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Getting started with SEND

11 August 2021

If you feel that your child is not doing as well as they could in all or some subjects, or if you notice they have specific difficulties with reading, spelling, writing, attention, instructions or organisation, trust your instincts and investigate the reasons why. It may not be that your child has a difficulty that merits a diagnosis, but you might unlock useful information about how they learn and what works for them, so that they can achieve as much as they can and enjoy their time at school.

Here are 10 steps to best to support your child’s educational needs:

1. Speak to your child and their school

The first step is to speak to your child about what they are struggling with and then keep this dialogue going in a non-judgmental way. Try to make it clear that just because certain areas of schoolwork may be harder for them than for others, this does not stop them from being extremely capable.

Neurodiverse learners often hear many more negative than positive messages, so encouraging and modelling positive self-talk is really helpful. Your child may need to be very resilient to keep working at skills they find difficult, even with the right support and interventions.

With an idea of where you and your child see their difficulties, speak to their teachers and, ideally, the school’s SENDCo (special educational needs and disabilities coordinator) or learning-support team. Discuss your concerns and find out what the school is doing or can do to help.

2. Dig deeper

Hopefully, step 1 is all you’ll need to see your child make good progress. But if you find that their difficulties have not been addressed with effective strategies, or that they are still struggling despite evidence-based interventions from the teaching team, then it’s time to dig deeper.

3. Find out what is going on

An assessment by an educational psychologist or an SEND professional can help to understand how your child learns and whether they have a specific profile or areas of difficulty with learning. Your child’s school may suggest an educational psychologist they have worked with, but if not, seek suggestions from trusted sources such as other parents or education professionals in your local area.

Neurodiverse conditions such as ADHD are diagnosed by a psychiatrist, but an educational psychologist would determine whether a referral might be necessary. Speech and language therapists would probably be recommended for those with communication difficulties, and an occupational therapist would review difficulties with fine or gross motor skills. As part of the diagnosis, you may need to rule out physical conditions - hearing issues for communication challenges, for instance, or vision problems that can lead to dyslexia-like difficulties. However, an educational psychologist can advise you.

4. Understand what a diagnosis means in practice 

 If your child has been identified as neurodiverse or as having a specific learning difficulty, this helps to understand their needs and obtain future support. It can be worrying for parents, who may feel anxious about what lies ahead for their child, but this is normal. Diagnosis is just the start of the journey. Everyone is unique, and while there tend to be common difficulties experienced by learners – such as with dyslexia, for example – what they experience and which interventions will be right for them will be different. So you need to work with the school to identify how best to support your child, and to keep observing what is and isn’t working.

5. Understand what kind of support your child needs 

A good educational-psychology or other professional report should include suggestions for interventions and support that are appropriate for your child based upon their individual profile – two individual sessions of numeracy and/or literacy work per week, perhaps, or specific teaching styles. If the report does not include such suggestions, email the educational psychologist for their recommendations and share them with the school’s SENDCo.

6. Get the support your child needs
Based on the recommendations in the professional reports, start a dialogue with the school about what can be delivered – and how. For example, will additional one-to-one support be offered during school hours and, if so, how will this affect learning for the lessons they miss? Some schools provide these additional sessions outside of timetabled class-based learning so that children do not miss out on lessons.

You may find that not all of the support needed can be provided during school hours. Ideally, external support should be coordinated with the school team, but this is not always possible.

7. What SEND support can parents expect from independent mainstream schools?

Some schools are unable to offer one-to-one specialist support, but those with greater levels of learning support may be able to provide one-to one specialist numeracy and literacy tuition once or twice a week. Handwriting and small-group support may also be possible. Some schools (typically boarding schools) can administer medication for conditions such as ADHD, but often day schools are not able to do this, so extended-release medication may be needed.

In class, we would expect children with communication, attention or auditory/visual difficulties to be situated near the teacher. Laptops can reduce the burden of writing (but mean that typing skills are needed and maybe a smaller laptop for younger children, with a suitably sized keyboard), and copying from boards should be reduced or eliminated to allow more time for thinking and processing. Homework sheets should be given out rather than relying on pupils to write down what is needed.

8. Who pays?

Generally, independent schools will expect parents to pay for private reports and are likely to charge for additional one-to-one support with specialist numeracy and literacy tutors. Group sessions are sometimes included in fees or will be additional charges, depending upon the school’s policy.

9. What happens with exams?

If your child has an identified learning difficulty, we recommend seeking specific arrangements for all exams, including entry tests. These can include using a laptop, extra time and also scribes and readers. When applying to schools, ask them about their entrance-exam support, which may differ from the support offered in public examinations.

You may need an updated educational-psychology report to specify what support your child needs – your school should be able to guide you regarding the timing for this. As waiting lists can be very long (more than six months) for the most highly regarded private educational psychologists, it’s worth planning ahead.

10. How to get more help

If you are worried about your child’s progress and not sure that you are doing everything right, please know that you are not alone. Navigating the special needs system is difficult, with a lot of new information to absorb. The impact on parents can be significant, as it is hard to see your child struggle and even harder if you do not know whether they are receiving all the support they need. We recommend that parents seek as much support as possible for themselves as well as for their child. Our advisory service can help with both.