Things to consider on a school visit for your child with SEND
by Jill Hardman, Education Specialist
What you ask your child’s potential school will be personal to your child and their particular needs, but the following questions may help you put together your own list.
For mainstream and special schools
About the school and its environment
How big is the school site - how do pupils move around, is it safe and secure?
Will the environment be too overwhelming for a child with sensory sensitivities?
Are there quiet spaces for children to work 1:1 or as a 'chill out' space?
How accessible is the school for children with mobility difficulties/wheelchair users?
What are the toilets like? Are there facilities for children who need changing?
Is the school uniform easy to manage for children who have difficulty dressing themselves?
What are the playground facilities like? Are there quiet areas for children who don't want to run around or play football?
What happens at break and lunch times - is there any structure and who is responsible for supervision?
About learning and the curriculum
How are classes arranged? Is it strictly by age?
For younger children - is there a particular pattern to the school day/week?
How does the school use teaching assistants? How are class teachers involved if a child has one-to-one support?
Is support given within the classroom or by taking children out for one-to-one or small group work?
What experience does the school have of children with similar needs to my child?
How are children supported to take part in PE and swimming and on school trips?
About social support and communication
How does the school help new children settle in and make friends?
Ask to see the anti-bullying policy. How does the school prevent bullying and what action do they take if it happens?
How does the school manage behaviour linked to a child's disability? Are all children expected to follow the rules or does the school make adjustments for individual pupils where needed?
How does the school communicate with parents? Is there a home/school communication book? Are parents able to have a regular catch up with the teacher?
For special schools
If you are looking at special schools for your child, you also may want to ask these questions.
What areas of need does the school cater for - is there a suitable peer group for my child?
Do staff have qualifications in teaching children with my child's particular needs?
Therapies - are there therapists on site? Are therapies delivered on an individual or group basis? Is this by therapists or therapy assistants? How is the therapy integrated into the curriculum?
What kind of medical support is available? Is this on site?
What alternative communication methods are used, for example Makaton/PECS? Are staff trained in these? Is assistive technology available for children who need it?
Does the school have specialist facilities, such as a hydrotherapy pool or sensory room?
How does the school manage behaviour? If they use physical restraint, what is the policy for this?
Are there links with mainstream schools?
(If looking at a special unit within a mainstream school) How much time would my child spend in mainstream classes?
If the special school requires transportation from home, your local authority may provide help if your child meets the criteria. Check your council’s school transport policy and seek advice on your rights if in doubt.
Jill Hardman is an Education Specialist for Contact, the charity for families with disabled children.
Know someone who has recently started school or will be beginning next September? Check out the rest of Starting Primary School which has lots of ways to help prepare children for different aspects of school life – both practically and emotionally.