Writing the foreword to our 2018/19 guidebook, Philip Garner says there is now more choice than ever, writes but with that comes a responsibility to ensure that you find the best fit...
Choosing a school for any child is one of the most important aspects of parenting. When a child has additional or special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) this process can be a challenging one – although the choice available to parents is now greater than it has ever been. Schools in the UK education system comprise either mainstream or special schools. The former can be administered by a local authority or function as private/independent establishments, or as an academy, a school within an ‘academy trust’ or a ‘free school’. Special schools are often free-standing schools, which cater exclusively for either a single type of SEND or a more diverse range of needs. Often, in any given location, mainstream and special schools work quite closely together: this is a positive feature of provision, and one that brings benefits to both schools.
The choices you make will be informed in large part by the information you gather about the school system and the options that individual schools provide alongside your own knowledge and insight about your child’s learning needs; this combination will best ensure that you can identify the school which offers your child the greatest opportunity to be an effective student, at whatever age or level.
In the UK, there has been considerable discussion for almost 40 years now about the relative merits of inclusive mainstream education and separate specialist provision. These conversations can be summarised in the so-called ‘inclusion debate’. The idea of educational inclusion was that all students should be in a mainstream school; some still regard this as the only way that children who have any learning difficulties or SEND should be educated. However, an alternative view is that ‘inclusion’ is not defined simply by ‘place’; it is argued that it is more about meeting learning and developmental needs in an environment where everyone respects the differences in individuals.
Thus, ‘inclusive practice’ is apparent in both specialist and mainstream settings. Mainstream schools can meet even complex needs, providing effective SEND provision is regarded by all teachers as a core feature of the school’s role. Equally, special schools can be ‘inclusive’ in that they can enable even those students with complex needs to thrive and to reach their full potential as learners. In the face of such choices, parents need be comprehensive and structured in the way that they assemble information about the best place for their child learn, so that they can be happy and contented learners at a level appropriate to their needs.
Fortunately, there is now more choice than ever in the UK for parents seeking an appropriate education of their child with SEND. Each of the schools identified in this Guide is fully registered and regularly inspected, not only by the Office for Standards in Education (OfSTED) but also by the Care Quality Commission. Many excel in addressing specific learning needs, and in curricular areas which are innovative and distinctive. Ultimately, however, they form an index, a starting point in identifying the type of school that will best meet the needs of your child. Utilising the information contained in the Guide, alongside other resources, will equip you to make an effective, informed and student-centred choice.
This Guide will be a welcome resource for those parents who are embarking on such a decision-making journey. It provides a compendium of information from which you can start this process. Not only does it comprise a comprehensive gazetteer of schools, according to their provision, but it also gives expert insights to assist you in decision-making. Having some insider knowledge can make all the difference when you come to make those vital school visits, starting with a clear understanding of current legislation as it applies to SEND. Visits to schools are those occasions when you can develop critical insights about a school’s vision, its policies and organisation and the way that the curriculum is structured and taught. This is best done by reading the school’s literature for parents, alongside relevant sections in this Guide, and then ensuring that your queries receive responses that you feel are satisfactory. And although it gives you a detailed picture of national provision
In England, the Code of Practice (2014) sets out the statutory arrangements for the education of children and young people right up to 25 years. More than ever before there is now a focus on the views, wishes and feelings of your child and their input to any decision that affects them. The information you obtain from this Guide can be made accessible to them, adapted as appropriate; their questions should be at the heart of the process. Ultimately, choosing a school to meet the special educational needs of your child is a team effort. Though the child is at the centre, your role as a mediator of key information about SEND will be essential to reaching a successful outcome. This Guide should be viewed as an essential companion or support in this effort.
Philip Garner BA, PGCE, MA (Ed), Dip.Res, PhD is Professor of Education at The University of Northampton