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Secondary school offers - did you get your first choice?

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of families in England were told whether their child had secured a place in their preferred state secondary school. We hope that most of you were offered your first choice, or at least a strong second. For others, you may feel the need to go back to square one to find new options in the state or independent sector, or feel so strongly about the result that you are considering an appeal.

Whatever the outcome, you are not alone on this journey. Remember that our forum can connect you with others who may be going through the same emotions and decisions as you. We invite you to share your good news, as well as frustrations and questions that others may be able to answer to help guide you in the coming days.

For those of you now considering new options, we’ve put together a checklist you may find useful when considering a new school:

Meet the right people. Yes, SENCO is the most important person but so is the headteacher. Headteachers set the ethos for the school and this ethos will filter down. If they don’t truly champion inclusive education, the SENCO’s voice may be very weak. Ask what their vision for inclusive education is and see how passionate they are about it. Have they ever had to remove a child from the school owing to special needs?

Pay attention to how responsive the school is. Do they sound impatient when you contact them with additional questions or if you ask to arrange yet another visit? If yes, ask yourself if they will have the patience required to care for your child. At some point you are likely to go through some difficulties when you will need increased communication and your child will need extra support. If it feels uncomfortable to ask questions at the very beginning, this is likely to continue throughout your child’s time at the school.

How many of the staff members have received special needs training - just the dedicated support staff or also the teachers and non teaching school staff? At some point, your child is likely to experience some difficulties outside the classroom, when an unfamiliar member of staff is present. Will they understand his /her needs and be able to respond to it appropriately?

Some schools use discreet special needs “badge” systems - it could be a ribbon or a wristband. These are not obvious to other children but obvious to staff members who should approach children wearing them differently. Does the school have such a system?

Visit the school at different times of the day to see how busy it gets. Would your child feel overwhelmed there?

Are there any quiet areas where children who become stressed or anxious can retreat to if needed? Are there any distraction-free learning areas for children who struggle with attention? How are these spaces being used and how easily can children access them?

Note the class sizes and the physical space. Is there room for additional resources such as a dedicated workstation or wheelchair space? Are the goals and objectives of the lessons clearly set out in a visual format and do the children understand them? Are there different strategies used for children who cannot access the usual format?

Does the school offer Counselling and Mentoring?

What therapists visit the school and how often? Can the child access Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy or Physiotherapy on site?

If your child has speech and language difficulties ask what method will the school use for communication. Do they have access to assistive technology?

Are there any support groups or extracurricular activities that are open to special needs students?

To find schools in you area that may be suitable, you can explore them here

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