The hunt for a potential new school for Tink has begun. We don’t yet know for sure that she will be moving from her current school – we have to have a meeting to discuss it more in-depth and be sure that they have done all they can yet still can’t meet her needs. But we need to be prepared for the worst case scenario, so I’ve been calling local settings to book viewings.
Dave and I have visited two different settings so far: a special school for children with a variety of learning disabilities, and a resource base for children with autism spectrum disorder and is integrated into a mainstream primary. We are also going to see another special school next month, and this one is more geared towards children with autism and seems to be the place to be.
My only previous experience of ‘special school’ was over 20 years ago when, as an A-level student at school, we were encouraged to do some voluntary work. Myself and two friends would trek across the city one afternoon a week to help out in a school for children with varying needs, from Down’s Syndrome to cerebral palsy to autism. In all honesty, I found it very challenging, as I had absolutely zero knowledge or experience of special needs and disability; mainstream education for these children wasn’t really an option then so I’d never come across it, not having friends or family with disabilities. The school felt a little depressing and to be brutally honest, I was quite relieved when the placement ended, as I felt out of my depth, even though all we were really expected to do was to be an extra body in the classroom or playground.
So, with these, now hazy, memories in mind, I wasn’t sure what to expect when we went to visit the first school. We pulled up outside a very large, modern-looking school. It shares the building with a mainstream primary, but mostly the children keep to their own side. The classrooms are light and spacious, with low class numbers and high staffing. The children we did see (as they were all heading into assembly) were keen to say ‘hello’ and I could see there were a range of abilities, which, the head explained, are all catered for in the teaching and learning, and we saw evidence of this. The staff were friendly, taking an interest in Tink, as she did in their classrooms. The school has excellent facilities such as sensory rooms, and a forest school, which I know Tink would absolutely love.
But… it didn’t feel quite right. The head explained that the child’s primary need must be their cognition and learning and I just don’t think that this is as much of an issue for Tink. I know she has the capacity to learn and she is bright, but we just need to find the best way to harness it, to capture her attention long enough for her to get the full benefit of the opportunities presented to her. Tink’s issues are related to the ASD; in particular her lack of attention, her sensory issues and her social skills.
Next, we visited the resource base in the mainstream school. This school is actually our nearest, as the crow flies, but it’s in a less desirable area. However, I’d heard good things about the base and the school overall has a good Ofsted report and really, that’s all we parents have to go on, isn’t it? Reports and word-of-mouth. I wasn’t sure what to expect; the website made it sound as if the resource base was attached to, but not integrated into the school, with the children given time in the mainstream classes when appropriate. However, we were pleasantly surprised. The resource base classes (there are classes for ASD and for speech and language) are all within the main school, so children are a part of the school community. Classes are very small and based on Key Stages and ability, and we saw examples of differentiation within class groups too, with one class working in three different groups based on ability. Walls are plain and lights are kept low to prevent sensory over-stimulation and there is lots of visual communication. The aim of the resource base is to give the children the skills and tools to integrate fully back into mainstream education, so there is lots of opportunity for this when the children are ready, and the mainstream children also spend time in some of the resource base classes. The primary need for children in the ASD base is their autism, so I think this would be better suited to Tink’s needs.
So far, so good. I’m glad that my impression of ‘special schools’ from years ago has been replaced by a much more modern and inclusive view where children seemed happy and engaged. Once we decide where we would like Tink to go, we have to ask the local authority to amend her Education, Health and Care plan and hope the chosen school will agree they can meet her needs and have a place available.
The hunt continues…