Specialist places for specialist children

It is a constant thread in my work life- the request for help, the request for support, the request for additional evidence to prove, to demonstrate, to show the level of a child’s need in order to get them into an educational setting that will best meet their needs. There seems to be a constant fight from parents of children with additional needs to make sure they get the correct type of education for them. That they are understood. That the educational setting will take as much care over that previous little person as the family do. It is the main drive of my job to understand a child’s needs and facilitate settings to support that.

I’ve seen many schools and a huge variety of attitudes and school cultures towards the inclusion of children with additional needs in my career so far and I’m sure I’ll see many more. In lots of cases, the difference between a great experience and a not so great experience for a young person comes down to just one or two key people within a school who set the tone and culture.

We have have had an excellent experience with the first 5 years of primary for boy number two (and boy number one, and hopefully soon for boy number three). This isn’t luck, this is hard work and inclusive attitudes of all staff at the school. This is why the decision to apply for a specialist education setting for boy number two was not entirely easy.

Many thoughts ran through us. We are taking him away from his comfortable routine, he has made progress here, he loves school, they love him, wouldn’t it be great if every school could meet the needs of every child, let’s apply now so that if we fail we have time to try again before high school, keeping him in mainstream teaches all in that school so much about tolerance and inclusion. But ultimately, he was becoming more removed from his peers and more isolated within what is a fantastic example of an inclusive school. His needs are so vastly different from his peers, that is was no longer working. He needs a similar peer group, to fully belong and to have mutually beneficial relationships.

Throughout the whole process, I keep coming back to the feeling, the thought that it’s tough enough already to raise a child with additional needs (all parenting is a challenge, but the added extra spice of additional needs and disability packs a punch) without having to fight that little bit more for what should be a given.

All three of our children are moving onto different schools this autumn, and whilst it seems that there is a sea of paper work for each of them (not sure if I put the correct child’s date of birth on each form…), in actual fact, for boy 1 and 3 it was quite straight forward. A click of a button, fill in a few essential details and ten minutes later the school had been applied for.

This was quite different for boy number 2. Two lengthy meetings, three massive forms, months of waiting, assessments of need, wrangle with the local authority over the necessity of assessment, places available, letters written, MP involvement and a place allocated. It felt like a big fight, and I know others have much bigger fights. It felt unjust, unfair, unbalanced. It felt like we had to fight so hard for what was needed, and we consider ourselves to be amongst the lucky who have been able to get what we need for our boy who requires that extra level of care and input. This is such a broken system.

Political agenda, poor funding, poor resources have led to a lack of suitable places for our most vulnerable and complex children. Change must happen, change is needed. Change feels so far away. It is not good enough. It’s unfair. It’s exhausting.