This time next year…Part 2 (The school visits)

Yesterday  I visited the last mainstream school (on a long list) in my mission to get a good idea of where may best suit Edith’s needs should she not get into our specialist school of choice. As I previously wrote, we were advised to get appointments to look around the schools with the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordiantor) and to take Edith with us. The SENCO would be our contact at the chosen school and therefore to meet with them and for them to meet Edith was important; we were also advised that any knowledgeable SENCO would already realise this. I was armed with this information and again, as previously stated, I began to ring around. Out of six (mainstream) schools, five agreed for us to have an individual appointment with the SENCO. The sixth school refused an individual appointment and said “the only way to view school was at an open evening with all the other parents and we could ask whatever we needed to, then” I explained our needs in a bit more detail and got the same answer just worded differently. As I ended the call I felt a bit shocked. After some thought I came to the conclusion to strike that school off the list – If you don’t understand mine or my child’s needs now, you aren’t going to understand them in the future.

Out of the other five it’s been a mixed bag with most of the schools being very accommodating. One of the schools we visited decided it was appropriate to spring on us, at the visit, that another set of parents would be joining us for the tour and when they arrived the SENCO promptly revealed confidential information, about the family’s situation, in front of us! I was mortified to say the least. The tour was awkward with Edith’s buggy struggling to get through most of the corridors due to clutter (all I could think about was how the school would get her out in the case of a fire!!) and the SENCO not being sure on how to open most of the doors. My questions were all answered but not with much re-assurance about important points.

Two of the schools were small in capacity and size and although they would be more than happy to take Edith on and attempt to accommodate her needs, they and I both knew they would struggle and be pushed for space for Edith’s equipment etc. Even though this was the case the SENCO’s at both schools were well informed and gave a warm welcome. Had it not been for lack of space, they would have been in the running.

The final three schools ticked all the boxes and if and when a box was unticked they offered the reassurance of how it would be ticked. I feel happy and comfortable with our choices and if for any reason she does not get into our chosen specialist school, I am quietly confident that these schools will do their best for us.

I am in no way the guru of school visits but I would like to share a few tips I have picked up along the way…

– EHCP! Remember these four letters, they are your friend and your child’s ticket to an education that will suit them. The earlier (before they turn four) you can get this document in place, the better.

– Don’t feel like you are being too demanding by asking for a private tour. If your child’s needs are as complex as Edith’s things will pop into your head as you are walking round and you need to be able to discuss this in detail without feeling like a goldfish.

– Look at more than 3 schools. I personally feel looking at all the schools in our local area helped me make an informed decision about what was right for Edith. In some instances I was surprised what was on offer and in some at what wasn’t!

– Prepare. Take with you a list of questions (mine was a sheet of A4 long) and a note pad if you don’t have a good memory. Make sure you are happy with the answers and if you aren’t, push for an answer you like. If you name this school you need to be 100% clear about what’s on the table. I asked things like: Where would you recruit your 1:1 from?, Where could she have physio? And where would you store her equipment?

– If you want your child to go to a specialist school, make that the first one you visit so you can name it on the EHCP without any delay.

– Take your child with you. It was really interesting to see if the SENCO spoke to just me or weather they spoke to/greeted Edith as well. This was really important for me. It was also helpful to see how easy her buggy manoeuvred round the school and if it would fit in the classrooms etc. And Edith’s reaction to the school.

You know your child the best and no question is a stupid question! One school even offered to let me sit in on the interview for the 1:1 so it may be worth enquiring about that if you think you would find it useful.

I have now submitted our three choices in addition to our wish for Edith to attend a specialist school and come April 2018 we will know where her school journey will begin!

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