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What's the difference between an Independent special school and an LA maintained special school ?

(10 Posts)
adrianna22 Wed 22-Jul-15 15:49:54

A parent , whose DD has similar special needs to my DS, and I were discussing our previous options regarding special schools. Her DD will be going to a local LA maintained ASD special school in September and DS will be going to an independent one.

She couldn't understand my justification of wanting DS to attend an independent special school. She, in her opinion, think they are over- priced, only in it for the money and provide the same level of therapeutic care like in any other LA specialist school/ unit. But I reckoned that independent special schools has more in-house therapy... but I guess it depends on the school right? Whether it is LA maintained or not.

If I may ask, what is the difference between a LA maintained special school/unit and an independent special school? and why did some of you parents opt to place your child in an independent special school as opposed to an LA maintained one.

uggerthebugger Wed 22-Jul-15 17:59:09

The difference is easy in theory, but more complicated in practice...

The LA maintained special schools are, as you'd expect, directly maintained by the LA. They are directly funded by the LA, drawing on funding supplied by government (the High Needs Block of the Dedicated Schools Grant).

There are also a small number of special school academies out there. They aren't under direct LA control, but they aren't strictly speaking independent either - they take money from the same pot, but via a more convoluted route.

There are then two types of "independent" special schools...

Non-maintained special schools are run along the same lines as maintained special schools. They don't get directly funded from the LA - some rely on charitable donations or bequests, for example - but most depend on the income from LA-funded pupils to keep going. Until recently, NMSSs got a small stipend from central government - this has now been slashed to the bone. But to address your friend's point, non-maintained special schools cannot be run for profit.

NMSSs are run along many of the same lines as maintained special schools - they have to have a governing body structure recognised by the DfE, for example, and they have to meet a set of specific criteria laid out in regulations. They get inspected by Ofsted.

Independent special schools do not have to conform to the same regulations as the NMSS, although they are inspected by Ofsted if they have residential provision. They can be run for profit, they don't necessarily have to have a pupil roll made up entirely of kids with SEN.

uggerthebugger Wed 22-Jul-15 18:38:47

but I guess it depends on the school right?

Damn right. Mine have been in mainstream, mainstream/unit, maintained special, and non-maintained special. The non-maintained special is best for them, because it's best set up to meet their needs. No more, no less.

There are shit non-maintained special schools out there, and there are shit independent special schools too.

Likewise, there are some great mainstream schools; if mainstream could have done the job for my kids, that's where they'd be.

I think your point about in-house therapy for NMSS/indie schools is crucial though. The quality of my kids' education stands or falls on the way SALT is integrated into the curriculum and delivered. The NMSS has in-house specialist SALTs; I don't have to worry about the SALT provision being whipped away because of factors outside the school's control.

adrianna22 Wed 22-Jul-15 18:54:57

Thanks uggerthebugger, but I meant in terms of provision, expertise of staff, therapy etc.

How did you find the units in comparison to the school now your DS goes to.

uggerthebugger Wed 22-Jul-15 19:19:46

Oh, sorry, I got the wrong end of the stick!

The non-maintained special school my kids are at now is better - light years better. But it's not so much a resources thing as an organisational culture thing, ime. And special schools having greater freedom to forge their own path.

The unit my kids went to did its best. In terms of resources, the unit wasn't a lot worse off than the kids' current special school. The unit did as much as they reasonably could do with inclusion.

But the unit was part of a much bigger primary school, and when the primary school sneezed, the unit caught a cold.

So when Ofsted came to town and told the school how it should improve, the school followed its recommendations to the letter. Didn't matter if those changes were right for my kids or not - for the most part, the changes weren't right for them. But Ofsted had said it, so it had to happen.

The wheels started to fall off the bus with the mainstream SEN funding changes two years ago. The HT was a staunch supporter of the unit - right up to the point where the funding arrangements changed, and left him actually having to dip into his own budget to promote inclusion.

His attitude changed pretty soon after that; TAs were made redundant, specialist teachers weren't replaced, parents of children with SEN were gently told 'it might be best if you tried another school.' You get the picture.

Tbh, I think that every parent would tell you a different story - depends how resource-intensive your DC's needs are, depends whether the mainstream school pays more than lip service to the idea of inclusion. But that's how things worked for us.

ouryve Wed 22-Jul-15 22:48:32

You can't even make the state/Indie comparison for DS1 - there is no state school in the region (not just county) that could meet his complex needs.

His indie school provides a complete therapeutic environment. There's no bolt on packages (which often add to the cost of state education when implemented in accordance with a child's needs). Even meal times are part of the package - well cooked food, eating together, trying to be adventurous, helping each other - some of the pupils have even bigger problems with food than DS1 does and lunchtime is such an important part of the day.

adrianna22 Wed 22-Jul-15 23:01:41

Ah I see uggerbugger. DS statement provision is very intensive and if this was delivered into a mainstream school of a maintained special school/unit it wold be very expensive. It's a shame that happened to your DS unit, I never thought that could ever happen.

ouryve Wed 22-Jul-15 23:30:15

DS2's provision at the local primary costs far more than they receive for it, even with his statement. It's easy to see how a school under certain pressures would hold up its (collective) hands and say they can't do this anymore, even with a unit in place. Ours is a single form entry village primary. HT is very good at targeting pupil premium for those kids who fall off the edges of SEN provision and at accessing pots of money for various things, which are there because we're in an area of rural deprivation. Those pots of money may not be there forever, though.

jbean66 Thu 23-Jul-15 13:49:13

First of all, dont worry about anyone having a go at you for securing the best possible provision for your child - I dont know whether they feel inadequate for not getting the same for their child or are just jealous, but other parents seem to take it as some kind of personal affront if you get something they think is better.

Secondly, the only thing that matters is which is able to meet your son's needs - if his statement/EHC Plan requires provision that is only available at the independent special school (e.g. waking day curriculum, Autism-specific environment, intensive input from OT, ed psych or SALT etc) that is where he must go because the LA is legally required to make the provision in the statement/EHCP.

State maintained special schools are often things like BESD (totally wrong for an Autistic child), moderate learning difficulties etc rather than Autism specific, so it would be kind of like going to a general hospital that would treat your symptoms rather than a specialist unit that would treat the underlying issues. Maintained special schools also tend to lump abilities together and often are on p-scales rather than national curriculum levels so may not offer GCSEs or A-levels and may not provide post-16 education.

Most local authorities strongly resist non-maintained special schools because of the cost and parents will have fought like hell to get their child in an independent special school.

Ultimately, the provision in your son's statement/EHC Plan is the key to which school he will attend - LA's try to make them as weak and non-specific as possible so pupils with SEN can basically be 'educated' in a shed and we, as parents, have to counter that by making them as strong and specific as possible. If you get the statement/EHC Plan right and design it so that it describes the school you want, you can force your LA to place him there. I got my son into an independent, residential Autism-specific special school by fighting for it at Tribunal - despite the school being in our home county, my son was the first boy from the county to get in and I have since helped another boy from our county get into the school using the same tactics.

You should be proud that you are doing your job as a parent and making sure that your son receives a truly appropriate education!

adrianna22 Thu 23-Jul-15 16:44:58

Thank you jean66 your post means a lot. I have been getting a few remarks about DS school placement. Maybe I should stop telling them that DS will be going to a private specialist school... maybe they thought I was showing off or something.

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