If you’re a parent of a Y6 child in England, then today is the day you find out what secondary school your child has a place at come September. This can be a nerve-wracking time for all parents, but if you have a child with special needs and, in particular, Autism, then today is the first day in a long 6 months ahead.
Why? Because change, any change, can be really difficult for people with Autism. And when you’re 11 years-old, changing schools from primary to secondary school is one of the biggest changes you can face.
So what do you do now?
Okay lets think positive. You looked carefully into the schools in your area, you visited them and talked to the SENCO about your childs needs, you talked to your child’s current teachers before finally discussing it with your child and family and making a decision. You open the envelope and it’s there in black and white. Your child got a place.
Phew! Hard work done and now to relax. Right?
Uh-oh sorry to break it to you but no.
It’s fabulous that you got a place at the school you wanted but now there’s more work to do.
What to do next
- Talk to the SENCO Depending on the level of your child’s difficulties this might be a face-face meeting at the primary school with their current teachers or it might be a telephone call if your child copes well at school. Don’t assume that the information is automatically transferred and remember that you know your child best, far better than their current teacher, the best person the SENCO can speak to is you.
I feel I have to add at this point to not expect a meeting by the end of this week. With the number of children being transferred and depending on how large the school is, the SENCO may have over 40 children with SEN arriving in September. Even the most dedicated SENCO will need a little time to organise the calls and requests!
2. Extra Visits
Consider if your child will need extra visits to the school. Most Y6’s visit their new secondary school for one day in July, just before the school break up for Summer.
This may not be enough for your child. They may need to make extra visits throughout the Summer term so that they are prepared properly for September. As awareness of autism has risen, many schools offer this already but you may need to ask specifically for your child to be involved.
Ideally, it will involve several visits across a few weeks, at different times of the day, gradually building towards the whole Y6 day. Personally, I arrange the first visit for after school has finished. This way the child can try and focus on the building and the layout without becoming overwhelmed by the number of children and the noise they can create. The first visit needs to be as positive as possible and so I encourage the children to bring a parent, teacher or TA with them. Not only does this reduce anxiety for the child, but it also means that they can help answer any questions the child may have the next day.
Talk to your child about the changes that will happen in September. The sooner you identify these to your child, the sooner they can start to ask questions and learn about them so they aren’t confused.
How to do this is up to you and depends entirely on your child. Some children will cope well with just a chat, others may need pictures and social stories. There’s no right or wrong way, it is just whatever works for you and your child.
What to do if you didn’t get your school of choice
Unfortunately it happens. With some schools massively over-subscribed, with 250 children vying for 200 places and others not getting enough, unless your child has an EHC plan, you may not get the school you want.
So now, what now?
If you chose a particular school because it particularly meets your child’s needs, you may be able to appeal.
Yes you read that right. You may be able to appeal the decision even if the school has filled all its places. There are certain things you have to do though.
You will need to get in touch with the local authority you live in and find out how to appeal. All applications must be in writing and there is a deadline set by each authority. If you applied for a school place within normal deadlines, then your appeal should be heard within 40 days of the deadline.
Appeals have to consider your particular reasons for choosing that school. This includes whether there are particular things that school can offer, that the allocated school cannot. If you chose a school because it has extra provision for children with Autism then tell the appeals panel. Explain to them what makes this school more suitable for your child and their individual needs.
There are no guarantees though.
Ultimately, you may have to accept the authorities decision. In which case, the sooner you follow step one from above, and contact the school SENCO, the better.
In an ideal world, all schools would operate with the needs of those with autism in mind. Until that happens all you can do is try and find the school that fits best with your child.