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How to find a school for your child with SEND

01 September 2021

When it comes to finding the right school for a child with SEND, it’s often difficult to know where to begin. We’ve put together some tips to make the process a little less daunting – and help you kickstart your search.

1. Consider your child’s support needs

The first step is to fully understand your child’s profile and support needs, which ideally will be evidenced in educational-psychology reports. These should include such recommendations as, for instance, whether a child with dyslexia would benefit from a specific number of one-to-one literacy-support sessions per week. They can help you understand what kind of support your child would benefit from in class. 

2. Get help with entry assessment

To ensure that your child has the right help with completing entry assessments, their educational-psychology report should identify the access arrangements and support they will need: how much extra exam time would be appropriate, would they benefit from a scribe or reader, should they use a laptop?

3. Start assessing schools

Armed with this information, you are in a better position to assess schools based on their general characteristics and the support they offer. If you feel you are still not sure what your child needs, we recommend seeking a new or updated educational-psychology assessment.

4. Pinpoint schools with Talk Education’s search function

Our search functions allow you to filter what you are looking for in terms of type of school, location and other key features. In addition, you will be able to identify the nature and amount of SEND support that each school offers, and pinpoint which ones are likely to have the right type of support.

5. Discuss your child’s needs with schools

Once you have a shortlist of schools, discuss your child’s needs with the school’s learning-support team. This can feel uncomfortable ahead of a competitive entry process, but we would always recommend it. It will help you to work out whether the school can meet your child’s needs, and if you can establish a good working relationship with it.

6. Always bear in mind your child’s strengths

It is worth noting that while mainstream schools with entrance testing may be happy to consider access arrangements, they are still looking for a certain level of academic performance. But learners may have strengths in science or the arts that will not show up in entrance tests focused on English and maths.

This is a matter you should address with potential schools, as well as with your child’s current school. It is important to be careful here, since schools that are less demanding from an academic perspective may not have the right peer group for highly able students with a ‘spiky’ profile. It is best to find a school that ‘gets’ your child’s strengths and their areas of difficulty, and is able to offer the right amount of support.

7. Can the school meet all your child’s support needs?

If the schools you are looking at cannot provide the support in and outside class that your child needs, you may need to consider supplementing provision. This can be a way to help your child join a school with the right peer group and to reach the level that they are able to achieve.

8. Supplementing provision

We regard best practice in mainstream schools as one that enables referrals from the learners themselves and their parents, as well as from teachers. Specialist literacy and numeracy tuition is available at many mainstream schools but not all. Speech and language or occupational therapy are not typically available – if they aren't, you could ask the school if it can be coordinated with work completed there. It is also good to know what experience a school has in working with pupils who share your child’s profile.

9. Be aware of children’s changing needs as they move through school

Bear in mind that as children get older, the demands placed on them by the school system increase as learning becomes more formal. This can be the opposite of what some learners with SEND need, as they may benefit from a greater element of practical and multi-sensory learning.

And consider whether your child will be able to comfortably sit 10-12 GCSEs at 16 – would they benefit from a more flexible approach to the number of subjects they study and in choosing subjects that match their interests?

Remember that GCSEs and A-levels are not the only route to university and further study – schools offering vocational qualifications or, say, the US high-school diploma can provide a wider range of options that may be more suitable for your child.

10. Stuck? Talk to Talk Education

If you are struggling to work out which school is right for your child or you do not have a clear picture of their profile and needs, our advisory team can help you narrow down the options and find the right professionals to provide guidance on supplementing provision if it is needed.