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special school versus mainstream

(11 Posts)
paranoid2 Thu 06-Oct-11 13:32:53

My Ds is currently in year 6 and in a special unit attached to mainstream . At the moment we are considering whether to send him to mainstream or special secondary. There is no option to send him to a special unit attached to mainstream. I have visited a number of schools , both special and mainstream and am a bit confused about what qualifications are achievable in both. Visited quite a few and am confused with so many options being there. The special school have pupils who achieve entry level qualifications mainly at level 3 and some at 1 and 2. I had researched what entry level quals were before I visited the schools and most websites advise that they equate to levels 1, 2 and 3 of the national curriculum. Our favourite mainstream school advised that they do some entry level exams also , presumably as they have a good reputation for special needs and have children with a range of abilities . When I spoke about them being the equivalent of levels 1 to 3 of the NC the SENCO said that this wasn?t the case and they were more like a level 5. Having not been educated in the UK and being unfamiliar with the whole secondary system I thought at the time that I must have been wrong but it doesn?t appear to be the case. The SENCO said that the school also did applied/vocational type GCSE?s which can be at levels 1 and 2 of the NQF , ie the equivalent of D to G in GCSE (level 1)and A to C ? GCSE (level 2) . It would seem to me that a child could be at level 5 (NC) when starting this type of level qualification but not for entry level quals.

Does anyone know if mainstream schools do entry level qualifications as a rule and are they about level 3 of the NC, ie the equivalent of what a 8/9 year old would achieve . Sorry to be so detailed but DS is currently on level 3 of the NC and it wouldn't seem appropriate to send him somewhere where that would be the target although I do see him struggling in the mainstream world. I?m not sure about him doing GCSE?s, maybe some of the applied ones may be appropriate but I would like to send him somewhere where there was scope for both entry level and applied GCSE?s. The schools don?t seem to be familiar with the primary world but I did look at the specs for some of the entry level courses and they do look more like levels 1, 2 and 3 of the NC rather than 5. Thanks for reading. Sorry its so long

IndigoBell Thu 06-Oct-11 14:15:22

I don't know the details of all this. Minx is a bit of an expert. And she had a thread about entry levels on the main education board a wee while ago. ( I think the answer was entry level was below GCSE grade G )

But I do know that about 20% of kids will leave Y6 on a L3. So if he is currently a L3, then academically he's suitable for MS.

paranoid2 Thu 06-Oct-11 15:44:33

Thanks Indigo. Will have a search. I think he is level 3 not least because of where he is , ie a small class with lower noise levels and a classroom assistant (for everyone, not him alone) to call on. I worry about his progression in mainstream , although our preferred mainstream school has small class sizes in the lower ability classes

sugarcanmelt Thu 06-Oct-11 18:38:39

My understanding was that entry level was for pupils who wouldn't get a grade G, as Indigo says.

Your DS might be academically suitable for mainstream, but don't forget the other considerations (not sure of your DS' dx). For my DS (ASD), he was achieving L4 or higher but ms wasn't suitable because of the noise, sensory processing issues, consistency of staff, being on a large site and the training of staff.

Local special schools weren't suitable for us because of his academic levels but also peer group - he could have had access to a ms for some subjects but he wouldn't be able to socially interact with pupils in the special schools. A split placement like that might suit your DS, though, so it is another route to consider.

Have you looked at schools outside the county? You don't have to limit your search to within your own LA, if none of the local schools can meet his needs. DS goes to an independent special school now where he will be able to take a full range of GCSEs. That is another possibility, although you would have to convince the LA that none of the local schools could meet his needs.

pinkorkid Fri 07-Oct-11 10:17:21

I agree with sugarcanmelt, that you should look further afield, if the local special schools and mainstream schools don't offer what your ds needs: combination of small class size, specialist support and access to mainstream curriculum. Also worth asking the local schools to confirm that they can't meet these requirements or to what extent they can meet them. This should help in deciding if he would cope and thrive there and also, if necessary, provide evidence that he needs to go elsewhere eg if you want LEA to agree to independent or out of county provision.

paranoid2 Fri 07-Oct-11 12:02:36

Thanks everyone for your advice. I will take those suggestions on board.

Sugarcanmelt - yes its the other things like noise and distractability that I'm worried about as in my opinion they contribute hugely to DS not meeting his potential in mainstream. he doesnt have an ASd diagnosis nu has a lot of the sensory traits as well as auditory processing issues.

Minx179 Sat 08-Oct-11 23:24:12


Apologies in advance, this is a bit long, but HTH.

I think you may be getting yourself a bit confused with national curriculum levels and educational levels.

National Curriculum levels apply to levels 1-8, these are used to determine where a child is academically between the ages 5-14.

Educational levels Entry to level 8, are used to determine the level of academic study the individual is undertaking. Explanation here

More here

And here re functional skills

Functional skills are a 14-16 qualification, along with GCSE’s and some BTEC’s. They are not usually equated with a NC level, though the level a child is working at towards the end of KS3 will determine the pathway they are offered going into Yr10 (KS4). Functional skills courses are generally offered to children who are either not expected to gain traditional GCSE’s, or who may struggle to do x number of GCSE’s. For example children offered an ASDAN/CoPE level 1(functional skills) course will study a number of subjects at the end of which they will achieve the equivalent of one GCSE grade E/F, in our school children would also take two GCSE’s alongside this course, but not maths or English. E/F is probably equivalent to a NC level 5.

