Deciding whether a SEN (Special Education Needs) school is the right thing for your child is a difficult process and can take some time to decide; but you are not alone in making this decision. Many people will be there for you along the way to help you to understand the whole process, such as teachers and special educational coordinator (SENCo) and you will always have someone to ask for advice when making this decision.
What are some of the benefits of a SEN school?
Smaller class sizes
Typically, SEN schools will have smaller class sizes. This means that your child will receive more personal, focused learning from an individual who specialises in SEN. Smaller class sizes also allow for a stronger bond to be formed between peers and teaching staff.
For a teacher to work in an SEN setting, they will be required to specialise in the field. This means, the teachers within an SEN school are far better equipped for helping and supporting your child’s needs – if this is something you are looking for.
A more socially appropriate environment for your child to make friends
In an SEN school, your child will have far more chance to socialise, interact and make friends with others of a similar situation and circumstances to them. This means, they will be able to develop their social interaction skills in a safe and appropriate environment. Moving forward into adult life, they will have also had the opportunity to build a friendship group, which can continue into supported living, if appropriate.
Excellent communication between staff and parents
SEN schools are often noted on their communication skills with parents, after all; you know your child better than anyone else. SEN settings will keep you in the loop with everything regarding your child, from the very first day at school to their very last.
Resources tailored to your child’s needs
Each SEN school is different and will specialise in different areas of SEN. The school you choose that best fits your child will have specialist resources tailored to your child’s needs. There are many different ‘types’ of SEN schools, which you can read all about here.
Of course, as with everything, there are some disadvantages you may want to consider, including:
Potentially fewer opportunities to obtain recognised qualifications
In a SEN setting, your child may have fewer opportunities to obtain recognised qualifications (such as GCSEs and A levels) – but that isn’t to say this is impossible. Depending on the type of SEN school, your child may be able to obtain the same qualifications as those in a mainstream setting. Don’t forget, the level of support provided may mean they have more opportunities, as many achieve more than they would have in a mainstream school.
The distance to travel to school may be longer
Given that the school will need to be selected based on your child’s needs; you won’t necessarily be able to choose the location. Unfortunately, this means that some people often have to move in order to be nearer to the school in question.
Fewer opportunities for your child to mix with people of the same age
Although there will be plenty of opportunities for your child to socialise with children of the same ability to them; they may have less opportunities to socialise with children of different abilities, of the same age. It is important that children integrate with people of a variety of different backgrounds, with a varied range of abilities.
Stigmatisation that may come with your child attending a ‘special school’
Although this is a very dated phrase, people still refer to SEN schools as ‘special schools.’ Most people won’t use this phrase in a malicious way, but some do. Due to this, there may be some stigma attached to sending your child to a SEN school. However, having your child at a mainstream school, but not engaging in the curriculum fully, or being singled out for ‘special’ attention, can also result in a similar issue.
In mainstream education, each school must have a SEN action plan, but unfortunately this does not always translate into full integration, often the SEN child will have a full-time teaching assistant, which can hinder relationship building with other children, as they can resent the adult involvement.
When making the decision to put your child into a SEN school, you need to make sure you are aware of what to look for in a special needs school – your child’s needs may be different from those of someone attending mainstream education, so doing your research is vital. Along with this, always arrange a visit or two, as your preconceived ideas about a school will probably be completely different to the reality.
Resources for parents