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Article published 9th June 2008

When it comes to choosing a specialist school beware of schools that offer all things to all people.

What is the head’s attitude, and what are the children like? There is simply no excuse for any school to have low expectations and dulled kids....

If a school says they will take special measures for a child who is obviously going to be treated differently from the others, examine carefully how they will do that.

School choice - Additional guidelines for specialist SEN provision

For those requiring a high level of support or intervention, you will almost certainly be invited to visit the school, in the first place, without your child.

Expect to furnish potential schools with reports and information, so they can give you an honest appraisal; if you think they've got it wrong be prepared to stand your ground. If there is the possibility of a match, most will invite the child for assessment, a process that can last anything from half-a-day to three months. Use this time to appraise the school too.

If a child has a substantial learning difficulty, exam results may not be particularly useful to measure the success of a school (though they will give an indication of how well it is possible to do in that school). Try to find another baseline from which to work.

See if you can discover what the typical child has in terms of both emotional and educational status on arriving at the school, and see if you can determine what value has been added to that child when they leave.

Look to the future

  1. What success does the school have in getting its students into further education or employment?
  2. How successful are they at keeping a relationship with their ex-students to see if they are successful in their chosen field of work?
  3. Do they think outside the box when it comes to employment opportunities? 
  4. What are their views on independent and/or supported living and working towards independence skills?

Look for signs of confidence in the older children, and see what help they are given with ‘life skills’, either formally through programmes in the curriculum, or informally in the way the pastoral side of the school is run. Ask for contacts with existing parents of children like yours, and phone three or four across the age range.


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