Choosing a School
Your autistic child is unique and individual. Schools also come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so learning about what’s out there is the key to choosing a school. There are many different options when it comes to education, and having an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan can broaden the options available to you and your family.
When choosing a school, it’s important to understand the different types. There are mainstream schools, where a broad range of children with and without additional needs are taught together, and there are specialist schools, where children may have a range of additional needs and the provision is tailored to meet these specific needs. There are maintained schools that are funded by your local authority and there are independent schools that charge tuition fees to parents/families. There are also Free Schools that are run by an organisation and funded by the Department for Education (DfE). Academies are also funded directly by DfE and have greater autonomy in terms of admissions and innovative education.
To get a general view of a school, you could start by having a look at their website. This should give you an idea of the type of school it is, how the school is structured, the curriculum they teach, the staff and their expertise well as their overall ethos. The Special Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice for England and Wales states that maintained schools, maintained nurseries and academy schools must publish their policy for pupils with SEND on their website. The Code of Practice outlines the essential elements of the information that the school must provide, this includes:
· the kinds of SEND that are provided for
· how they identify, assess and support children/young people with SEND
· how they involve parents and young people in learning
· how they review the support they offer to individual pupils
· how they support learners to move between the phases of education, and in the secondary phase, how they support them to prepare for adult life
You may also like to have a look at their most recent Ofsted Inspection Report – you can search for a school by name or postcode https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/
For a more informal approach, other parents and families will be able to tell you more about how their children are supported on a daily basis. It can also be helpful to visit a school and see their approach ‘in action’. Open Days are helpful as the other pupils will be present, or perhaps request an individual visit during normal school hours if you feel that would be more appropriate for your child. If you would like to take a friend, relative or a professional who supports your family along too, that’s fine.
Visit as many schools as you can, so that you can compare what is on offer and make an informed choice about what would be the best fit for your child. There are many aspects to consider but the first two questions are very easy!
1. Were you made to feel welcome as a parent/carer on your visit?
2. Did you get a positive response if you disclosed your child/young person’s autism diagnosis?
If you feel your answers are ‘Yes’ and you continue the visit, you may like to consider the following points to help get the conversation flowing:
· Does the school focus on my child’s strengths?
· Do the staff have autism experience and training?
· Is there key point of contact for you as a parent/carer?
· Does the environment promote all kinds of communication, not just speech? Can you see evidence of visual structures, such as timetables and symbols?
· Does the school value wellbeing as well as academic achievements?
· Are there any structured activities for break times, such as clubs?
· How does the school make adaptations to the environment to support sensory differences?
· How do staff support everyday transitions between activities? What about annual transitions to the next class/teacher and phase transitions to the next placement?
Trust your first impression and your instincts. You know your child better than anyone. If you arrive feeling welcome and leave feeling confident, then it is likely your child will too. So now make a second appointment and take your child/young person with you this time. If they like it too they will let you know!