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SEN school search frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions about how to search for schools with good SEN provision and how to find good specialist primary and secondary schools

If you are looking for a good school for your child identified with special educational needs or disabilities or who has mental health needs here are answers to a few frequently asked questions.

If you get stuck we can help you as our educational database includes all types of educational setting in the UK within the state and independent sector including mainstream units. We can provide you with a longlist of all relevant options for your search as well as shortlisting the best available settings right up to arranging visits, registration and assessments.

How do you find schools with good SEN provision?

  • The first step is to form a list of what your child needs based upon what is currently working and not working. You can then compare this list against what is on offer at any school.
  • This list should not only include any therapy provision needed, but also literacy and numeracy support work, and also the nature of the environment and peer group your child would benefit from.
  • A school can only potentially work for you if what it offers matches (at least reasonably well) what your child needs.
  • Your local authority is required to publish a special educational needs “Local Offer” and this is a starting point to find out what is available in your area.
  • There are lists of schools you can review although these are often not complete so be careful. The most reliable way to find out what is out there is to review the Local Offer for the relevant boroughs and to check if there are independent schools not listed elsewhere and by talking with other parents.
  • Word of mouth is a powerful tool in finding out how good schools are with their SEND provision although it is key whether your child would receive the right support for them. What works for another child may not work for you.
  • For each school, we recommend reviewing their SEND Information Report which should be published on their website as well as reviewing any comments about SEND from Ofsted or the Independent Schools Inspectorate in their inspection reports.
  • Then the best way to know for sure if the school is right is to visit and to speak with the special needs coordinator.

How to search for independent schools with SEN provision

  • Online and hard copy directories can help in finding independent schools although these are not always complete and you will need to check carefully the nature of provision at each school as the information in directories can be rather generic.
  • You are likely to need to check what your child needs in terms of specific support against what is possible within school or whether you need to see if additional support can be made available in a mainstream independent school by arrangement.
  • For mainstream schools the SEND Information Report and speaking with the special needs coordinator should give you a reasonable picture of how supportive the school can be. If you do not hear back from the special needs coordinator when you contact them that is not a good start!
  • There is a shortage of provision generally and it is so tempting to wish to make a school “work” for your family although it is best to still try hard to really check out the individual areas that you need as a(nother) failed placement is tough for a child and the family.
  • Some specialist independent schools also have long waiting lists (over 100 learners) and receive 10-12 new enquiries each week. This means entry even into specialist schools can be very tough to achieve.

What are the good special primary and secondary schools near me?

  • The best place to start is with your Local Authority’s Local Offer for special educational needs as this will show you which local authority and, sometimes, which independent special needs schools are present in your area.
  • To find out about independent schools you are best to search online or using the director books although be aware not all directories are comprehensive and those that are more comprehensive may contain only a small amount of information about specialist schools.
  • Word of mouth in local facebook groups is another good way to check if you have found everything.
  • In terms of how good the schools are, we always recommend reviewing the Ofsted and Independent Schools Inspectorate reports about the schools as well as their SEND Information Report and talking to the special needs coordinator about your child is key.
  • We recommend visiting as many schools as you can and visiting a school more than once and, ideally, if you feel this is appropriate and helpful, with your child prior to any assessments taking place.

Should I chose a special needs school vs a mainstream school for my child with SEND?

  • The starting point for this is your list of what your child needs in terms of school environment, peer group, style of teaching, curriculum, and therapy and other interventions that may be needed.
  • If all that is needed is able to be provided in a mainstream school where your child thrives socially and emotionally and has a good friendship group that is a sign that mainstream education is working well provided progress in learning is appropriate for their learning profile.
  • However, if your child is struggling with friendships, with their mental health, not making a good level of progress, or seeking to avoid school or refusing to attend then these are signs you may need to seek a school with more support or a more nurturing environment.
  • Generally mainstream primary schools are more nurturing (up to a point!) and some learners even with complex or significant SEND can manage with a good level of support at primary school although secondary mainstream education involves more academic, formal learning at a faster pace and with higher demands and lower levels of teacher support.
  • For some learners, having a one to one assistant at their side all day during their teenage years can feel isolating and if they are not able to follow large parts of the curriculum or take as many exams as other students this may not be what you would hope for your child.
  • There can be great benefits to a mainstream education even for highly challenged learners with SEND where they are able to be fully included and participate in the school community. However, this can be hard to achieve and bullying can be an issue for learners who are seen by their peers as “different” in some way.

