Your guide to
Choosing the right school for your child
About this guide This guide has been written for the parents and carers of children with a learning disability to help explain the options that are available when choosing a school for your child. This includes finding out about the schools available in your local area and advice about visiting schools. Throughout the guide you will find links to other useful organisations and websites, as well as advice from parents who have already been through this process. This guide contains lots of information on action you can take. You can also find a short explanation of important words and phrases in the â€˜key wordsâ€™ section, and look for the sign for things you can do.
Contents Choosing the right school for your child
What kinds of school are available for my child?
Tips for choosing the right school for your child
Arranging a visit to a school
Tips on preparing for a visit
Statutory assessments and statements
Moving from primary to secondary school
The main things you need to know
What do I do when I’ve decided on a school?
What if I haven’t been offered the school I want for my child?
What do I do if I’m not happy with my child’s school?
Where can I get help to appeal?
4 | Choosing the right school for your child
Choosing the right school for your child Choosing the right school for your child is a big decision for any parent. You will be looking for a school that will give them the best possible education, as well as the chance to make friends and get involved in new activities. If your child has a learning disability, making the right decision becomes even more important, to make sure their individual special needs are met. This might mean making sure their teachers are able to provide them with the right support, or checking the school has all the facilities your child will need.
â€œWe are proud of our sonâ€™s achievements and continue to be amazed at his development and involvement in school.â€?
What kinds of school are available for my child? Getting the right education for your child is an important step in helping them to make the most of their abilities and get the most from life. Choosing the right school may seem like a challenge at times, but making sure you know what you are looking for, and what is available, are two of the most important ways of deciding what you want for your child. Most children with special educational needs will go to their local primary or secondary school, sometimes called a mainstream school. However, a child with a more severe learning disability may need to attend a special school for some or all of their school life. A special school is only for pupils with special educational needs, and many children going to a special school will spend some of their time at a linked mainstream school. Every child has the right to go to a mainstream school. More children and young people with special educational needs are now being educated in mainstream schools with extra support. However, in some cases you, your child and the local authority may decide that a special school will better support your childâ€™s educational needs. If your child does not have a statement of special educational needs, you will have to choose a mainstream school from your local area. Whether your child gets a place will depend on how many other children want to go to the school and how many places are available. A mainstream school cannot refuse your child a place just because of their special educational needs, unless their presence would have a negative effect on the other children in the class.
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• The first step to finding a school for your child is to find out what is available in your local area – your local authority should be able to provide you with a list.
• You can visit the Directgov website at www.direct.gov.uk to find a full list of local authority website addresses if you live in England.
• In Wales you can visit the Welsh Assembly government website at www.wales.gov.uk If your child has a statement of special educational needs the local authority must accept the school you name in the draft statement, unless they feel that having your child at the school would make it too difficult to educate the other children that go there. If your child is being statemented the local authority must provide you with information of all local authority funded schools (also called maintained schools) and all approved independent and special schools in England and Wales. Parents can visit any school that they are thinking of naming in the statement.
Tips for choosing the right school for your child 1. Speak to your friends and neighbours Talk to your friends and neighbours who have children at local schools. Ask them what their experiences have been like, what their child thinks of the school and what clubs and activities they have been involved in.
2. Speak to other parents of children with a learning disability Speaking to other parents of children with a learning disability can be a great way to find out information and share your experiences, as well as finding new sources of support.
• Join the Mencap families forum online to find out about other parents’ experiences at www.mencap.org.uk/forums
3. Look at reports on schools in your area In England, Ofsted regularly produces reports on organisations that provide care and education for children and young people. Reading the Ofsted reports for schools in your local area will give you an idea of the standard of education they can provide for your child. The reports should be available from the school itself, or from the Ofsted website. If you live in Wales, you need to look at Estyn reports, which are available from the Estyn website. In Northern Ireland, reports on schools can be found at the Department of Education.
• Visit the Ofsted website to find reports on schools in your area at www.ofsted.gov.uk
• Visit the Estyn website to read reports on schools in Wales at www.estyn.gov.uk
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“We discussed the specialisms of various schools with the social worker and where they thought our daughter would get the best support in the right environment.” 4. Think about what you are looking for Once you have an idea of the schools that might be suitable for your child, think about exactly what you are looking for from each one. You will want a school that offers your child a high-quality education, values their contribution to the school and gives them an opportunity to make friends and get involved in new activities. You may also be looking for specific facilities and support to help your child get the most from their education.
5. Get support and advice Finding the right school for your child can be a stressful time, so make sure you get the help and support you need. The help provided by your local authority will vary according to where you live:
• In England your local authority will put you in touch with a parent partnership service.