You need to be careful with BTEC’s and find out what the school offer – level 1’s or 2’. Level 2 BTEC’s are allegedly equivalent to 2 or more GCSE’s usually grade C or above, which is no good if your child is working below this level. Voice of experience on this one having had a child come home for the last year stating ‘teacher/TA has told me what to write’.

In my experience m/s secondary schools tend to follow the national curriculum for children between the Yr7-9 (though schools are increasingly starting to do GCSE’s in YR9). If your child struggles with reading/writing/maths they may be offered a scheme such as Success Maker; if he meets the criteria,24/1,20/Start.html otherwise he will do the same as everybody else (differentiated and streamed) .

This is a link to a set of stats depicting what children achieved nationally between 2004-2006 giving KS3 grades and GCSE grades Can't find the link for KS2/3 at the mo.

Theoretically if your DS is working at NC level 3 at the end of KS2, you would expect him to make some progress by the end of KS3 (Yr9), for arguments sake let’s say he achieves a level 4. If he progresses at the same rate, no problems, manages to keep up etc he could possibly achieve an E for maths and Science and a D/E for English, but this is not fixed in stone, he could do better or worse depending on a number of factors eg the school, teachers, his peers, interventions, his attitude to learning etc

Take into account his SEN and the fact he is currently in a unit, he could struggle in a main stream secondary. Larger, more children, fewer resources etc. Is it not possible as somebody else suggested to find a special school in your area that gives children the option of doing GCSE’s if he is able?

paranoid2 Sun 09-Oct-11 17:03:19

Thanks Minx for taking the time to give me such a detailed response. I think I'm clued into whats what and confirmed by your information. From what I can gather there are entry level quals (level 1 - 3) which are at a level below level 1 of GCSE's ( D to G). Any of the websites that I visited said they were comparable to NC levels 1 to 3 which makes sense from the specs that I also downloaded.

I see from one of the documents that you included that GCSe's at level 1 were being described as "entry" and I wonder if this is what the mainstream school were talking about when saying that this was the equivalent of NC level 5 which does make sense but possibly means that they dont do the lower level entry quals which is fine too as he is at that level now. However they did also talk about BTec's and the outcomes being either the equivalent of level 1 GCSE( D-G) and level 2(A-C)

It would mean however that the majority of children in the special school would be working at a level below DS ( as their results were definitely the entry levels 1 - 3 below GCSE) and although they have said that if a child is capable doing GCSE's then they would facilitate this through having him to to Mainstream/local college etc.

All of the comments you made re him moving from a unit to MS make sense. The size of the classes in mainstream for lower ability children are small, almost as small as the numbers in the unit but there are other considerations also.

Thanks again. I feel I am in danger of boring everyone to death but I feel its important for me to know the detail of whats out there so as to give him a challenge but for him to have other options if we find he cant meet those challenges

Minx179 Sun 09-Oct-11 19:41:27


Is there a wide range of academic skills within your DS's current class?
Do you think your DS is a secure level 3 across EMS?
Where do the majority of the children leaving the unit go for secondary?
How do they do at secondary? Socially and academically

GCSE D-G is a level 1.
Entry level is below a GCSE ie ASDAN and is for children not ready for/capable of GCSE's. This course is usually combined with some vocational courses at a local college; engineering, hairdressing, catering, public services etc

I have just found a link on Direct Gov that states entry level 1-3 is equivalent to NC levels 1-3, so you are right on that.

You're right about the BTEC's, but you need to be careful about what the school is offering. Do they offer level 1 BTEC's or only level 2's?

What do the secondary offer children if they are not capable of GCSE?
What sort of progress would he have to make in KS3 to do GCSE's?
Or to be considered for an alternative route?

What is the special schools experience of/provision for helping children to get GCSE's in the past? I would be tempted to explore this link to see how the school could implement things, what his provision could be.
How would your son feel being at that particular school?

Though the classes may be small in m/s, you also need to consider that the low ability classes also tend to have some of the most disruptive children in them. One of the worst classes DS had, only had 10 children in it, one teacher and two TA's. Bullying and disruption went on in nearly every lesson, unfortunately DS's belongings were regularly the target.

Would you consider sending him to a special school for a year, see how it goes then if your not happy send him to m/s?


pinkorkid Mon 10-Oct-11 10:09:09

Just as an aside, good starting points for finding out what schools are out there are: the Gabbitas good schools guides - they have listings for independent special schools and also the ofsted site which will alllow you to search by area and by type of school and will give latest reports on individual schools. Also some charities such as NAS or dyslexia charities maintain lists of schools which support that particular need. If you are happy to post on here your rough geographical area plus your ds' area of need you might be able to get personal recommendations or warnings about particvular schools.

paranoid2 Mon 10-Oct-11 11:54:52

many thanks Pink Orkid and Minx for your many valid suggestions. I will print them off and use them for future reference. I have emailed the mainstream school to get clarity on the entry level and other courses available.
Minx - I would say there is an even split on children going to MS/Special. I think most of the children with Specific learning diffs generally end up in MS and the rest can be in either depending on level of difficulty. I have a teacher friend who teaches in a local MS secondary and she says the children from the unit usually start off in the bottom groups but often move up groups. The teacher in the MS school that I visited also said the children from the unit do well. She has had a few over the years where it didnt work out but the parents had been advised at the time that special was the most appropriate. They insisted on MS but by year 10 the children couldnt cope. Will be listening to DS's teacher and EP but wanted to get ahead and have a feel for whats out there

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