Wednesday 3 April 2013

Statement of Educational Needs and Free Schools.

Recently we have received Sasha's amended Statement of Special Education Needs following our recent statement review. I think I've mentioned before that the statement is very wordy, and states things like 'small group work' for Sasha, but she doesn't actually get additional support in the form of a full time permanent extra assistant in school. We have been extremely lucky with our Infant school, and they have been very flexible, helpful, and understanding as far as Sasha is concerned. In some ways though, her path has been slightly eased by the fact that all the children around her are also so young still and therefore show a wide range in ability and behaviour. The move to Juniors will involve several new challenges for all of us, but we also feel confident that the school will work with us and do their best to help Sasha.

We have always felt the Statement was at best our passport to choice of secondary school for Sasha (by law you are allowed to state the school which you feel will best suit your SEN child's needs, although you may end up going to court/tribunal with the council if they don't agree). However it has now become clear to me that the statement doesn't actually help a right lot as far as schooling goes, if there is indeed no suitable school to send her to. I have no desire to be sending Sasha out of this county to a school, especially when her sister will be local - I think most parents would much rather their child was in a school nearby. That's probably why a lot of children with autism end up being home schooled - but that's a whole other topic.

With our statement we received the schools information. This includes a sheet showing the special schools - a choice between learning difficulties, moderate learning difficulties, emotional and behavioural difficulties, hearing impairment and physical impairment; 25 in the whole county. There's also a single sheet showing mainstream 'units' or 'bases'. Seven of these are primary only (none in our town, funnily enough), 3 are for hearing impaired, one for physical impairment, 12 for speech and language, 4 for specific learning difficulty and one for visual impairment. Then we also get a 16 page list (double-sided) of all mainstream schools in the county. This irks me somewhat, as I see it as a massive waste of tree - there's not actually any chance at all that I would send my SEN girl to an average mainstream in say, Bishops Stortford, or Borehamwood, so why do I need that door wedge?!

None of these schools are likely to suit Sasha - she does not have a learning disability, she is not physically, hearing or visually impaired, her speech and language has pretty much caught up to her peers and is in any case not her main issue, and she is most definitely not your average, mainstream child. 

It's probably the sheer increase in numbers at mainstream secondary schools which would cause Sasha the greatest problem - the noise, the confusion, the managing different timetables and different teachers every day, the lack of individual help. These are all issues which the average child may also struggle with, but the majority of them can cope with it, even if they don't enjoy it. For Sasha everything is an extreme. We could consider trying to place her with a full time Teaching assistant, but in reality this seems to single special needs children out even more as being 'different', leading to more bullying and less integration.

The alternative could be to consider paying privately for education, as class sizes there are guaranteed to be smaller. However I'm not confident this would be an option for Sasha - sadly her special needs are seen as just that - needs. She would be considered a drain on resources (which she would need if she were to hit the high academic targets that these schools are held to), and most likely not welcomed by those parents who are paying the high price for their own child's education.

So for me, it appears that a specialist school, where people will actually understand and care for Sasha, is the only option. There is no such school in this county currently. Therefore, I am 100% behind the opening of a new free school in this area and will do everything I can to help regardless of whether it turns out to be the best option for Sasha or not. Other parents deserve it too - and there are plenty out there who do not have the energy to fight. I'll do it because it's right for parents to have the option to provide the best and most suitable education for their children.