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Article published 9th June 2008

When a child has known special needs, interview and assessment are the norm.

This is to make sure school and child are a good match, and to consider any further adjustments needed to existing provision, if the school is to successfully meet the child’s needs. So what hurdles should you expect to encounter if your child has mild to moderate special educational needs?

Securing a place at an independent prep school

Once you've found the perfect school for your offspring with mild/moderate SEN how do you ensure they make the cut?

Processes vary from school to school. Some independent and selective schools interview and assess candidates up to 18 months prior to entry (and expect parents to shell out a hefty deposit too); others will assess children at any time provided a place is available. Some groups of schools, the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), for example, have co-ordinated admission arrangements.

Do all schools interview everybody?

Some schools interview all their prospective pupils and even their parents as well. Others interview only scholarship candidates. Most interview those who have passed a minimum standard in the examinations.

We know of some schools that expect the child to prepare a four-page CV, undergo a couple of interviews and have written confirmation of likely performance at common entrance, all many months prior to testing.

Interviews may be with the headteacher or with other senior teachers. There may well be further tests done at the interview. For example, if Jessica did well in her English paper, but less well in her maths, she may be taken off by the maths department and given some maths exercises to do. This should not be a cause for alarm, but it is as well to be prepared for the possibility.

While, obviously, it is a good idea to be able to talk about a book you have read recently and know well enough to discuss, you cannot prepare for interviews. In fact, it is unwise to try to prepare. Children who have been drilled beforehand usually sit tongue-tied trying to remember what was practised at home, what she said in the practice, what Daddy told her to say. Interviewers will look for spontaneity, friendliness, and a willingness to think, to join in and to listen. This is especially important if Jessica is interviewed in a group with maybe two or three other candidates. If she is seen on her own, again, the interviewer will look for a relaxed, open approach, not a prepared speech.

Selection v assessment

If there is a selection procedure for entry that involves a test or exam and your child qualifies for extra time or concessions in exams, let the school know in advance so it can make the necessary arrangements. The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) updates the Regulations and Guidance for Candidates with Particular Requirements annually, so do make sure you refer to the most recent version.

Most schools will ask for relevant documentation – specialist reports such as those prepared by an educational psychologist or a statement of SEN – to be forwarded prior to interview or assessment (in some cases even prior to inviting you to look round). If it is not sent beforehand, inform the staff at the first interview of your child’s special needs or any general concerns you have. This will give them time to put plans in place to ensure a smooth integration into the new school environment. This openness will be much appreciated, especially by the SENCo.

Assessments will usually be carried out by the special needs or learning support department or equivalent, and are designed to ensure they get the best out of the child. This may involve the child spending a day or two in school being assessed formally and informally. In some cases professionals, such as speech and language therapists, who would be working with the child, will be involved with the assessment process. Pre-testing can highlight hindrances to learning that can usually be addressed.

Remember it's your interview too

Interviews and assessments should be two-way, enabling both parties to ensure there will be a good fit. In a boarding school the matrons are also worth interviewing. They can be invaluable in helping with any exercises that need to be undertaken in a quiet and comfortable atmosphere, and you may find that they are also part of the support team. It has been said that the best person parents can interview is a child on the SEN Register. Ask them if their needs are being catered for, what they think of the support department and, best of all, do they know what their targets are!

With thanks for additional SEN information, to Maureen Munro, former SENCo of Malsis School, a co-ed prep school in N Yorkshire.



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