Finding the right school for your child if they have special educational needs is particularly challenging in the ultra competitive London market, says Gillian Upton
When the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) suggests an educational psychologist assessment report on your child it’s advisable to embrace the idea.
The warning signs should have been there already; unimpressive grades, lack of self-esteem, possibly bad behaviour in class. Or the grades may be impressive but disappointing compared to effort and/or suspected intellect. The sooner the issue can be identified, the sooner your child will ﬂourish.
It may be that your child requires extra support in class as they are struggling in certain areas, perhaps in reading, writing and maths. An assessment may not reveal dyslexia but may highlight weaknesses in processing speed and working memory that require classroom and exam accommodations such as extra time.
Having said that, children with specifc learning diffculties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia can thrive in mainstream schools but they need to be identifed and an intervention plan put in place.
Such a scenario is not uncommon, particularly in the London school market which is hyper-selective. Some less able students are unable to cope in what can feel like a hothouse environment during school hours.
At James Allen’s Girls’ School, for example, the school supports pupils by providing small group intervention and lunchtime drop-in sessions. It also advises early intervention as it, “enables pupils to develop the strategies which help them to access the curriculum with confdence,” says Samantha Payne, Deputy Head, Pastoral at JAGS.
“It also stands them in good stead as the demands become more challenging,” she adds. Currently, around 7% in the Senior School have a diagnosed Special Educational Needs Disability (SEND).
Depending on IQ and the severity of dyslexia, it can make sense for your child to opt for BTECs rather than try and handle the pressure of A levels, and at GCSE to choose subjects that are not 100% reliant on an exam, such as drama, media studies and dance.
In some cases, from GCSEs onwards, children can be allocated extra time, a laptop and a scribe to make exams less daunting, if the assessment ﬂags up an issue. Very often the stumbling block to
beginning this process is the inability of parents to be emotionally ready to accept that their child requires specialist help.
Patricia Snowden is the registrar at the privately-run Fairley House full-time school, which takes children with dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia, and she sees this issue frequently. “Very often parents are upset to find their child has some specific learning difficulty,” she says. “But dyslexic and dyspraxic children are extremely bright and articulate.”
Pupils stay at Fairley House for two to three years and then go back into mainstream schooling. It is full-time from Years 2-11 and children learn in small classes of no more than a dozen, central to which is therapy, be it language therapy, occupational therapy or literacy.
A close discussion between the school’s head and parent will decide a suitable school and Snowden believes that there is better provision in the private sector, citing Millfeld, Bede’s in East Sussex, Portland Place School and St Chris in Letchworth as popular options.
But in the first instance, children must be assessed. Assessments can be carried out as young as five and the likes of autism and ADHD can be picked up earlier than that. The assessment can lift the lid on your child’s weaknesses.
Melanie Tham is the Assessment Coordinator at Fairley House and runs the external assessment clinic. Her assessment gives a holistic overview, furnishing the teachers with a roadmap to follow and highlighting the interventions needed. The sooner it can be done the sooner the child can be supported correctly.
“Parents can wait up to a year to see an ed psych in the state system so only critical children get to the top of the list, which means the self-esteem of those still on the waiting list suffers,” she warns. “If interventions aren’t put in place, children’s behaviour will change in class.”
For this reason, parents often see no other option but to pay to go privately Having said that, state provision for children with SEND is there, provided either in mainstream schools – which is
preferable – or at special SEND units or schools if the child has more significant needs, such as autism or visual and hearing impairment. See our list of SEND units and schools on page 122. This will also involve a statutory Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment and possibly an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
SEND provision in Wandsworth’s special schools, for example, extends to the age of 19. But it’s not an easy journey for the parents or the child. The decision-making process over choosing the right school can be an emotional rollercoaster for parents and if it is not possible to find an appropriate placement for a child with SEND in their local borough, the local authority will look to
either another borough or the private sector.
It should be a collaborative process and there are disagreement-resolution teams to try and come to a solution.
Steph Neale, Head of Beatrix Potter