• In Wales you can get support from the Special Needs Advisory Project (SNAP).
• In Northern Ireland you will work with the Department of Education through your local council. You can also get support from SENAC, the Special Educational Needs Advice Centre, by calling 028 9079 5779 Monday to Wednesday or 029 9070 5654 Wednesday to Friday.
In England, the parent partnership service can also put you in touch with an independent parental supporter who can help you to prepare questions for schools and attend visits with you. However, it is important to remember that staff working for the local authority cannot recommend a school themselves, so you may want to consider getting some independent advice as well. The Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) and the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice (IPSEA) both offer help with educational matters.
• Contact the Parent Partnership Network at www.parentpartnership.org.uk or call them on 020 7843 600.
• Visit the SNAP Cymru website at www.snapcymru.org or call them on 0845 120 3730.
• Contact the Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) for free advice on education at www.ace-ed.org.uk or call them on 020 7704 3370.
• Visit the IPSEA website at www.ipsea.org.uk or contact their helpline on 0800 018 4016.
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Arranging a visit to a school Once you have put together a list of the schools that might be suitable for your child you can call each of the school secretaries to arrange a visit. Some schools also have open days, when members of the general public can visit and look around. These days might give you a better overall feel of the school. However, if your child has special educational needs, it is still a good idea to arrange a separate visit to discuss your child’s individual needs and to find out what the school can offer.
“Visiting the schools helps you to see, hear and discuss first hand if they can support your son or daughter’s needs.” Who will I meet at the school? During your visit you will usually meet the head teacher and the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO). You may also meet the class teacher.
Should I take my child with me? The decision to take your child with you on a visit will completely depend on you and your child. If your child is able to join you this can be helpful, as it gives the staff a chance to meet them and understand their needs as an individual. It also gives your child the opportunity to get involved in decisions about their education and future. However, if you do take your child with you, you may also want someone else to come and help you look after them so that you are free to ask questions. If you cannot take your child with you, you could instead take one or two photographs of them to help the staff remember them after your visit. You could also ask the school for some photographs of the school and key members of staff to show your child.
Tips on preparing for a visit 1. Make a note of the questions you want to ask It’s a good idea to sit down before the visit and think carefully about the questions you would like to ask. You may want to write these down so you don’t forget them. The questions will depend on your child, but you may want to know about:
• school staff • teaching and support • children at the school • specialist support for children with complex learning disabilities
• specialist equipment • out of school activities • transport to and from the school. 2. Talk about your child and their needs Don’t forget the staff at the school will also want to know about your child, for example, what nursery or schools they have been to, what type of special educational needs they have and what you are looking for in a school.
“I came to the parent partnership service to get them to take me around the schools.” 3. Get support for the visit You may also want to take someone with you for support during the visit, such as a partner, friend or relative. If you do not have anyone to go with you, but you would like some support, you can speak to the parent partnership service. They can help you put together your questions and contact you afterwards to see how the visit went.
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4. Take a good look around Make sure you have a good look around during your visit, and ask to see the buildings and the playground. See if you can get a feel of the school, its general atmosphere and whether it feels positive and welcoming. Try to imagine your child in these surroundings – you need to feel comfortable that they will fit in and have their needs met. You also need to feel confident about the attitude and skills of the staff, and how flexible they will be when working with your child. You should also check how well-equipped the school is, for example, how many computers there are, or whether there are facilities such as a changing table available.
5. Ask for a prospectus A prospectus is a booklet that contains information about a school and the courses and opportunities it provides for its pupils. Most schools will have a prospectus or some written information for parents which you can take home and look at after your visit.
“We are lucky that he now has two wonderful learning support assistants, a form teacher and head teacher who all work with us to ensure he has a meaningful education and that every opportunity is given to him.” 6. Talk to a parent of a child already at the school This will give you a chance to find out about someone else’s experiences of the school, any problems they have had and how happy they are with the education their child is receiving. This is particularly useful if they have a child with a learning disability or similar needs to your son or daughter. You could also ask to speak to a parent governor from the school to discuss your situation.
7. Think carefully about your decision After you have visited a school you will need some time to think about all the information you have received before deciding if it is right for your child or whether you need to visit any other schools. You may want to talk this through with someone else, for example a friend, advocate or professional.
School Action Most children with special educational needs will get the support they need from their local school. If you as a parent, your child’s school or another professional have concerns about your child’s development, his or her teacher should follow a step-by-step process to provide them with extra support. During school years the two stages of assessment and support are School Action and School Action Plus. At each of these stages the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) at your child’s school will help to monitor their progress and will draw up an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which should be reviewed regularly – ideally every term. The SENCO will also work with other professionals to get the right package of support for your child. As a parent you should play an important part in developing the IEP, and your child’s views should also be considered.
