Guest Blog, Special Needs Doctorate, Support 4 Kids

Parental Choice and School Placement

Guest Blog by Dr Meanu Bajwa-Patel - The issue of how parents of children with statements of special educational needs and disability (SEND) make their decisions with regards to school placement is a fascinating one. In my doctoral research I aimed to explore both how these decisions were made and parents’ perceptions of how well the schools, that they ‘eventually chose’ for their children, were working out.
The Research Project

The research was being undertaken as sweeping changes The Children and Families Act (Part three) (DfE, 2014), the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations (DfE, 2014) and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0-25 (DfE, 2014)) were first consulted on and then made statute. The aim of the new legislation and guidance being, in part, to reform the SEND system and give children, young people (up to the age of 25) and their families greater control and choice. As well as these changes, the last five years has also seen an exponential increase in the numbers of academies and free schools, with their own admission procedures and curriculum.

The main findings of the research, which was carried out across three Local Authorities (LAs),  indicate that for many parents, despite their resources, social capital and education, finding a school that can meet their child’s needs is a difficult task. To find a mainstream school, within their local community, that could support their child’s educational and social needs was virtually impossible for all but a small minority of participants. Parents whose children were diagnosed with a statement for Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) found it particularly difficult to find suitable schooling whether in a mainstream school, a special school or a specialist unit.  A range of difficulties were identified, including in the areas of communication, between parents and providers, school curricula and funding. Some of the difficulties identified may be addressed by the new legislation and guidance; others require schools and LA to work more collaboratively and sensitively with families; and some schools need to make fundamental changes to their pedagogical practices. However, on a more positive note, there were some schools, in the primary sector, which did manage to successfully meet the needs of some of the children. This indicates that such an ideal is achievable.

Key messages and recommendations
However, despite the shortcomings, there are still some key messages that can and should be extracted from this work, besides the overall value of the research in allowing parents a chance to share their private and personal narratives, their intimate stories.

1. The role of the LA and the information and guidance that they provide must be separated from their role in ‘statementing’ children, perhaps this will happen with the new EHCP, as the new legislation stresses, the importance of LAs working with families and young people. LAs also need to ensure that they provide up-to-date, useful and accessible information about school choices to all parents and make clear what the ‘local offer’ is.

2. LAs also need to ensure that transport costs do not prevent children from being able to attend their ‘preferred’ school.

3. LAs must be more flexible about school placements where parents wish to co-educate and send their child to school on a part-time basis.  Funding for those who ‘choose’ to home educate their children should also be considered, although, again this may be partly addressed by the new payments system.

4. LAs must ensure that they takes into consideration the unique relationship between twins, where one might have a statement of SEN and thereby get a school place, a place must also be made available for their twin.

5. Teacher expectations, in terms of what they think their role is as a teacher, need to change, for example, many teachers still believe that they should only teach ‘normal’ children or their ‘subject’ rather than believing that they should be teaching all children. However, as well as this commitment to inclusive teaching there also needs to be expertise in pedagogical practice if a diverse range of learners are to be taught effectively. To achieve these changes in attitude and pedagogy, teacher training and schools, need to adapt to ensure that teachers and trainees acquire the skills necessary to meet the demands of teaching effectively in inclusive classrooms and meeting the needs of all learners.

6. Expectation of head teachers, in terms of running schools, need to be made explicit. Head teachers need to be effectively trained to ensure that their understanding of what it means to run a school is more comprehensive and incorporates issues of inclusion in terms of location, pedagogy and environment.

7. Governments need to recognise that to build a democratic and just society for all their citizens, schools need to be judged on more than just the standards agenda, they need to be judged on how effectively they meet the needs of all children.

Further publications, including a full copy of the research project, are available at http://nectar.northampton.ac.uk/
By Dr Meanu Bajwa-Patel

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