Sometimes we get asked whether there can be any added value from a consultant helping to find a place for a learner with SEND.
There is what is available on the internet and parent groups online have feedback about schools.
If that provides enough information for you to make the right choice without any surprises and in plenty of time to make decisions then that is brilliant news!
We would love for there to be enough high quality SEND provision in mainstream and specialist settings that parents need not go into the depths of the internet, network like they were running for office, or act as PHD level researchers to find and look into all possible school provision for their child.
Our experience is definitely that local feedback from other families can be really helpful.
However, for SEN learners we would be cautious. It is only talking with the schools and having experience of which learners get offered places and which do not that can be a reasonable indicator of whether a child will be offered a space by the school. In the end it is how the school perceives its current students and your child that will count when places are awarded. Sometimes schools feel “full” in certain year groups or altogether with SEND learners and retrench.
Other learners may have very different profiles from your child even if their diagnosis is the same. In addition, due to the shortages of SEND places, finding schools is just one part of the job, gaining offers of places is another.
We often find that the options local parents are talking about in groups may not include the main option we would recommend.
All of our clients tend to be well informed about parent recommendations and yet more often than not we find that they select a school from our shortlist that they were not aware of at the start of our work together.
Why is this?
Because unlike even the local offer for SEND which can be incomplete and also some directories online and in print we are working from a comprehensive database that includes all the relevant options of all school types including mainstream state schools, resource bases, academies, free schools and all types of independent school plus all specialist schools.
We spend a lot of time throughout the year checking our database is correct and does not miss anything. Due to the shortages of places for SEN students we cannot afford to miss even one setting.
Therefore, as we are working with a complete list of all schools of all types within the search area we generally find schools that are not “on the radar” of local parent groups.
Why does our approach work?
Because for our shortlist and placement support services we offer a personal service tailored to your child and your family. We are a multi-disciplinary team with strong SEND experience and knowledge, we review the information schools will ask for and then working from a complete and fully comprehensive long list we work through all schools to see which are best suited to the learner and filter each school “afresh” through the eyes of that learner and what they need without making any assumptions. Sometimes old favourites work well and sometimes they do not and that is fine because each child is unique.
We speak to each school about each learner and find that schools speak more in depth with us as a consultant than they ever have when we have been in touch as parents of SEN learners ourselves. We find schools feel able to be more open with us about what they are looking for and what they can realistically do. Transparency is what we crave first as then we all know where we are. There are times when we feel some schools could do more to support SEND learners although we respect their honesty and know that for a placement to succeed schools need to feel able to be as supportive as possible.
Even then the shortage of places for SEN learners makes it essential to have detailed personalised information about potential options as soon as possible in order to make an informed choice and be able to justify preferred schools against other options for those that have an EHCP. A rejection followed up to find out more can help if there are chances to revisit as parents know what to aim for.
However families get their information, in the end, it is best to know early on what schools can offer and whether families feel the environment and provision is right. We hope that all those reading this find the right school that will be a springboard for their child to thrive and reach their potential.