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Sophie, a parent of a little boy who has SMA, has shared her experiences around making a decision on a school for him:

When your child gets to school age, I think every parent worries about which school would be the best place for them to go to but it’s even more so when you have a child with additional needs. The decision isn’t as straightforward and there are many factors you need to consider when making your decision.

When making the decision about where our son should go in order for all of his needs to be met it was a pretty hard decision, do we choose a mainstream school or a specialist school?

After looking at all the pros and cons of the mainstream and specialist schools in our area, we came to the decision that the only place that could really meet his needs was a private specialist school for children with physical disabilities. They would be more able to provide him with the best outcome in terms of his medical, social and physical needs, however, it would be very expensive to send him there and that was money we just didn’t have.

After making the decision to fight to get our son into this private specialist school we  sought advice from our son’s team, his consultants, physios, occupational therapists, speech and language therapist, his nursery setting and his community nurses. They all agreed that the chosen specialist setting would be the most beneficial to him and would give him the best opportunities to excel. They were all more than happy to help contribute towards our application for an EHCP to help build our case as to why our son needed to go to a specialist school and especially the one we had decided we would like him to go to.

The EHCP process can be daunting and can be information overload – it is essential you capture every little detail regarding your child so that a clear picture is painted on their everyday needs, their views, interests and aspirations, health needs, outcomes and provisions. One tip I have when going through the EHCP process is to start the process as early as possible so that you give yourself enough time to check out all your local state and specialist schools by making appointments to visit them, speak with them, question them on what they would be able to offer your child etc etc. The more time you have to research and build your case for the school you choose will make the process smoother and will hopefully help to stop any disagreements with the outcomes in the hope to not need to go to a tribunal.

Our son already attended the private nursery setting at our chosen specialist school so the school was able to provide a contribution for the EHCP and were very much looking forward to taking him into their reception class. The local authority named 3 specialist schools in our area that they felt would be most appropriate for our son to attend but after researching, speaking with the head teachers and allowing them to come and visit our son whilst in the nursery setting it was clear to everyone that due to the fact they were all schools meeting the needs of children living with learning disabilities, none of them were appropriate and we were able to put this forward in our EHCP which helped with building our case as to why he needed to attend the private school we had chosen. We were very happy when the local authority agreed to pay the school fees because it was clearly the only one in our area that could meet his specific needs.

The transition from the nursery setting to the reception class setting has been a journey for us all, our son settled in really well and we as parents could already see the benefits of him attending the school which was really amazing to see. It did take some time working with the school to have all the staff trained on the specific areas of need and I stayed in the classroom for a number of weeks to help support the staff with their training and general getting to know our son. This was something I was more than happy to do for their peace of mind but also for ours as parents. From being our sons full time carers for the last 4 years to handing the responsibilities over to other people was no easy task, so it was essential for me to spend that time in the classroom passing on my knowledge of our son to them, getting to know the staff who would be looking after him and making sure I felt confident to leave him in their hands. He is now there full time Monday – Friday which is fantastic and I very much enjoy seeing his little face light up when I go to pick him up.

One of the main reasons for choosing the private specialist school is that they have a health centre on site so he would have immediate access to the nursing team if there was an emergency or even if there was something they wanted the nurses to check on. Hee would have swimming lessons weekly, physio sessions twice a week, speech and language sessions 2-3 times a week and occupational therapists on site to review any equipment needs. In our area a mainstream school would have a scheduled visit from all of the above mentioned professionals possibly once a term, compared to his school setting seeing them on a daily/weekly basis.

A typical day at school for our son is much the same as a mainstream school – they have circle time first thing where all the children sit or lay down together to sing a good morning song, tell each other how they are feeling and to discuss what they will all be doing that day.

They will then have scheduled sessions such as PE, Music, phonics, reading, art, group work, physio and play time etc. All these sessions will include either standing in their standing frames, sitting in their wheelchairs, independent sitting, or driving their powerchairs.

At lunchtimes they all get together in their lunch area and have story time – a nice period of time to have a rest ready for the afternoon activities.

And finally the afternoon will be filled with more scheduled sessions working on their topics before the end of the day.

We are incredibly proud and feel very lucky, we can see the benefits of him being at the specialist school he attends. He has made a lovely group of friends, has excelled in many areas and is definitely keeping everyone on their toes!! The opportunities that he has been given already have been amazing and it has definitely given us the confirmation needed that we have chosen the right place for him.