Many parents approach us for help with finding a school for their SEN child specifically wanting a mainstream school as if they are ashamed if their child would go to a special SEN school for “abnormal children”. It is really important to abandon this attitude as soon as possible. All of the specialist SEN schools we visit are amazingly happy places with children who excel in the right kind of teaching environment. The most important factors are 1. How severe is your child’s condition and 2. Which school has the best facilities to nurture your child’s abilities while providing relevant support. It could be mainstream or specialist. We typically try to recommend schools of both types so that parents can decide for themselves.
A specialist SEN school is going to specialise in a small group of SEN conditions – so you need to target specific schools which fit your child’s needs. Most of these schools are going to have relatively small numbers (less than 100 pupils) and very small classes. They will also have resident or visiting therapists of the type relevant to your child’s condition (e.g. speech and language therapist for dyslexics)
A mainstream preparatory (junior) school may or may not having learning support and most are under 250 pupils. They often “inherit” SEN children because they take them on at say 4 or 5 without selection , but the SEN condition may not be diagnosed until the pupil is 7 or 8. Thus when a mainstream prep says it takes SEN children, one needs to establish if that was a conscious decision with dedicated learning support.
By contrast a mainstream senior school may have more than 500 pupils and a small learning support team. You need to be sure that they have support for your child’s specific learning difficulty. You need to find out how many qualified SEN staff they have, how many therapists visit and how many extra hours relevant teaching your child will receive. It is not uncommon for a mainstream school to have 20+ dyslexic children, but supposing your child has a different SEN, how many do they have and what is their track record with that SEN?
A good proportion of mainstream schools are very academically driven and value their exceptional exam results. They are far less likely to accept SEN children. You could even find your child is forced to leave at 16 to avoid diluting their sixth form exam record. Additionally if they set stiff admissions tests, that may hinder your child in gaining admission.
With specialist SEN schools you need to find out which curriculums they follow and in particular what happens to pupils post 16. Some SEN schools cease at age 16 which can create significant problems with children needing further / higher education. The rationale is normally because certain grades of severely affected SEN children cannot cope with the rigours of A Levels or the IB Diploma Programme. However there are now various options of practical vocational qualification such as BTECs or IB Career Related Certificate. At the time of writing there are only a small number of private schools offering these more relevant courses but speak to us for advice on 01622 813870