Written by: Toni Foot
Every child has the right to an education from the age of 5 years. For children with disabilities this may be more challenging, but there are regulations in place to promote inclusion in all schools, meaning that your child should not be disadvantaged or excluded from school because of any disabilities they face.
Choosing a school
Choosing the right school is a big decision for every parent. For parents of children with disabilities, the accessibility of the school is vital to ensure the child is able to take a full part in school life and receive a good education. When choosing a school, take time to find out what provision each potential school makes for children with disabilities and ask how they could accommodate your child’s individual needs. Every school should have an inclusion policy, and an accessibility plan to demonstrate how they intend to improve accessibility for children with disabilities.
Every school should have an admissions policy, in which they clearly state the process through which they decide who is offered a place at the school. In most cases, if the school is not full, there should be no reason why a child would not be offered a place at that school. If the school is oversubscribed, there will be a list of criteria applied to decide which children are offered places and which are not.
If your child has a statement of special educational need that identifies a specific school as most appropriate for a particular child, then that child should be given priority over children without such a statement. You may also be able to demonstrate that your child should go to the school of your choice because they are able to offer facilities or resources that would give your child the best chance of accessing the curriculum fully.
Statements of special educational needs
If your child has a disability, they may have a statement of special educational needs. The school is obliged to provide support according to the needs identified on this statement, including any special equipment required. Many schools have very good provision for children with disabilities and may be able to provide support or equipment in excess of the specific requirements set out in the statement of special educational need.
If your child does have special educational needs but does NOT have a statement, the school should still make reasonable adjustments to ensure that your child is not disadvantaged or excluded because of their disability. There are several ‘levels’ of support that may be applied to your child if appropriate. For example, your child may be categorized as ‘school action’ or ‘school action plus’ which means that the school will assess your child’s needs, put support in place, and then regularly reassess your child’s needs and progress to ensure the level of support is appropriate.
The closest school may not be the one that provides your child with the best access to education. For this reason, your child’s statement may name a specific school that your child should attend, and you may be eligible for help with transport. This may be in the form of funding to help you get your child to school, access to a bus with disabled access, depending on the resources available to the school and the specific needs of your child.
Depending on the needs of your child, the school may hold ‘multiagency’ meetings to ensure that his/her needs are being met effectively. This could include social workers, medical professionals, educational psychologists, teachers, or other relevant professionals and individuals. These meetings might seem scary to parents who have not experienced them before, but their aim is not to judge or to assess your ability as a parent. The aim of multiagency meetings is to ensure that the child’s needs are met in full and that a ‘big picture’ of the child’s needs can be provided to all involved in their care and education.
Every school or educational facility should have an identified SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator). This person is probably the first point of contact for parents of children with disabilities as it is the role of the SENCO to ensure that children with additional needs are provided for effectively.
Provision and reasonable adjustments
There are many provisions that could be put in place to support children with disabilities, depending on their individual needs and the resources available to the school. For example:
• Braille or audio versions of information
• Adjustments to the physical environment (such as carpets or acoustic tiling for children with hearing difficulties, lighting or suitable paint schemes for children with visual impairments)
• Lifts, ramps, bars or additional handles to help children with physical difficulties
• Learning mentors could be provided to support individuals or groups of children. These assistants can provide a variety of support such as:
• Reading out instructions
• Being a scribe
• Keeping a child ‘on track’
• Carrying and setting up equipment
• Help with spelling or grammar
• Additional classes with focus on specific learning needs such as spelling or handwriting difficulties
• Coloured filters or papers to help children with visual impairment or difficulties such as dyslexia
• Training to staff to enable them to understand disabilities and how to provide for them effectively
• Adjustments to the child’s timetable to allow travel time or to keep all their lessons on the ground floor.
Missing school for medical reasons
If your child is absent from school for medical reasons, the school may provide work for them to do independently, overseen by your child’s teachers. If the absence becomes prolonged, your local authority is responsible for providing education at home (or in hospital) to ensure continuous access to education.