Ha!! Don’t make me laugh! I haven’t heard something so ridiculous in a long time. Parental choice. In this case referring to mine and my husbands choice of which secondary school we would like our son to attend in September.
Callum has autism. He has a Statement. I don’t know if you know much about the UK educational system but a Statement is a legal document outlining the special educational needs of an individual child. They are now like gold dust.
If your child has special needs above and beyond what can be met in the classroom they are placed on the SEN (Special Educational Needs) Register for the school. These children are considered School Action. The school is obliged to put into place special provision to meet your child’s needs. This may be a modified curriculum in the teacher’s planning, or extra support within group work. The main point being your child’s needs are wholely met within school and mainly within the classroom.
If your child requires intervention from outside agencies, such as a speech therapist they will be considered School Action Plus. Now your child’s needs are met mainly within school with some input from outside. Maybe a visit from the Educational Psychiatrist.
However, if your child has even further needs that cannot be covered the school may apply for a Statement. This involves reams of paperwork, piles of evidence and hours of meetings. It took two years for my son to be given a statement. Constant back and forth to doctors and psychologists. Two years of falling further and further behind his peers both in his academic and emotional development.
When Callum was given his statement it was a huge weight off my shoulders. Until I read it. There was a whole A4 page with a list of things that he needed help with. And they had allocated funding for a one-to-one assistant for 15 hours a week to cover all of his needs. Not good enough. So it was back to fighting the authority again. Eventually he was give 25 hours.
Since he was in Year 5 we have been talking about which secondary school he will go to. We visited some and discussed his needs, how they could be met and where he would be best placed. Over a year and a half ago now we informed the local authority of which school we wanted him to attend in Year 7. We also informed his primary school and the secondary school we had chosen.
Now, with a ‘normal’ child you may discuss where you would like them to go. You may choose your preferred school, but there are no guarantees they will be admitted. However, government published admissions criteria state that priority for places should go first to children who are looked after by the authority (in care) and those with a Statement. They should be admitted on grounds of meeting their educational needs, regardless of catchment or distance between home and school. These priority children should be given a secondary school place no later than 15th February. All other children will be given their places by 1st March.
The school that we chose for our son is an Academy. They have their own admissions officer and do not go through the local authority. They turned my son down for a place based on catchment area alone. They feel his needs can be met by the school within his catchment. I had to find out via my son’s teacher almost two weeks after the February deadline. If she hadn’t told me I wonder if I would have known now!!
Autism is something which affects my son in many ways. One of which is that he finds it hard to adapt to change. He likes his routines. The whole idea of going to a new school in September is stressful enough for an 11 year old. For my son it is a whole lot worse. He was supposed to be one of the first to be placed, instead he has to go to school every day and hear his friends talking about which secondary they will be going to and he still doesn’t know his. By now his transition should have started and he should be slowly introduced to the school and its teachers.
Autism also affects his ability to communicate effectively, and how he reacts in social situations. He cannot tell me how upset he is, but I know it is affecting him because some of his other obsessive type behaviours are worsening.
Finding and maintaining friendships is made difficult by his autism. The thought of going somewhere completely new is terrifying to him. 250 other children of whom he does not recognise one face? I cannot ask him to deal with that on his first day at secondary.
When I eventually go to appeal I will have to state my case as to why I want my son to attend the Academy rather than the school which is very handily situated at the end of my road. The Academy has specialisms of Business and Computing and Special Needs. It has carpets designed in such a way that as you approach a stairwell the pattern changes. All the corridors and carpets are colour coded. They have sound systems in all of the classrooms. All designed for visually and hearing impaired people but which also happen to help autistic people with the sensory problems they face. They are also set up for small group teaching, which will help his social problems. They employ individual assistants which are subject based rather than assigned to particular children which will help with his attachment issues.
As for the school at the end of the road where he may end up, what can they offer? Well the last thing I heard was that they were unsure if they could meet his needs.
If it was your child, what would you do? What would be your parental choice?