Angst and an Admissions Explanation #ThisIsAutism

By | April 28, 2014

All was well until the end of the school day and then….whoosh, D shot past me, a fearful expression on her face. Her TA was close behind and explained quickly that it might have been because of a school letter in her bag.

The letter was a scarlet fever alert, there have been a few cases in school and the letter outlined the symptoms and treatment. In the meantime, D was cowering in a corner.

Humour was called for; we read the letter together and after asking her jovially if she had a sore throat, fever or rash, we deduced that she didn’t have scarlet fever and she left school laughing, hand in my hand.

This is something that an NT pupil wouldn’t think twice about, but to D, because it was written down (visual) and from the Head (authority), she took is extremely seriously. Little instances like this will build up in her mind during the day, until she sees me and then….afore-mentioned whoosh!

The above aside, she is extremely excited about school tomorrow because her class has an assembly along the lines of St George and the Dragon and she is to be the princess! Perfect for girlie D and fantastic to hear as she couldn’t participate in any assemblies/productions in mainstream. Unfortunately parents/carers aren’t invited, but hopefully I’ll get to see a photo in a newsletter.

T hasn’t had a great start to the week, he was elbowed at school and had a swollen bloodied lip. It’s made eating, drinking and talking quite uncomfortable but it was an accident and he is aware of that and moving on.

This Is Autism

Something I wish would move on is the appeals process for T’s secondary school place. All the paperwork is in, we’re waiting to hear the next stage, which will involve Hubbie and I explaining in a meeting why we feel he would benefit from being at that particular school, rather than the one we’ve been allocated. The words “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” are rattling around my head constantly.

Tonight’s guest post comes from someone who has experience of the school admission process for SEN pupils and I’ve found the post to be very interesting and helpful.

They have asked for total anonymity and this is respected, I’m very grateful to them for writing it.

Admissions

“I am a governor at a one-form intake Church of England primary school. Because we are a Voluntary Aided school we set and implement our own admissions criteria (rather than the Local Authority doing it) and I sit on the Admissions Committee and sometimes represent the governors at admissions appeals. I can only speak from my own limited experience, and cannot say much about the admissions process for Special Schools, which is very different.

Choosing a school for your child is always a momentous decision, and all the more so when they have additional needs which you feel would be best supported in a particular setting. The law states that parents must have freedom to choose where their child is educated, except where that choice is prejudicial to the effective running of the school. So what does that mean in practice? And why, if you are supposed to be able to choose your child’s school, might you find that they have been denied a place at your preferred school?

Of course every case will be different, but there are two broad categories to be considered here: children who have a Statement, and children who do not have a Statement but have been identified as having special needs (including ASD).

All schools are required to have as their highest priority admissions criteria children with a Statement (along with those in the care of the Local Authority). So why might your child with a Statement still be refused a place at your preferred school?

It might be because the school does not think it can meet your child’s needs. For example, if your child uses a wheelchair and the school has a lot of steps (I’ve actually seen that one!). By discussing your application with the school beforehand, you should be able to avoid this in most cases.

Or it might be that the school has received so many applications from children with a Statement that the governors or Local Authority feel that to accept them all would be prejudicial to the effective running of the school. For example, if a mainstream school with an intake of 30 children (1 class) receives applications from 8 or even 10 children with a Statement for ASD, it may feel that this is more than it is equipped to handle, and would be detrimental the quality of education for all the children in the class, including the Statemented children. This is a fairly rare occurrence, and the irony is that it tends to happen at schools with an excellent reputation for SEN, as more parents of children with special needs want to send their children there. If you are facing this sort of situation and considering appealing, it is worth asking yourself whether the school is still the right place for your child, given the information you now have about the makeup of the class, which you could not have known about when applying.

If your child does not have a Statement, but does have identified special needs, you will probably be relying on an admissions criteria called something like “exceptional medical or social need”. Not all schools will prioritise this to the same extent, but schools are encouraged to give high priority to this criteria and most do. You can find a school’s admissions criteria on their website to check this.

In this case, either of the scenarios described above could still apply – there could be “too many” children with SEN in the intake, or the school could feel it is unable to meet your child’s needs. But there is also another scenario which, in my experience, is the most common cause of appeals from parents of children with special needs.

Read the criteria carefully. What does it actually ask you for? Schools will differ, but in my school’s criteria (and many others I have seen) we ask parents to provide evidence of their child’s additional needs and why our school can meet those needs in a way which other schools can’t. In almost every application in this category which we have rejected, it has been the second half of that requirement which is missing. What is it about this school which is uniquely suited to meeting your child’s needs? And what evidence do you have of that?

So no matter how much evidence you give us of your child’s ASD and how this affects their life, we cannot consider your application under “exceptional medical and social need” unless there is something to show why this school is better than any other to meet those needs. This is important for parents to understand at both the application and appeals stage. Three years’ worth of medical reports from specialists are all well and good, but an email from your GP saying “This child needs a school with X Y and Z characteristics and this is why” (where X Y and Z are things the school you are applying to has) will get you much further.

I can’t possibly deal here with every scenario which could crop up, but I hope this overview is some help to those of you involved in the school admissions process, or who will be in the future. And please remember, us governors are trying our best for your children too! We give up hours and days of our free time every month because we care so much about the education of all children, and that includes your child. We’re not perfect, and nor is the system, but we are genuinely aiming to do what’s best for every child.”

Keep your fingers crossed for us and everyone going through an appeal for a place. I was a school governor for a time and it is a worthwhile but time-consuming activity, people who want the best for their particular school and its pupils.

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