Special Needs Introduction
Sandra Hutchinson, Editor of The Good Schools Guide - Special Educational Needs, explains how to navigate this site, to find the answers you need to your SEN issues.
Some special needs are easy to spot, others are only determined once a child has experienced considerable difficulties, frustrations or social and emotional problems.
In the years since the first edition of our special needs guide diagnosis of, and provision for SEN have improved but both can still be a minefield. We have a lot of help and advice on this site but if you are unsure where to start, make this article your first port of call.
Key sections we cover are:
- The different types of SEN
- Professionals who may be involved in helping your child
- School choices - special, mainstream or a mix?
- Choosing a school
- Help at school
- The law
- Advice and support
We outline each of the sections below so you can decide where YOUR search should begin.
Identifying different kinds of special educational needs
Few children fit a condition perfectly – if they do, we tend to say they are a ‘classic’ case. Most will not be straightforward, some will be comorbid, perhaps a dyslexic with dyspraxia and a touch of ADD, or a child with ASD who also has Down’s syndrome.
Just as special needs are hard to define so the perfect provision can be difficult to uncover; having a wheelchair-accessible school does not make it a haven for the wheelchair user.
If you have concerns, please consult Types of SEN. This section is a useful reference for anyone who thinks, or knows their child has a special need. Please do not take lists of characteristics to mean your child has an SEN; how many medical students thought they were riddled with cancer because they happened to have some of the symptoms outlined in the oncology module?
Whatever your thoughts, we cannot stress enough the importance of getting expert, professional opinion, sooner rather than later.
Did you know we have invited ALL schools to complete our SEN/gifted survey. To date several thousand have completed this. Where they have, you can view it on their school tab.
In addition to teaching staff there are a number of professionals whose role involves helping children with special educational needs:
- Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCo's) - coordinate SEN provision within schools.
- Speech and Language Therapists (SALT) - deal with a range of issues including how children speak and how they communicate and interact with others
- Physiotherapists (PT) - work to overcome physical difficulties including: posture, core stability, sensory integration and strength.
- Occupational therapists (OT) - help children with motor skills, coordination and daily functioning.
- Educational psychologists (Ed Psychs or EPs) - uncover a child's underlying difficulties and problems through a range of tests, sub tests and assessments.
- Music therapists use music to encourage communication and facilitate positive change.
- Play therapists - play is not something all children engage in automatically, therapists can assist those who find play problematic.
All have invaluable roles to play in helping children with SEN; what they do they do and how can they help your child is explained in the SEN Professional Help section.
The SEN debate - which school type?
Mainstream or special, independent or state school provision?
We feature the opinions of parents, young people with SEN, teachers, charities, the Government ... those who know us well will not be surprised that we haven’t shirked from debate, we’ve encouraged it!
Parents are unanimous in their desire for children to be included, to have a peer group and to be given a level playing field...
Choosing a school
Choosing a school is not only about the cut of the cloth, it’s about getting the perfect fit, everything from the first tack to the last stitch.
Of course, there’s a difference between bespoke and Burton’s, but that doesn’t mean the former is the only, or even the right option; the suit may fit, the colour may not flatter. Some schools cater extremely well for the very bright, mildly dyslexic child, but would be hopeless for other SEN. Having good dyslexia provision alone does not necessarily make it the right school for your child with dyslexia, just as having a wheelchair-accessible school does not make it a haven for the wheelchair user.
You need to examine a school from all perspectives to ensure the fit is a good one.
indicates a school we have visited (though not necessarily a school that is good for SEN) . Most of these have been done with the full co-operation of the schools; a couple didn’t want us to write about them – but we visited and wrote about them anyway.
At one extreme, some schools do not deal with nor recognise any SEN.
Some of the featured schools that do recognise SEN and look after those youngsters well are only really suitable for, say, the bright child with dyslexic-type difficulties. The reviews for these schools concentrate on what the school offers across the board, with only minor reference to SEN.
At the other extreme, some schools are very specialised, suitable perhaps for children with severe communication difficulties. See Special Schools Reviewed by The Good Schools Guide for a list of those schools that cater for the more complex SEN cases. When writing about special schools, we maintain our style and review headings, but concentrate much more on the entry criteria and any specialist or ‘different’ provision offered to meet the child’s SEN, while not in any way detracting from the importance of the very many other aspects of the school and school life.
