No Special Needs School Place

Last Thursday, my social media was awash with school place status updates. Some parents were delighted because their child had been accepted to their first choice school. Others were upset their child had not been offered the place they wanted.

We were in a third category – Sam wasn’t offered a place he NEEDED. Sam is almost 4 years old, and he has Autism. He is non verbal and has sensory processing disorder. Due to the complete lack of suitable provisions in Salford, we felt pressured into “trying” Sam in a mainstream reception class. I spent hours and hours (more like weeks and weeks really) searching for potential schools, visiting them, speaking to their Special Needs Co-ordinators, headteachers, receptionists and anybody else who happened to answer the phone.

After much stressing and second guessing myself, I finally found a mainstream school which “might” meet his needs. I put it down as his first choice. This school is 1.7 miles away from our house (by car). It has a Special Needs Unit within it for children in year 2+, and it has lots of experience of working with children on the Autistic Spectrum. This school is all on one storey, and has a traditional layout (30 pupils per classroom).

Sam was offered a place at the school closest to us – (0.3 miles away). I did not shortlist it. This school is brand new. It is very modern and open plan. The school is HUGE – The preschool zone is home to 90 Reception children and 120 Nursery children. Each classroom is off a communal freeplay hall, where the children spend most of their time. This environment is far too over-stimulating for a child like Sam. He will NEVER manage there.

Sam’s Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) is being processed now. This will determine how much support some people in suits feel Sam needs at school. This process used to be called an “Educational Statement”. It changed to a EHCP late last year, and this change delayed Sam’s application. Had it been completed sooner, we would have been able to use Sam’s special needs to push him up the criteria list for our school of choice.

I don’t think people realise that as far as the Education Authority are concerned, a child doesn’t have “Special Educational Needs” unless they have an EHCP. As it stands, red tape means that despite every professional who knows Sam agreeing he needs 1-1 support in a school like the one we chose, their hands are tied. “The system” has dictated that he attends our closest school. The one with 750 pupils aged 3-11. The one with the totally inappropriate layout. The one with a huge bullying problem. The one which “The system” deems the most suitable for him.

Of course we have appealed. The hearing will take place at some point between 15th June and 15th July. We will get a decision a few days after that. If the appeal is unsuccessful, I have no idea what happens. There is no way in a million years he is going to the school they’ve offered him. If I decline that offer, he will only be entitled to 15 hours per week in a private nursery. Once again, the Special Needs kids are being penalised by the system. If I choose to refuse the place at the completely inappropriate school, I am accepting that he will get less than half of the class time than his more able peers will be getting. He will fall further behind and probably never “catch up”.

The entire system is a joke. Surely a diagnosis of “low functioning autism” should qualify as S.E.N.? Apparently not. The EHCP process takes 20 weeks. It will be done by the start of September. If he gets offered the 1-1 support he needs, we then have to find a school with a place available and the resources available to meet his needs…. Like that’ll happen.

This post has become one huge ramble. If you’ve read this far…. congratulations! Apologies for the headache all of the abbreviations have likely given you.

Another ironic twist to this tale is that Sydney (Sam’s sister who is exactly 12 months younger than him) was offered a full time nursery place at a 3rd, completely different school! – Our second choice on her application!

Long story short: Sam doesn’t have a school place, and we probably won’t know if or when he’s starting school until the Summer Holidays at the earliest. Chances are, Syd will be in full time education long before her older brother is.

It looks like Sam will be rockin’ his private nursery uniform from 9.30-11.45am for a long time to come! Got to love “The System”.

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