“We didn’t even know my daughter had autism until she went to school and the SENCO realised something was wrong. The school have done everything for her.” School Action If your child needs additional support, his or her school may make an arrangement with the SENCO to provide extra help. This support will be provided within the school, and with school resources.
School Action Plus If your child’s school cannot meet his or her needs they may request additional external support, for example, from a physiotherapist, a speech and language therapist or an educational psychologist.
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For most children, these stages will provide enough support to meet their educational needs. However, in some cases you as a parent, the school or a professional may decide your child should have a statutory assessment to see whether they need additional support. If they do, your child will be given a statement of special educational needs. This final assessment is different from other assessments because the statement is a legal document and the local authority must provide the educational support that it describes.
Statutory assessments and statements Most children with a learning disability will have their needs provided for by their school from its own budget. However, children with complex special educational needs may need to have a statutory assessment to decide whether they need extra support. This assessment is carried out by the local authority, or the Education and Library board in Northern Ireland, who will decide if your child needs a statement of special educational needs. This is a document that describes your child’s needs and the help the local authority will provide for them. Parents often use the word ‘statementing’ to describe this process.
“We were sent the local authority’s statement of procedure and the SEN code of practice, which was really useful as it enabled us to identify what support we could receive.”
During the statementing process, parents are given the opportunity to choose which school they would like their child to attend. You can name a specific school, or say whether you would like your child to go to a mainstream or a special school.
• Read the Mencap guide ‘Understanding statements and statutory assessments’ at www.mencap.org.uk/statementsguide
Moving from primary to secondary school Many parents have told Mencap that the move from primary to secondary school brings with it new challenges. Your child may end up going to a different school to some of their friends, and the level of work may be very different. If you are visiting secondary schools, it is a good idea to speak to the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) about exactly what will be expected of your son or daughter, what support they will receive and how the school will keep in touch with you as a family. If your child has a statement, you will get the chance to talk about your secondary school options in the annual review when your child is in year 5.
“Secondary school is completely different to primary school – how they do things is different, what they expect from the young person is different.”
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The main things you need to know Your child has a right to go to mainstream school Every child has the right to go to a mainstream school, and increasing numbers of children and young people with special educational needs are now being educated in mainstream schools with extra support. However, each child is different and this will depend on their individual needs. In some cases you, your child and the local authority may decide that a special school will better support your child’s educational needs.
If your child has a statement you can choose the school you want them to go to When you fill in the draft statement you can state which school you want your child to go to. The local authority must accept the school you name in the draft statement, unless they feel that having your child at the school would make it too difficult to educate the other children that go there.
“I went back the second time and was impressed – they’d improved a lot.” If your child doesn’t have a statement you won’t always get your first choice of mainstream school This is the same for all parents, and could be due to a number of reasons – for example, too many children may want to go to the same school that you have chosen. Not getting your first choice of school can be incredibly frustrating, and may mean that you as a parent have to take a bigger role in asking for support for your child. For example, you may want to meet with your child’s teachers to talk about their specific needs, or to suggest ideas for after school clubs they could attend.
You can arrange a second visit Deciding on a school for your child is a big decision, so don’t be afraid to get back in touch with the school to ask more questions or arrange a second visit.
What do I do when I’ve decided on a school? Once you have decided which school you would like your child to attend, you should contact the head teacher of the school and your local authority, particularly if your child has a statement of special needs.
What if I haven’t been offered the school I want for my child? If your child does not have a statement and you don’t feel happy about the school you have been offered, you can appeal to the school admissions panel. If your child has a statement and you disagree with the school named by the local authority, you can appeal to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal. However you must lodge your appeal within two months of receiving the final decision letter from your local authority. You should also write to your named officer at the local authority, telling them that you do not agree with the statement and that you wish to go to the Special Educational Needs tribunal. You may also want to request a meeting to discuss your concerns about their decision.
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At the same time, you can also contact the Disagreement Resolution Service, which is sometimes known as a mediation service – your local authority should give you their details. Using the mediation service does not affect your right to appeal to the tribunal. However, if meeting with your local authority and using the mediation service is enough to resolve the disagreement you can withdraw from the tribunal process.
What do I do if I’m not happy with my child’s school? If your child attends a mainstream school and doesn’t have a statement it is a good idea to speak to their SENCO and head teacher if you feel they are not receiving enough support. As a parent you can also request a statutory assessment for your son or daughter yourself, and the local authority must comply with your request unless your child has been assessed within the last six months, or they have a good reason for believing that a statement is not necessary. It is a good idea to make your request in writing to your local authority, as this way it will be clear exactly when you started the process, and will help to put you in the driving seat. Making the request yourself can also prevent delays in getting started and can give you much greater control, as well as ensuring you are notified of decisions as they are made.
