We think we’ve found the right school for our son, who is disabled and has special educational needs (SEN), and it goes against everything I believe in, because it’s a school for kids with SEND. (The head isn’t keen on using the ‘Special School’ title, and I like that, because I never describe my son as having special needs.)
We’ve visited several schools now,(mainstream and special) and what’s become apparent is that the ‘special schools’ are expecting increasing numbers of students in the next couple of years. There could be different reasons for that – fantastic school with outstanding Ofsted? Increased birth rate? Huge housing development being built next door? No. I believe the main reason is that the removal of the ‘bias towards inclusion’ that Sarah Tether talked about a few years ago has taken root. The seed was planted, and the government tried to dig it up soon after but it was too late. There’s the other stuff like exam results, which might deter mainstream schools from wanting to take on pupils with SEND, but I think it’s far easier now for schools to get away with just not wanting to take kids like my son, but to package it in a way that makes it sound like they would do everything possible but the cuts etc, etc, etc.
I go on Twitter and Facebook, and I get a good feel of the good, bad and ugly in the SEND world. And whilst I’m an activist, with what I believe to be sound values and beliefs, I hate myself for deciding (jointly with my husband) that no amount of ‘fighting’ could get my son a good education at a mainstream secondary school. I just know that to find a mainstream secondary school willing to do the right thing for my son is like finding a needle in a haystack. (If any Headteachers from a mainstream secondary school within 15 mile radius of Standish could offer a truly inclusive school place to my son, please do get in touch!)
I don’t want you to think I’m anti ‘special schools’. I’m not. I just believe all schools should just be schools, which can meet the needs of all its students. So when I tell people we’ve chosen a special school for our son, it’s not that I’ve suddenly changed my view and I’ve now ‘seen the light’, or that I’m no longer in denial about the level of my sons’ needs, or that I’ve actually started listening to people who’ve been right all along or that I now realise that mainstream schools just can’t meet my sons’ needs. It’s none of those. It is not my son’s fault. It’s simple: LAs are denying children and YP the opportunity to go to school in their community, with their peers from their community, because the provision is not there. There is no choice. And that is wrong. It’s probably unlawful.
The school we think is the one is a lovely place. It’s modern, lots of space, accessible for wheelchair users, has great toilet/changing facilities. The kids are really keen on having a voice, being part of decision making, and a large number of them can speak. Even saying this makes me so angry though, because many schools don’t have the basics required for disabled people – wheelchair accessible and toilet/changing facilities and in a way I feel as though I’m ‘settling’ for something just because it has what others choose not to have. *
I think we’re kidding ourselves if we believe that schools being afraid of lower results/poor Ofsted scores is the main cause of hands being tied. I don’t think so. If all schools were proactive in their equality duties, it would send a clear message to all the bodies who are perceived to be the barriers to inclusion, that actually, schools want to admit kids like my son, and do it well, and to treat him like he belongs there, and ultimately meet their duties of equality, but they don’t. Some do, but too many don’t.
Stop making excuses. Kids like my son are just not welcomed by far too many schools, and I can’t put him in a place like that.
I need to be positive about this and I think my son will love the school.
*I don’t want you to think I mean settling for an inferior option. Not at all. There are just no other options!!