Lorna Woolley on finding the right school environment for a child with learning challenges.
Parents explore specialist provision for a child or young person for many different reasons, such as a challenge relating to a specific diagnosis, or a profile of needs that are unmet in their current school. They may be concerned about a child without a precise diagnosis, who nevertheless seems unable to reach their potential in the present classroom setting due to a ‘non-standard’ learning style.
Of central importance in the search is the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), setting out the special educational needs of a child or young person, and the evidence contained in it. Insufficient or inaccurate evidence in your EHCP can lead to confusion about actual needs, lack of funding from the Local Authority, not enough support for the child or young person and, ultimately, placement breakdown. In addition, in order to achieve a successful result, the plan has to be written in terms of the specific and quantifiable provision which the child ‘must receive’, rather than simply what they ‘would benefit from’.
Visit as many schools as you can. Websites give limited information, and it’s important to see a school first hand before discounting it based solely on its website. Viewing schools is like viewing houses. It’s only by looking around and comparing that you can make an informed decision and begin to think about any points you may be prepared to compromise on.
For some children, remaining at a local mainstream school, with the right support in place based on the evidence in an EHCP, can be a good solution. But nothing will ever compare to fully embracing a specialist setting which offers bespoke provision delivered by a multidisciplinary team of dedicated professionals.
Selecting from the wide choice of schools, each focusing on particular specialties, enables your child to learn in a setting among children having similar profiles, with staff and on-site therapies tailored to meet their specific requirements. Teaching and learning styles, as well as staff training, can be adapted to match the cohort. The professionals in these specialist schools and colleges have found their vocation in teaching children who learn just like your child.
Whenever a child or young person moves to a specialist provision school, the outcome for them should be positive. If needs are met, difference is celebrated, and confidence and motivation increase, they can truly flourish. I know from my own and my sons’ experience that achieving the best school move at the right time not only transforms a child’s future, but brings significant benefits for the whole family.
For children and young people requiring residential provision, the opportunity of an extended waking day curriculum is also life-changing for parents, carers and siblings. Wraparound support helps professionals to guide the children and young people in their care; teaching independent living skills and the ability to manage crucial routines will maximise each child’s or young person’s life chances. This is the work of trained professionals and leaves parents and siblings to be a family. Each school is a community. There are new peer groups and friendships, and wider opportunities for family support groups and activities which can reduce stress and enrich family life for everyone.
Lorna Woolley is an independent education consultant, passionate about helping parents find high quality educational settings for children with additional challenges.