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Transition to secondary - mainstream or special school?(15 Posts)
There have been a number of threads about this question, and the experiences of some parents resonate with what we're experiencing currently, and our concerns about our daughter and her transition to secondary school.
DD is 10 and has dyspraxia, speech, language and communication difficulties and learning difficulties. She attends a small mainstream primary school and has 1:1 support from a TA.
DD has recently had an EHCP agreed for her, which provides funding for the 1:1 support, a SALT package (which she's just started) and hopefully some OT.
We want to find the right secondary school for her, but don't really know what this looks like. The LA Ed Psych has suggested our local girls comp which has a learning base for SLCN. I've visited and had a meeting with the SENCO, but feel some aspects of the provision will not work for DD. Basically there will be no 1:1 support given, and 'base' girls will have a limited number of hours of teaching in small nurture groups (8-12 pupils) primarily for literacy, numeracy, and life skills. For the remainder of the timetable they will be in mainstream classes of 30 with one teacher and one TA. Girls are expected to cope unsupported with transitions between lessons in a large (1400 pupils), busy, noisy school.
There is special school in borough where DD could access on-site SALT, OT, a bespoke curriculum delivered 1:1 or in small groups by a specialist teacher (small group specialist teaching for most of the day was another recommendation by the Ed Psych, so confused she then went on to recommend the mainstream comp where the majority of teaching isn't delivered in this way). Our concern is that DD won't have a peer group at the special school, and pupils with a diverse range of learning and social needs (including MLD/SLD/ASD/physical disabilities) have been 'grouped together' with no stratification according to specific need.
Despite her difficulties, DD is coping fairly well with support at primary and is working at around 1 year behind age related levels in all areas. She enjoys taking part in a wide range of extra curricular activities, such as orchestra, choir, art, netball, computing clubs, to name a few.
So where do we go from here? The special school would provide all the learning support recommended for her and develop life skills but with very limited access to academic qualifications. My gut feeling is she wouldn't cope in the environment of the mainstream school and the learning support pathways in place wouldn't be sufficient to meet her needs.
Has anyone been in a similar situation and found a solution?
Wow that was long! Thank you for reading.
Sadly, there is rarely 'an ideal'.
Have you visited the special school ? I work in a massive LA and we have lots and lots of special schools, to meet different needs, but I don't think any of them would be the right place for a pupils working only one year behind 'expected' levels. None can offer those extra curricular activities - neither from the point of view of the skill levels of the pupils, but also from a practical point of view of the transport leaving at the end of the school day, and clubs therefore not being able to be offered after school.
I would ask the SENCo (or maybe get another point of view from the Head or Year 7?) at the mainstream school with the Specialist resource base, how other pupils have got on with the concerns you have.
I think most parents are anxious about how their dc will cope organising themselves to get around to different lessons when they move to a big school in Yr7, and, understandably, your concerns about that are heightened, but the schools are aware of this and may well have strategies in place to cope.
Clearly I don't know your dd, and I don't know either school, but, purely from what you have said here, I think the mainstream with a SLCN Base sounds far and away the better choice.
Thank you for your reply BackforGood - lots of useful information and advice for us. We plan to revisit the mainstream comp and will definitely ask the questions you've suggested.
I hadn't considered there wouldn't be many extra-curricular activities offered after school at special schools due to transport arrangements. DD is a busy, very sociable girl and and does clubs every day after school, and this is an aspect of school life she really enjoys.
We haven't visited the in-borough special school yet, but have visited a number of independent 'specialist' schools in other boroughs that would be within travelling distance.
The problem there is some of DD's paperwork, particularly the Ed Psych report, portrays DD as a very low functioning child. The cognitive ability testing places her in the MLD range. I'm not in denial that DD has complex and significant difficulties but, despite her scores on various assessments, she continues to exceed expectations in her achievements, such as coping well with school work, becoming less reliant on 1:1 support, learning 2 musical instruments (albeit slowly!), and accessing a wide range of extra curricular activities.
Some of these specialist schools have looked at her paperwork and said they won't be able to meet her needs without even meeting her. I can see secondary options shrinking before our eyes!
Then, if your dd's EHCP doesn't reflect her needs, you need to call a review meeting. You need to insist the Educational advice is accurate and represents who she is and what she is able to do now.
I mean, I know it is unusual to review it early, if she has only just had it, but it makes no sense for such an important decision about where she goes to school, to be based on inaccurate information.
