cause of this may not be known, but their needs will likely require additional support.

What Are the Options for my Child’s Education?

There could be several options to consider when looking at the type of educational setting most appropriate for your child. These include: 

Mainstream Schools- provide the additional support needed for pupils with SEND learning alongside peers without SEND. All state maintained mainstream schools have a Special Educational needs Co-ordinator who is responsible for overseeing and ensuring that pupils with SEND receive the support they need to achieve.

Special Schools- are specifically for children with SEND. These schools often have specially trained teachers, therapists, nurses and equipment to support the learning needs of the pupils.

A specialist unit attached to a mainstream school- Some mainstream schools have specialist units to provide extra support for children with specific conditions i.e. Autism or for those who need additional support.

Residential Schools- Specialist schools which provide accommodation to pupils.  

Home schooling- education provided at home either on a part or full time basis. There are many support networks for parents who decide that this option is best for their child.  

Helpful Advice on Choosing the Right School

Choosing a school for a child with  Special Educational Needs or a Disability (SEND) can be one of the biggest decisions a parent may face. Deciding on where your child’s needs would be best met, where they would be given the opportunity to reach their potential and where they would be happiest, can be both a difficult and emotional process. Below are some helpful tips and advice to consider when looking at different schools: 

  • Do your research- Look at the schools SEND policies and their SEN Information Report, (which schools must publish and review every year). These can both usually be found on the schools website or on their local offer page.
  • Book an appointment with the Head Teacher and ask to meet the SENCO (if looking at a mainstream school). These two people are key to how good the SEND provision will be and their attitude towards supporting SEN will be a good indicator of this.

Consider some of the following questions:

  • How long has the SENCO been in post? Do they have specific SEN training (All SENCO’s in post for more than 3 years are required to obtain a postgrad qualification).
  • Have they had any children with similar needs to your child? How have they supported their needs? How have they adapted teaching? How have they tried to ensure that the child doesn’t miss out on activities and trips?
  • How do they monitor a child’s progress and how do they keep parents informed of this?
  • How do they celebrate the diversity and achievements of all?

If the head teacher isn’t enthusiastic about helping children with SEND, take this as a red flag. The head will be controlling the money that is spent on any aids or additional support for your child. Similarly if the head is over enthusiastic and believes they can deal with any level of need, be wary. The right head teacher will ask questions to ensure that they believe they can truly meet your child’s needs.

  • Be truthful about your child’s needs, it’s better to know before they start whether a school will be able to meet them.
  • Consider the environment of the school- how would your child cope?  Is it accessible?
  • Observe and where possible talk to pupils, do they like the school, find out their views.
  • Ask to be put in contact with current and recent parents, who can give you a truthful picture on the school’s support.

Overall trust your instincts, although it can be overwhelming you know your child better than anyone and are in the best position to assess whether a placement would work for them.