The ‘choosing schools’ saga is ongoing. We are running out of time to make our application and we still don’t know what to do!
I had a meeting with Tink’s SENCo at school to explain how we’re feeling and to see what her thoughts were. She said that at the moment, she feels that Tink will most likely need full-time support to remain in mainstream reception. However, anything could happen between now and September, and she’s coming on leaps and bounds (in our opinion) already. We need to work on her concentration and attention levels and her (un)willingness to partake in adult-directed activities, but in terms of her communication, she’s improving all the time.
I asked about an EHCP (Education Health and Care plan) and the SENCo feels that Tink would benefit from having one in place, so the evidence-gathering has begun and we are having a TAC (Team around the Child) meeting at the start of the January term, when the plan application will go in. In the meantime, the Educational Psychologist will see and assess her in school, as will the CAT (Communication and Autism Team) and she has already seen the Speech and Language Therapist attached to the school, who has given some recommendations and things to try. So, hopefully, with all these professional reports, along with the evidence provided by Nursery and ourselves, we just have to sit tight and keep everything crossed that the board will agree to the plan and allocate a decent amount of funding to enable the level of support required.
Meanwhile, we’ve been looking at other schools, to get a feel for what’s out there. It feels like having an affair. I have a strong personal attachment to her current school, as it was where I began my education and had four happy years there, with memories so happy that it’s why I wanted to go into teaching (even though I didn’t go into teaching – that’s a whole other, horrible story!). It’s where H has just finished four happy years too, and we feel we know it well. We went to have a look around on Open Day, even though we know it. We wanted to view it again with Tink in mind. And we love it still.
The head waxed lyrical about how inclusive they are and how they support children with additional needs by having one-to-one teaching, learning in small groups with teaching assistants outside of the classroom, interventions with the SENCo… (How much of this was for our benefit, I don’t know), but then we could see evidence of this as we walked around the school. It has a lovely, calm atmosphere and the children look engaged in their learning, and are keen to talk about it to visitors. It is well-resourced and there’s lots going on for the children. The teachers already know Tink’s name and greet her every morning on the way in to Nursery, and she is getting more familiar with her surroundings. But it’s a big school, with 90 children in each year. I worry that she might get a little lost, become somewhat overwhelmed in her surroundings. I worry about the transition to the junior school in a few years’ time (which is outstanding for mainstream children, and H loves it so far), but I’ve heard children with ASD are not as well supported there.
So, with this in mind, we went to look at another local school near us that is two-form entry, so 60 children per year. It’s in a less affluent area only just down the road, but I have a friend whose children attend and she praised it. It also has a unit for children with ASD; another friend’s son began there this September and she is more than happy with his progress so far. Without the EHCP, we can’t apply for a place in the unit, but we wanted to go and see what it was like and get a feel for the mainstream school too, in case it was an option. It’s not. As far as the unit goes, I don’t like the thought of her being in a classroom with all boys, for one thing, which is entirely possible! I didn’t like the reception – although it could be divided at times, it was mostly one big open plan space for all 60 children. I feel Tink would be overwhelmed by this, although the free-flow access to the outdoor area would be good (and she’d probably be out there as much as possible!) Again, the school was well-resourced and provides lots of enrichment opportunities for the children, but we just didn’t feel it really. Current school still in the lead…
So, this week we took the kids to an Open Evening at one final local school, a little further out and one I hadn’t even considered at first, until another parent in an autism group I’m in on Facebook recommended it. We so wanted to hate it, or be told there’s no chance of us getting a place due to our location, or perhaps the huge number of sibling places already likely to be allocated. That would make the final decision nice and easy.
Oh. We liked it. We really liked it. It had a warm, friendly feel. It’s one-form entry. They only have 27 children in reception at present. Every teacher knows every pupil’s name. They have a nice ethos, which every pupil knows well and understands. It may not be as well-resourced as the others (I didn’t see an ‘ICT Suite’, for example), but they still provide opportunities for children in terms of enrichment. The reception class is a nice, large space with its own outdoor area – and chickens! I think Tink would like it. We spoke to the head about chances of us getting a place based on location and he doesn’t seem to think it would be a problem, and there are only one or two sibling places taken so far. He seemed quite sure they could support Tink with her needs, although he obviously doesn’t know much detail as yet. H liked it too. We’re going back to see it again this week, in action and in the daylight! We’re hoping to chat to the SENCo too, just to make sure she can reassure us regarding support. H is gutted he can’t come with us this time!
So, the pondering continues and the clock keeps on ticking… I think we need to make a list of pros and cons for each school. It’s so hard! I don’t want to get this wrong. I felt so guilty walking into school the next day, where the teacher on the gate greeted Tink by name, and the head cheerfully waved me goodbye. I felt as if they’ll see it on my face – that we’ve been meeting up with other schools behind their back and are even considering not keeping her there next year.
I’ll update later this week…