We cover a number of local day schools. Not much point reading about them, you might think, unless you happen to live on their doorstep? Not quite, because these reviews give an insight into what makes a good school: what it is they offer; their outlook, facilities and compassion, all things that may provide useful pointers to help you decide what you are looking for, for your child. We already know of parents who, before they spoke to us, were told certain provision can’t be made or does not exist anywhere... Sometimes provision really does not exist. There are a number of schools in this guide that were founded by parents, teachers or other professionals exactly because nothing suitable was on offer.
We’ve provided a guide to Choosing A School: questions to ask, things to look for – but often the real guide is instinct: ‘what feels right’.
Visit a selection of schools, (we provide some handy hints and pointers via Choosing A School For SEN - On A Visit) visit shortlisted schools more than once. If you’re anything like me, you’ll shortlist with your head, but select with your heart.
Don’t choose a school just because it says it offers provision for dyslexia or whatever; choose a school because it suits your child. If a school doesn’t advertise that it caters for SEN, but you like it and think it suits your child – ask. You’d be surprised how many schools that do well by children with SEN don’t advertise the fact (‘we don’t want to be seen as a special school’).
We also devoted a lot of time and energy to getting schools to tell us what they do for children with SEN.
indicates a school that has completed our on-line SEN questionnaire (it does not mean a school is good for special educational needs). We had over 3000 responses, a good number are interesting and helpful, though some simply say they do NOT cater for SEN. We have to stress these are school statements, not ours, so if you know differently, do tell. We continue to accept responses and updates to the SEN questionnaire on a daily basis.
Help in the classroom
The value of monitoring, recording and acting on progress is explained in SEN In The Classroom, where we look at School Action, School Action Plus, Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and the statementing process.
We also examine teaching and learning styles, with practical hints and tips on what helps a child to learn and play.
Play is an invaluable part of the learning process but isn’t always easy for children with SEN so we look at how children can be taught to play.
Sometimes children respond better when the whole approach to learning is different, so we examine some of the alternatives on offer.
We live in testing times, so we also explain the myriad of curricula and examinations. We don't only examine SEN, we asked those who offer exams for SEN to tell you what’s on offer, from ASDAN to A levels, via Common Entrance and the National Curriculum, to P levels, with a note on the IB and Scottish system too. Naturally we have maintained the section on help and concessions your child may be entitled to, not just in the classroom, but in the examination hall too.
Misinterpret a phrase in the regulations and it might be a case of go directly to jail, do not pass go! Parents have a legal obligation to make sure their children receive a suitable education; with this in mind we approached David Ruebain, a highly regarded SEN solicitor and other legal eagles to lead us along the right path. We highlight some of the key points of education law (with a special feature on Scotland’s Education Act), spell out the rights and responsibilities embedded in the statementing process and include a first-hand experience of what it’s like to have to go through the trauma of a tribunal.
Peter Woodroffe, familiar to users of the Good Schools Guide Advice Service, gives advice on taking the legal route when things go wrong. You'll find this invaluable information in our comprehensive section on SEN Law And You.
Where to turn for help and advice
However much you know, there’s always something else to learn. We don't think special needs should be a DIY job so we include information on support organisations, places school-leavers can turn for help, and lots of useful sources of advice, including from the very many contributors to the guide. There’s even a glossary to help you decode the TLAs of SEN and a whole lot more besides; if you think differentiation is something to get to grips with in a maths lesson, check the glossary.
How you can help
If there’s anything you’d like to see featured in future editions, or you have an experience you want to share, get in touch. Please do comment on articles, schools etc . You must be a subscriber and logged in, or registered and logged in to comment (registration is free) alternatively email SEN@goodschoolsguide.co.uk
Types of SEN - A comprehensive overview of key conditions that give rise to SEN.
SEN First Steps - A look at what to do if you think your child has special educational needs.
SEN Professional Help - Useful information on the various SEN professionals who can provide assistance in and out of the classroom
Seeking a school:
The Good Schools Guide - Special Educational Needs 2008 - Edited by Sandra Hutchinson. The helpful, informative and caring guide to special needs and schools.
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