Are there mainstream schools with special units near me?

  • This is a great question as these types of setting do not generally appear in online directories and were almost impossible to find prior to the legal requirement for local authorities to publish their special needs “Local Offer”.
  • Therefore, the local authority “Local Offer” is the only reliable public source of information about each borough’s mainstream school specialist units and we recommend searching neighbouring boroughs as well. Sometimes these units are not even mentioned on the websites of the schools that have them!
  • Some local authorities will support applications to units in neighbouring boroughs although you will need to speak with the unit about whether they have space as they are likely to have to prioritise local students prior to those from another borough.

What are the special needs colleges near me?

  • Again, we suggest starting your search with your local authority’s special needs “Local Offer” which you can find online usually by searching for your borough by name and local offer in your search engine.
  • There are not special needs colleges in every borough so you may need to search neighbouring boroughs and research online.
  • It is typical for many mainstream colleges to offer some level of SEND provision and while this can vary in quality and scope some do offer really flexible and helpful support including learning mentors supporting learners in class and others offer individual programmes for learners with SEND to suit their level.

Which are the best SEN schools near me?

  • See above for finding out about which schools are near you. Most online directories will not provide very granular information that will let you know how suitable the school is for your child.
  • Therefore, we strongly recommend going through your detailed list of what your child needs as you visit schools and in discussions with the special needs coordinators.
  • The best school is the school that most appropriately matches your child’s learning profile, skills and abilities as well as their needs for support with their provision. Therefore, there may be very good schools that are just not right for your child bearing in mind having the right support but not offering a suitable peer group or sufficiently challenging work will not be the best option either.
  • Be persistent as you may need to visit a school more than once, or you may find it helpful to visit with one of the professionals working with your child.
  • Some schools will ask you to have support from your local authority before you can look at the school if you have an EHCP. This can be frustrating to navigate!
  • Also, do try and speak with local SEN groups and check out relevant facebook pages for SEN to see what feedback other parents have about particular schools always bearing in mind what suits one child may not suit yours.

Does my child need an Education and Health Care Plan?

  • If you would like your child to attend a specialist unit or resource base attached to a mainstream school, a local authority special school or an independent specialist school you will most likely need an EHCP.
  • Some independent special schools will only take referrals from Local Authorities i.e. students who have an EHCP and where the Local Authority is supportive of a place being requested at the school.
  • However, many independent specialist schools will be prepared to offer you a place at the school and provide a report or letter to you explaining why the school considers that it can meet your child’s needs and meet the needs specified in the EHCP if you have one. It is worth bearing in mind that many local authorities will advise that they do not support out of borough or independent school placements. This means that families will need to show why an independent school place can meet their child’s needs and why other (local authority) options cannot.
  • Independent specialist schools will generally ask for you to provide some evidence of being able to pay the fees either through the EHCP or otherwise if you able to be self-paying.
  • Some specialist schools and local authority special schools have “assessment places” where, if you are applying for an EHCP and the SEND Panel in your area agrees you can join a school prior to the final EHCP being issued. The availability of these places will vary and there might only be 1 or 2 for each school and you will need to ask the schools if these types of place are available.
  • You may also wish to request an EHCP if your child needs additional provision such as a one to one support person in class or if your child needs regular speech and language and occupational therapy.

We hope you found this useful. Please do email silja.turville@acorntooakeducation.org or call us on 020 7193 8407 if you have any questions or if you need any help with your search. Good luck!