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Choosing the best school for any child can be a difficult job. In order to make a good decision, you need to do some research, make some visits, ask a few good questions and get some advice from friends and other families. Choosing the right school for a child with a disability is just the same…only harder. Sometimes it is very difficult to find the information you need. Sometimes there might be no-one who seems to know the answers to your questions. Sometimes a school may not seem very interested in issues that may be crucial to you. And unfortunately, sometimes there just isn’t a school that offers what you want for your child.

Most schools these days seek to accommodate children with disabilities alongside those who have no disability. There are mainstream schools with specialist units for hearing impaired pupils, schools with behavioural units and schools that have developed specialities in helping pupils with specific learning needs. All mainstream schools should have a SENCO, which is a Special Educational Needs Coordinator.

Here is a check-list of some things you could do before deciding which school you want to send your disabled child to:

  • Write down a list of questions that you need to ask of any school you may visit
  • Meet the Head, Deputy Head or SENCO so that  you can ask your questions, and more that come to you
  • Read the school’s Special Educational Needs Policy
  • Visit the school for a guided tour. Think about whether the building, classroom environment, dining hall and journey to school are all suitable for your child
  • Check, as far as you can, that the class teachers and assistants have the skills and experience necessary to help your child learn
  • Ask about the school’s anti-bullying policy
  • Check the school’s OFSTED report
  • Find out how home-school communication will be handled if you child will be getting school transport to school

It’s a long list, but if you have a choice of schools for your child, it makes sense to find out as much as you can before you make that choice.

School Action and School Action Plus

There are different types of educational support available for children with Special educational Needs (SEN). Although many people think of support in terms of Statements of SEN or being placed in a special school, most children with SEN have their needs met with existing support already available in a mainstream school. This support is provided at two levels: School Action (SA) and School Action Plus (SA+).

What is School Action? (Known as Early Years Action in Early Years Settings)

School Action (SA) is used when there is evidence that a child is not making progress at school and there is a need for action to be taken to meet learning difficulties. SA can include extra teachers and or different learning materials, special equipment or a different teaching strategy.

Teachers may become aware of the need for intervention at SA where there is little progress in a child’s ability despite targeted teaching, where there are difficulties in core areas, where there are persistent Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties or where there are sensory or physical problems.

What does the School Action Stage Involve?

At the SA stage the teacher will be looking for ways to support the child in class and will work with the SENCO to find ways to support the child’s learning. Parents must be informed that their child is considered to have SEN and has been placed at SA and will receive copies of the school’s plans. Progress should be reviewed at least twice a year. In addition, an Individual education Plan (IEP) should be agreed to help the child make progress.

What is School Action Plus?(Known as Early Years Action Plus in Early Years Settings)

School Action Plus (SA+) is used where SA has not been able to help the child make adequate progress. At SA+ the school will seek external advice from the LEA’s support services, the local Health Authority or from Social Services. For example, this may be advice from a Speech and Language Therapist (SaLT), an Occupational Therapist (OT) or Specialist Advisory Services dealing with Autism, Behavioural Needs etc. SA+ may also include one-to-one support and the involvement of an Educational Psychologist. As well as the use of external services, SA+ requires more detailed planning of help for children whose progress has been limited. A child’s progress at SA+ stage should also be reviewed regularly (i.e. at least twice a year) and an IEP should also be written to help the child.

When to move from School Action to School Action Plus?

The test for whether there is a need for a child to move from SA to SA+ is whether the child is making “adequate progress”. This is a broad term which can be defined in a number of different ways. It essentially depends on what the child’s starting point is and what the expectations are of that child. It is usually down to the teacher’s professional judgment.

Some ways of defining adequate progress include; progress that matches or betters the child’s previous rate of progress, progress that is satisfactory to the child and the parents or progress which closes the gap between the child and the child’s peers. Where a child is still not making adequate progress at the SA+ stage then the child’s school or parents can request a Statutory Assessment, which may lead to them receiving a Statement of SEN.

Statements

If your child is going through the process of gaining a Statement of Special Education Needs, you should still try to visit a variety of schools and do all the above before the school in the statement is agreed and named, unless it is very clear that only one school is suitable for your child. Sometimes the education authority will suggest a school for your child that it feels is the best choice, but you do not have to agree to this. If you check out a few different schools and come back to the statementing process and your local authority with evidence you have collected to back up the choice you want to make, this can be very effective.

For a brief outline of the steps that need to be gone through in the SEN statementing process, see Direct Gov’s pages on SEN Assessment and statementing. For more support with education and statementing issues, you can try the Kent Parent Partnership Service (KPPS) which is provided by Kent Council Council, and which can offer you support with educational issues.

You can also get independent parental special educational advice from IPSEA

Special schools

In order to gain a place at a special school, you child will need to have a statement of special educational needs that names that school. There are a number of special schools within Swale, Thanet and Canterbury.

Swale

Meadowfield School in Sittingbourne caters for pupils aged 5-19 with profound, severe and complex special educational needs.

Canterbury

St Nicholas School in Canterbury is a community day school for pupils aged 4-19 who have profound, severe and complex learning difficulties.

Thanet

St Anthony’s School in Broadstairs caters for pupils aged 5-16 who have behaviour, emotional, social and learning difficulties.

Foreland School Broadstairs provides services for pupils aged 2-19 who have profound, severe or complex learning difficulties. Many of the pupils have Autistic Spectrum Disorder or medical problems and physical and sensory disabilities.

Stone Bay School in Broadstairs  is a specialist residential and day school for pupils aged 11-19 who have Autistic Spectrum Disorder, moderate and severe learning difficulties and challenging behaviour.

Laleham Gap School, which has a junior school at Broadstairs and a senior school campus at Margate, is Kent’s specialist school for high-functioning pupils aged 4-16 with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and / or Speech and Language disorders.

Royal School for Deaf Children, Margate is a non-maintained day and residential special school for children who are deaf or who have a hearing impairment or associated communication difficulties. Most of the pupils have additional educational, emotional/behavioural or medical problems.

Ruth Ford is the county coordinator for deafblind and multi sensory impairment. You can contact her on ruth.ford@kent.gov.uk