A young boy with a Au-kline syndrome engaging in learning at a special needs school
There are 1,536 special schools in the UK https://www.besa.org.uk/key-uk-education-statistics and there are many parents and carers who are sending their child to this type of school for the first time. So what can they expect from these schools? 
Special schools are a fantastic provision for those with severe and moderate learning difficulties. There are so many different types of children who access these schools and each student is unique in their own way. Schools have to work hard to ensure the needs of their pupils are met and the staff go above and beyond all expectations to make sure this happens. 
In order to attend a special needs school, a parent or carer will need to apply for an Educational Health and Care Plan, commonly known as an EHCP. The EHCP is a document which identifies the educational, health and social needs of a person who requires additional support. This document provides a centralised overview to ensure that all the needs of the person with the EHCP is met. 
Obtaining an EHCP can be a long and drawn out process for some parents. The more complex and less visible the need is the harder it seems to obtain. From my experiences of speaking with SEN parents, children with autism seem to have more of a fight on their hands when it comes to obtaining an EHCP. Furthermore, when the EHCP is obtained many parents with children with autism have to put in an appeal to ensure that their child attends a school more fitting to their needs. 
Many parents of autistic children, whom I have spoken to, get extremely frustrated by local authorities and their support. Local authorities often take level of academics when offering their child a place at school rather than looking at the specific needs of the child. As an example, a autistic child with a high academic level may struggle in a school with large numbers and therefore may need a smaller school further away. It is a shame that a small few have such a fight on their hands to get the school right for their child. 
When applying for a special needs school, I would highly recommend not only visiting your local special needs school but exploring other special schools nearby. What I have found from working within special needs schools is that many of them excel in certain areas. Therefore you may find a school slightly further away from you but may be more suitable for your child and their needs. 
Having said this, transport will need to be taken into consideration. The local authority does provide transport for children attending special needs school. Although, the local authority tends to favour the school which is the most local to you. However, I know of parents who have been successful in obtaining funding for transport for schools further afield. The transport provision for George is an absolute lifesaver, knowing that he is collected and brought home from school everyday is such a comfort and makes life a little more easier. He is also able to utilise the school transport to take him to and from respite, on days he is accessing school. Which again is wonderful as it does give us that little break. 
As you can expect, the staffing ratio in a special needs school needs to be considerably higher than that of a mainstream school. Getting the right staff is an absolute key ingredient to ensure a successful and thriving school environment for these children and young people. 
A high percentage of staff that Peter and I have worked with at special needs schools are very caring, knowledgeable and patient. Of course you get the odd few that don’t seem to gel or work right, however, that can happen in any working environment. 
Some of the teaching and teaching assistants I have seen are just exceptional at what they do to ensure that the needs of the child or young person is being met. This extends beyond just following a care plan or action plan. They build special bonds and relationship with these children and young people and at face value it appears to be more of a family and community of support. This helps to ensure these children and young people are engaging and supported in learning suitable to them and their level of need. 
Juggling children and young people with different levels of learning can be extremely difficult to manage in any school environment, however, add the additional support due to a disability it can be incredibility difficult to get right. Yet so many do. 
There is a high amount of physicality involved in the job also, some of these children and young people have behaviour plans in place and can display acts of violence towards themselves, staff and other young people. The senior leadership teams at the school need to have actions plans and provisions in place to ensure that pupils have enough staffing ratios to manage and control classes and maintain safety of staff and pupils. The amount of work that goes into a managing and functioning and special needs school requires an enormous amount of planning and strategy. 
There is a quite a large amount of outside support that comes into school which has to be co-ordinated and worked into the school day. The children will have access to therapists to help assist the schools to put in plans and programmes to help support the pupil, school and families. Staff will work closely with the therapists to ensure that all of these programmes are incorporated into a school day. 
Staff will have to undergo additional training such as use of equipment or how to carry out a physiotherapy session to extend the pupils learning into what they need to support not only their academic learning but to support their physical wellbeing. George needs to access a standing frame daily to encourage hip development and improve his hip stability and again school factor this into his standard school day and combine a learning activity alongside the physical activity. 
At George’s school, he has a school nursing team who are at there to support him and his daily medical needs. George requires medication three times daily via a gastrostomy tube and this needs to be given by someone is trained to do so. George is also fed via a jejunostomy tube which needs to be disconnected and reconnected each time he is hoisted to and from his wheelchair. This again needs to be carried out by someone who is trained to do so. 
Combining all of these outside factors together with a normal school day can be extremely challenging. Just looking at some of the needs George has compared to another pupil in his school can be so vastly different. It is amazing that these schools are able to function and incorporate all of this in to one school day. The level of knowledge and training the staff have to have to ensure all these needs are met is incredible. I honestly think teaching assistant who work with these pupils are not paid nearly enough for the level of care they provide to these pupils. They are not just providing the teacher with assistance they are providing a high level of support and care to the pupils at the school. 
I feel that SEN teaching assistants need far more recognition then what they receive. Within any schools I always find that the teaching staff are heavily praised for their child’s learning and support but what the teaching assistants do is just as important especially in special needs schools. 
I would like to add in conclusion, in some special schools I have worked in the role and presence of the senior leadership team is incredible. The amount of work, time and effort that they put into to some of the special occasions that we have been fortunate enough to work with them on is just amazing. Some people will go above and beyond for these special children and I’m grateful and thankful to these wonderful people. 
Whether it is a member of the senior leadership team, teacher, teaching assistant, nurse or therapist working in a school it is wonderful to watch how all these people come together to ensure that these children and young people are looked after and given opportunities. 
If you think your child should have additional support, then visit https://www.gov.uk/children-with-special-educational-needs/extra-SEN-help to see if your child meets the criteria. 
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