Unfortunately there’s no ideal solution. After a careful discussion with my partner we opted for mainstream education. We are to see a local school tomorrow. We also have toured a number of local schools in the area and chatted with the staff.
I’d call for a revision to her EHCP. This is a tremendously hard decision to make and inaccurate information will not help. Neither of my children have one so I cannot help you there.
'Basically there will be no 1:1 support given,'
There is no reason why they could not provide 1:1 if that is what was specified and quantified (and therefore funded) in her EHC Plan - they might need to employ someone specifically for your daughter, but that would be considered reasonable to expect - if it was funded through her EHC Plan.
An independent Ed Psych report might be a worthwhile investment to get an independent view on your daughter's potential - they could also add recommendations e.g. full-time one to one support, if they thought that was needed. And some advice from one of the charities about your specific situation would probably be a good idea. Best of luck!
Thank you all for your replies, advice and good luck wishes.
We've already requested an early review of the EHCP 6 months before the annual review date in order to assess DD's progress in response to the therapy she's finally been able to access.
I think we've probably been too trusting and somewhat naive in agreeing the EHCP in its present format, as the 1:1 support has been recommended but not specified and quantified. The funding has been awarded at a particular 'banding' level, and the SENCO at the mainstream school told me that level would only cover the base provision and funding wasn't sufficient to give any 1:1 support in the mainstream lessons.
I'm so confused as to what to believe in respect of DD's potential. The results of the various tests and assessments are clear (extremely low across the board), but DD's achievements seem to defy the expectations that would be in line with this level of ability. I think an independent Ed Psych report would be really helpful.
Here is some info re banding from IPSEA:
Even if they use banding, they must still specify, quantify and meet the needs in the EHC Plan.
Thank you Calmed, that's interesting to read. The impression I got from the SENCO was that if a child could be 'slotted into' the provision pathways on offer in the additionally resourced base and the funding band was sufficient to cover these, then all would be well. If a child needed more bespoke provision or provision outside the base then the school may have to say it can't meet the child's needs.
That translates to: 'can't meet needs (unless they are given extra funding)'
Unless you were asking for something that they genuinely couldn't provide e.g. small class sizes for all lessons, then if the base would suit her, with one to one support and occupational therapy and SALT coming in to give her sessions, then I think they'd have a hard time saying they could not meet need. I had 'can't meet need' too and they even had to admit under cross examination that it was all about funding - they got given more money by the LA and suddenly they could meet need.
I know just how hard this is. I am a secondary teacher with a SN child of 12. He is basically too bright for special school but would struggle badly in MS. After endless hours and visits to many schools we eventually decided upon a special school as felt son would just not manage emotionally in mainstream secondary and he had also been bullied badly in mainstream Primary School, where he also got a lot of one to one with t/a. We worried bullying (name calling eg. dimbo) may be worse in secondary. Year 7 went well and we had private tutor, who is amazing, for 3 hours each week. Now at end of Year 8 he has a lot of self confidence and has almost caught up MS peers in Maths. We have now been told he cannot sit any GCSE's at all in SS as children do certificates lower than GCSE. Now we wonder if we should have stuck with MS. Ideally we would have liked a SU within a MS but none near to us. Be aware if you chose SS your dd may not be allowed to sit GCSE's even if she is capable. Son now having to do certificates in SS and GCSE in Maths, Science and ICT outside of school. Check what provision for exams.
We had ED Psych report. This was needed to access SS.
Thanks for your messages caringcarer. It sounds like there are similarities between the needs of your DS and my DD. Could I ask you about friendships and how your son finds the social aspect of special school?
My gut instinct is that a large mainstream school, even with special base, would be a huge gamble for DD. The worst possible outcome for her would be social isolation and operating in a permanent high anxiety state, both of which happened at primary when her needs weren't being met.
Does anyone know of any special/specialist school where there's small group teaching (or 1:1 if required), and pupils have the opportunity to take GCSEs if capable of this? I'm aware such schools exist for specific learning difficulties (dyslexia, dyspraxia, ASD etc with cognitive ability in the average range), but what about a child whose cognitive ability tests below the average range?
Thank you for any guidance.
You may be better looking at schools specifically for children with autism like those offered by the Priory Group.
Our son is doing fabulously well in one of their colleges.
Thank you Ellie, we have a Priory Group school quite close to us. I'm not sure if DD would fulfil the admission criteria. She has speech and language difficulties, including pragmatic language difficulties, but doesn't have a diagnosis of ASD.
It's great to hear your son is doing so well at college. I truly believe DD will thrive if we find the right school setting with appropriate support.
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