Relocating with children with Special Educational Needs
By Nathaniel Price, Dean Asscociates
In England, it is estimated that one in five pupils has need of special education support at some point during their school life. For families relocating, the process of moving children and finding the right school will prove stressful at the best of times. However, when it means taking children with special educational needs (SEN) out of their established support networks – teachers, family and friends – the relocation can seem intimidating.
As a recent family, who were moving to the UK with their 12 year-old son who was diagnosed with Aspergers, said: “We seemed to be buried beneath a pile of web information, well-meaning advice and worry. We didn’t know where to start.”
In the UK, international schools - including ACS - often provide excellent resources for children across a range of special educational needs. However, there are occasions when families may need to look at local, English options for their children. In some cases, the reason might be that the support levels required by a child are too high to be sensibly integrated into the classroom, or - for mid-year admissions - the schools have already directed their SEN resources to existing pupils.
When a family needs to focus on the English school system, what are the options available?
The initial choice is private or state (public) education. When a child’s learning needs are mild or moderate, there are still a number of mainstream English private schools that can help. For more severe learning needs, there are a handful of specialist private schools, but these can be expensive without a referral from the local authority. England is broken into a number of local authorities and each authority has (at time of writing) control of the schools within its boundaries.
Often, however, it is the English state (public) system that can be best placed to provide schooling. In principle, the state system should meet a child’s needs and provide a “broad, well-balanced and relevant education.” There is also a process of escalation once a child is in the school, with each step agreed between the parents, the school and the child. This could start with specific support in areas such as speech and language or reading recovery to an Individual Education Plan, which caters for broader needs and employs a range of external support and resources.
For more severe learning difficulties, parents would need to work with the local authority to prepare a Statement of Special Needs, which provides for the specific requirements of the child and releases funding to the school to meet the SEN of the child.
Specialist SEN state schools also exist, either teaching by particular SEN, or by level of need. Children have to be referred to these schools by the local authority.
How do you make the most of the education opportunities within the English system?
The first, obvious and key element is to always be open, honest and willing to discuss your child’s SEN. We have had experience, especially when children have very mild needs, of families trying to hide challenges. This almost inevitably causes problems once the child begins school in the UK.
Make sure that you have a clear and relevant paper trail. School records, teacher recommendations, specialist reports are all vital to helping schools understand a child’s needs. At the same time, try not to bombard individuals with paper, providing the right information at the right time always works better than information overload.
Make contact with key individuals in the schools and relevant local authority. Most local authorities have case workers who manage particular localities. You will need to be resident in the UK before they can formally start proceedings, but by talking to them before you arrive they can get a “wireframe” of the issues which will help you to hit the ground running.
Finally, never be afraid to ask a question. Different processes, different terminology, different timescales can often make this unfamiliar and confusing. Although it can appear you are dealing with huge, rusty cogs of bureaucracy, the people within these institutions are more often than not knowledgeable, friendly and only too willing to help.
As the family quoted above concluded, “It is important to understand that it is a two-way process, you are learning about the options but, at the same time, the schools in England also want to get a grip on your own experiences. We found it came down to a number of logical choices and at each stage there was someone to help offer context to those choices.”
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