“He’s in a class of 11 now so they know his personality inside out.”
You may have to work hard to build your case if you are applying for your child to change schools, so it is vital that you gather as much evidence as possible from the professionals who know your child well, and you may also want to invest in an independent assessment. One parent told Mencap that she was so concerned about her child’s development that she got a referral from her GP to a behavioural specialist, and managed to get her son a place at a nurture unit in a local school. When he didn’t make significant progress, she was able to get a statement for him and a place in a special school, where he is now in a smaller class and getting on well.
• Contact the British Psychological Society for more information about independent assessments by calling their help desk on 0116 254 9568.
If your child does have a statement but you are unhappy with the support they are receiving, you should start by speaking to the SENCO and the head teacher at your child’s school about your concerns. You can also get support from your local parent partnership service, or SNAP in Wales, and get in contact with the local authority’s special educational needs (SEN) adviser. If this doesn’t resolve the problem you can appeal to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal (SEN). You should also write to your named officer at the local authority, telling them that you wish to go to the SEN tribunal. At the same time, you can also contact the Disagreement Resolution Service, which is sometimes known as a mediation service – your local authority should give you their details. Using the mediation service does not mean that you cannot appeal to the tribunal. However, if meeting with your local authority and using the mediation service is enough to resolve the disagreement you can withdraw from the tribunal process.
• Read the Mencap guide ‘Understanding statements and statutory assessments’ at www.mencap.org.uk/statementsguide
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Where can I get help to appeal? Appealing can be a very stressful process and if your child has a statement, there are tight deadlines, so it’s a good idea to seek professional advice at this point. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal have useful information on the appeal process, or you can contact the parent partnership service or a specialist voluntary organisation.
• Visit the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal website at www.sendist.gov.uk for information on making an appeal or call the SEN helpline on 0870 241 2555 in England or 01597 829 800 in Wales.
• Visit the IPSEA website at www.ipsea.org.uk or contact their helpline on 0800 018 4016.
• Contact the Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) for free education advice at www.ace-ed.org.uk or call them on 020 7704 3370.
• Contact the Children’s Legal Centre for legal advice and information on policies affecting children and young people at www.childrenslegalcentre.com or call them on 01206 872 466.
• If you are in Wales you can get support from Snap. For more information, visit the Snap Cymru website at www.snapcymru.org or call 0845 120 3730.
• If you are in Northern Ireland you can get support from SENAC, the special educational needs advice centre at www.senac.co.uk by calling 028 9079 5779 Monday to Wednesday or 029 9070 5654 Wednesday to Friday.
Key words Advocate An advocate is someone who helps another person have their concerns, views and wishes heard by others. DfES Department for Education and Skills. Estyn Estyn carry out inspections of nurseries and schools in Wales. Independent Parent Supporter Offer guidance and supervision to parents and carers during the process of finding a school for their child. LEA Local Education Authority. National Curriculum Sets out the stages and subjects your child will be taught during their time at school. Nurture unit Some schools may have nurture units, where they work with and support children and young people with special educational needs before deciding if they need a statement of special educational needs. Ofsted Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. Parent partnership services Services that provide information and advice for the parent of any child with special educational needs. Special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) A teacher who works with other teachers and parents to make sure your child’s special educational needs are met at school. Specialist school A school that focuses on a specific subject area, such as maths or sport. Statutory assessment A formal assessment of your child’s special educational needs.
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Contacts England If you live in England and would like more information on learning disability, you can contact: The Learning Disability Helpline Telephone: 0808 800 1111 Typetalk: 18001 0808 808 1111 Email: email@example.com If English is not your first language and you would like access to a translation service, please contact the Mencap helpline and ask for Language Line.
Northern Ireland If you live in Northern Ireland and would like more information on learning disability, please contact: Mencapâ€™s Information Service Telephone: 0808 800 1111 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wales If you live in Wales and would like more information on learning disability, please contact: Wales Learning Disability Helpline Telephone: 0808 800 1111 Email: email@example.com
Scotland If you live in Scotland, and would like more information on learning disability, please contact: ENABLE Scotland Telephone: 0141 226 4541 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.enable.org.uk
123 Golden Lane London EC1Y 0RT T: 020 7454 0454 F: 020 7608 3254 www.mencap.org.uk email@example.com Learning Disability Helpine 0808 808 1111 Registered Charity Number 222377