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Please help me understand primary school options

12 replies

TheStarMachine · 24/07/2021 22:14

I am really confused about choices for primary school. I know there is mainstream, specialist and mainstream with an autism base but I don't understand what those look like in practice.

The council have told me it is better to start in mainstream as it is easier to move from mainstream to specialist than vice versa but I don't really trust them as they always push for the cheapest option.

I find it hard to anticipate how much support my son will need because I don't know many other children his age (just 3) and he is changing all the time. He autistic and has GDD, he is is non verbal but is starting to make a few word attempts. He seems to have good receptive understanding but is very rigid in terms of his interests (letters, numbers, shapes).

I am ambitious for him and want his talents to be nurtured as well as his difficulties to be helped.

Can anyone advise if starting at mainstream sounds like a good idea? I would prefer to avoid disrupting him by moving him after a few years unless I need to.

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LIZS · 24/07/2021 22:17

Does he have an ehcp? Realistically specialist places are hard to come by until a few years down the line.

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TheStarMachine · 24/07/2021 22:19

@LIZS Yes he does for nursery. He starts in September so we just got it.

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openupmyeagereyes · 25/07/2021 05:03

Is he under a speech and language therapist? Is he due to start school Sep-22?

As he’s summer born you may want the option of deferring reception a year. This will give you more time to assess his needs better as these should become clearer once he starts nursery. It also gives more time to see how his speech develops.

I always thought it was easier to move from special school to mainstream, as there are so few SS places available they are generally full.

In our LA there is only one primary with an ASD base (and two secondaries) and it’s 26 miles from us. From my, so far, limited investigation (we are just exploring other options for ds(7)) The schools with the base seem to have quite strict application criteria, basically the children need to be academically capable and able to access the curriculum but just need a bit more support.

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openupmyeagereyes · 25/07/2021 10:22

Does the EHCP have funding for 1:1 support?

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TheStarMachine · 25/07/2021 16:03

@openupmyeagereyes Thanks for your reply. The EHCP does have 1:1 funding and he is under speech and language.

It is our plan to defer primary entry until Sept 2023 so we can see how he develops at nursery but the SEN team are telling me we still need to submit our school choices in the next few months for the deferred place.

We are lucky to have a lot of options where we live. I had hoped the SEN team might be able to offer a bit of advice on which might be the most suitable, but they have not been very helpful and as mentioned, I don't trust them to only push us towards the cheapest provision.

Your points about mainstream / specialist and autism base are really interesting. My instinct is that specialist may be the best fit but I don't want to close off any opportunities for him at such a young age.

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openupmyeagereyes · 25/07/2021 18:40

Yes, you have to apply for your school place as normal and also apply to defer the place at the same time - make sure you're clear that you want him to start in reception still. Hopefully you won't have any problems given he is summer born and with additional needs. It's good to look at all your options before you make your application. If you want a special school place it may have a different application process.

It really is impossible to know right now how he will come on and how he will find nursery, though of course all children grow and develop, but you're in a really good position to already have an EHCP, we didn't get ours until he had finished nursery although we did access additional funding for 1:1 for his last term there. Does he have any sensory issues?

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TheStarMachine · 25/07/2021 19:50

@openupmyeagereyes Yes I feel like I need a crystal ball to know what the right thing to do here is. I suppose I can apply for the places I hope he will fit into well and if in a year it is apparent they won't be suitable ask to change the application. Thanks for the tip re reception start.

Sensory issues don't seem to be too much of a problem at the moment (except for mouthing everything but food!). We are working on encouraging him to touch a range of textures (he doesn't like messy play etc) and to expand the food he will accept, but noises and touch seem ok for now.

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KimGriffinOT · 28/07/2021 13:58

It is really hard to make this decision early on. The best people to advise will be your nursery teaching staff and other therapists that are supporting him. If you have an EHCP already, given his age, my guess is his needs are higher than many. (I have worked with a lot of children who haven't had needs identified until they start nursery and struggle to get the EHCP in place before reception).

I would highly recommend that you visit the different schools in your LA in October so that you do understand the difference. Most families I work with can see where their child will fit best, it's hard when you haven't actually seen them so go and see as this will help your decision.

Special school places fill very quickly as there are not enough. There can be long waiting times for a place and as much as that shouldn't sway your decision, it is something to be aware of.

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TheStarMachine · 28/07/2021 14:16

@KimGriffinOT Thanks for this. Yes his needs are obvious, he received his autism diagnosis when he was 2 and he has a physical disability too. I have spoken to the various therapists supporting him and they have suggestions (but they are all different!).

I agree that nursery are likely to have some good insight, but I had assumed he would have been there a year before I took this decision, not just a month (my mistake!)

My plan is to spend the next few months researching, then visit all the possibilities at the start of the new school year hopefully.

I understood that if a school is names on the EHCP they have to find a place for the child - do you know if this still involves a long waiting list?

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Hankunamatata · 01/08/2021 22:08

Go specialist. Much much easier to move from specialist to mainstream

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10brokengreenbottles · 03/08/2021 10:08

Unless the school you want is wholly independent if a school is named in an EHCP they must admit the child. If they refuse, depending on the type of school, the LA or Secretary of State can direct them to admit. However, the battle can be getting the LA to name the school in he first place.

Unless the school is wholly independent the LA must name your preference unless they can prove one of the following:

  • The setting is unsuitable for the age, ability, aptitude or special educational needs (“SEN”) of the child or young person; or
  • The attendance of the child or young person would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for others; or
  • The attendance of the child or young person would be incompatible with the efficient use of resources.


There is no legal definition of full. The bar for refusing to name your preference is relatively high, and being 'full' is not enough of a reason to refuse. They have to prove they are so full it is incompatible.

This doesn't stop many LAs refusing and forcing parents to appeal. And, of course, there becomes a point where incompatibility can be proven, this is more likely if you want a place at a non standard entry point, which is why it is easier to go from SS to MS than the other way round. Don't believe the LA that it's easier to go from MS to SS, if isn't.
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TheStarMachine · 04/08/2021 13:17

Thanks for all the advice everyone! I have a lot of research still to do but I am going to start by visiting the specialist provisions.

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