Choosing a school for a child is stressful for many parents. If you have a child with an immunodeficiency then you may have more concerns.
This section covers the issues involved in choosing a school for your child and the things to think about when making a choice.
If your child has a statement of special educational needs, you have the right to choose which school you want them to attend. Once you’ve made your choice, your local authority must agree to send your child to that school if it is confident that:
- the school you choose is suitable for your child’s age, ability, skills and special educational needs
- if applicable, your child meets any academic selection criteria. (Note here that state schools don’t normally select pupils by academic ability)
- your child’s presence won’t have a negative impact on other children already at the school
- placing your child in the school is an efficient use of your local authority’s resources.
Mainstream or special school?
Ultimately, it is you who knows your child the best and the sort of environment in which they feel comfortable, so that should be a starting point.
Then, of course, you have to determine what sort of provision a particular school has for children like yours. It might be something simple, such as wheelchair ramps and easy access, or it could be more complex, such as teachers with special training in gastro-feeding.
Ask to see the special educational needs coordinator (Senco)
You should ask to see the school’s special educational needs policy and talk with the Senco and the class teacher to find out how your child might fit in before making a final decision.
A mainstream school cannot refuse to take your child if you want to send them there, but it’s good to keep an open mind and listen to the concerns of staff if you feel there is some resistance to your choice. Ultimately, your wishes are backed by the Discrimination Act, but you need to keep an open mind and listen to the people who know the strengths and limitations of their own school.
One of the key issues you should look at when choosing a school for your child is the ratio of staff to children with special educational needs.
Most children with an immunodeficiency have their needs met through mainstream schooling.
Maybe your child simply needs extra toilet breaks or help with eating, so doesn’t need anything more than some extra consideration from the class teacher and a bit of one-to-one support for various tasks or lessons. In this instance, a mainstream school with inclusion might be a perfect fit.
In a mainstream school, your child becomes part of an often large – and noisy! – community with lots of characters, role models and friends. They might develop friendships with others who live nearby.
On the other hand, your child might need one-to-one support throughout the day. It’s unlikely that any mainstream school could provide this without substantial funding, so a special school, which is used to this sort of demand, might be more appropriate here.
In general, class sizes at special schools are a lot smaller than at mainstream schools, with more access to specialist staff and resources. Staff are also trained in areas such as alternative communication and in the use of specialist equipment that your child might use.
The options for schooling
If you don’t want your child to attend a local state school then there are other options you can consider. However, if there’s a suitable state school, the local authority has no legal duty to send your child to a non-maintained or independent school.
Your options are:
Local schools serving children with and without disabilities.
Maintained (state) schools
These are run by local authorities.
Non-maintained (independent) schools
Independent schools require the local authority, or parents, to pay fees for the child’s education. Many non-maintained special schools are run by charities.
Out-of-county or out-of borough placement
These are when a child attends a school that is not run by their local authority – either a non-maintained school or a school run by another local authority. In either case, the child’s own local authority must pay the fees.
These provide accommodation for children during the school week and sometimes at weekends. Local authorities are most likely to agree to fund residential provision if children have severe or multiple special educational needs that cannot be met by day provision and support from other agencies.
Normally special schools are only for children with statements of special educational needs, although sometimes children may be admitted before the statement is complete. Most are for children with particular types of disability.
This is where your child attends more than one setting, usually on different days of the week, when this is thought to be the best way of meeting their educational needs. Individual arrangements are made for each child.
Education by parents at home
This is a parental choice, as it is for all children. If the child has a statement of special educational needs, the local authority must be satisfied that the child’s special educational needs are being met.
Things to think about when making a choice
While the physical surroundings of any school will play an important part in affecting the decision on where you send your child, there are lots of other things to bear in mind. Here are some further ideas:
- Are the school staff interested in your child as an individual? Are they interested in your knowledge of your child? Do you feel comfortable and welcome?
- How does home–school liaison work? How easily can you visit?
- How do staff interact with your child, and vice versa, on their first meeting? How do they end the interaction? Are you happy with their attitude and style of interaction?
- What resources does the school have? Is there access to medical and therapy staff if appropriate?
- Who will be working with your child? If the school doesn’t yet know, how will it decide?
- How many children are there for each member of staff?
- How do staff describe the main aims of the provision?
- How much do staff know about your child’s immunodeficiency? What specialist training do they have?
- Are there other children with similar needs to your child already at the school?
- How will information be presented to your child? How much choice will your child get regarding activities?
- Is the physical environment appropriate? Is appropriate special equipment available?
- Are there local community links, such as those with other schools? Are there other inclusive activities?
For an overview of any state school you are considering, have a look at the Ofsted website. Ofsted inspects and grades schools.