When your child has special needs, education can feel like a difficult path to tread. How do you know which option is best for your child? And what are the options open to you?
What options are there for special needs education?
The type of school you opt for will depend on the severity of your child’s needs. Many children with special educational needs can happily attend a mainstream school with additional help. There are varying degrees of educational assistance available:
Mainstream schools with individual SEN provision
This option would be for children who have relatively low needs; the child will attend a mainstream school and is fully integrated into the classroom, but receives a certain level of individual assistance. This may be provided by a person employed solely to help them in lessons for part or all of the day. They may also receive help as part of a group within the classroom or in a separate class during the day.
Mainstream schools with a dedicated SEN unit
Some mainstream schools have a dedicated SEN unit which may comprise one or more classes for children with additional needs. These classrooms will generally have a higher ratio of staff to pupils, and staff will be specially trained to assist children with special needs. Children may spend all of their time in the SEN unit, or may join their peers in general education for some lessons or events.
Children who have a higher level of need and would struggle in a mainstream school may attend a special school. Some special schools will accept children with a range of needs and conditions, where others may specialise, admitting only children with particular conditions or needs. A special school is designed specifically for children with special needs, so may look quite different to any mainstream schools you have visited - and the ratio of staff to pupils will be considerably higher than in a mainstream school.
Independent schools for children with special needs
These days most independent schools will at least have a special educational needs (SEN) department. There are also independent special schools, and some of these are residential.
Other options for special educational needs
Some parents opt to home school their child with special needs, if they are unable to find a provision locally that fits their requirements. This is a massive undertaking though, and the funding given to schools is not available for home school. In some circumstances parents may be able to agree a flexible arrangement where a child spends part of the day or week in school, and part at home. This can work well where a child finds a full day at school too stressful or tiring, and there is the option to build up gradually over time if appropriate.
Other parents may find that their child can do well in a mainstream school with additional help both in school and from a tutor outside of school. This can work well for those with dyslexia, where the additional support can help to bridge the gap between mainstream teaching and a child’s needs and abilities.