Parents of children with special needs are no different to any other parents when it comes to choosing the right school. You look for an environment where your child is most likely to thrive – where they will feel happy and secure at school and benefit from the kind of teaching that enables them to develop, learn and meet their potential.
For some children it will be clear which type of educational setting is likely to be most suitable, but for others there will be a real choice to be made between mainstream and special school provision.
Nowadays, children with many different special needs are successfully included in mainstream settings - usually with additional support provided on a one-to-one or small group basis. A skilled class teacher knows how to differentiate (modify) the curriculum to meet each child’s level of ability and learning style, allowing them to access the curriculum and learn alongside their peers.
A child with special needs who is properly included in their local mainstream school also benefits from having good role models, is likely to have friends in the neighbourhood and grows up as part of the community.
Special schools provide smaller class sizes and staff ratios as well as specialist teaching and resources. Teachers and teaching assistants are experienced in getting the best out of children with special needs and have training in specific areas, such as alternative methods of communication and strategies for managing difficult behaviour.
Pupils at special schools often have use of some impressive extra facilities, such as soft-play rooms, sensory rooms and hydrotherapy pools. Working alongside others with a similar level of ability can lead to firm friendships and the chance for a child to grow in confidence and self-esteem.
The choice between mainstream and special school is an important one and may seem daunting - but you will find it easier to make a decision if you visit as many of the two types of school in your area as possible. It’s a good idea to remember that the quality of provision also varies between individual schools, so go to each with an open mind.
Try to imagine your child in each setting and ask about the support he or she would receive. You will learn a lot about any school by the attitude of the head teacher and other staff you come across. Remember, your child is an individual and you know them best.
How to make a magic moment
Your magic moment will come at the end of the process, when you see your child blossoming at the school you have chosen. Keep this in mind as you make the difficult decision about which school to send them to.
The joy and relief of seeing them making progress and having fun in the right educational environment will make it all worthwhile.