Finding a school that is a good fit for your child is a minefield. But imagine how complex that process gets if your child has additional needs, or you suspect they may be struggling in class. 

Understand your rights to access SEN support and advice

Every school has a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO). A school cannot legally function without one and one who is qualified in the field of special educational needs (SEN). All SENCOs must have the National SENCO Award and it is your right as a parent to know that your SENCO does.

The SENCO should be working strategically with teachers, parents, and pupils to ensure that pupils with additional needs are being supported, and those with emerging needs are appropriately assessed so they too can benefit from additional support. Once a child is assessed and their level of need is established, a good school would meet with parents to discuss next steps and put an Individual Education Plan (IEP) in place.

This IEP maps out the additional support your child will be getting with assessment points and most importantly, an outcome. The IEPs should be reviewed, with you, on a half termly basis. If things are working, great! If not, then a new plan needs to be made, more professionals need to be contacted and possibly an application for an Education, Health Care Plan (EHCP), could be made.

Parents can lead on this process so do not feel led or in some cases, mislead by school. If you feel your child needs support, you have a right for this to be pursued. If you do not feel your views are being heard, using an education consultant to support you is a helpful next step.

What to look out for:

  • Is your child reporting they do not like school? What do they say when you investigate this more with them?
  • Do you notice any differences between their abilities academically or socially to those of their peers?
  • Are they meeting their milestones?
  • Are they able to articulate their feelings to you?
  • Can they recall an event that happened at school once you are at home in the evening?

The breadth and depth of special educational needs is vast. It is important that parents see these thinking points as possible indicators that you may need some help, rather than as diagnostic tools for SEN.

How do you know if a school is inclusive?

This is a really difficult question, as a school itself is not inclusive – it is the people within it. This is a moveable feast in our current climate, with more teachers deciding to leave the profession than join. There are some indicators of a school’s inclusivity that parents can look out for, but as with all things with our children – it is primarily down to our gut instinct. Does this school feel right?

  • Does the school have a named SEN governor you could talk to?
  • Does the school have an up to date SEN Policy and School Information Report (SIR)?
  • Are there dedicated spaces in the school for wellbeing work?
  • Are the children aware of additional needs and how do they support their peers who struggle?
  • Is difference celebrated around the school through visuals and events?
  • What are the parents saying?
  • Is the SENCO easily contactable (you should be able to expect a response via phone/email within 24 hours).

We often see the new year as a time for change, be that joining the gym or starting a new health kick. Isn’t it about time that we, as parents, ensure that our children’s education is working as well as the new gym class or hobby? And if it isn’t, parents need to feel empowered and informed enough to impart change.

The SEN Expert offers parent coaching, advocacy services, support with applications and support for schools. If this feels daunting, and it can do, use this article as a starting point and reach out if you need more support.