The move to a new school can be challenging for children and their families at the best of times, but in searching for a secondary school for my son, Alexander, who has severe speech and language difficulties, I have come across some of the biggest challenges of my life.
Alexander is 10 years old and currently attends I CAN's Meath School. The school advised us to start planning for his transition to secondary school early, so we started two years prior to him having to move. I never anticipated the hurdles we would face in our bid to find a school that catered for his needs and requirements. Because he struggles to meet the required academic levels of achievement we found the choice of schools available were limited to one of two options, both of which are situated on the South Coast. This raised a new challenge and forced us to consider whether or not we could live hundreds of miles away from Alexander and only see him at weekends, in order to guarantee the best school to meet his needs.
When I found myself sat on a ferry crossing to the Isle of Wight my first thoughts were, 'How crazy is this? What am I asking my 10 year old child to do? How can I say goodbye to him on Sunday and not see him again until Friday? What quality of family life will we have? How will the dynamics change? Will his brothers be resentful when he comes home? Will I really know him when he finishes his school years at the age of 18?' The list goes on...
After visiting schools in the Isle of White and Eastbourne we considered the answers to these questions, we knew as a family we couldn't cope with the distance and that these schools were no longer an option. So, what next? Sending Alexander to a local school is a compromise because the Local Authority schools are trying to meet the needs of many different children with very different needs. We have since visited five schools, each of which falls within a different Local Authority. I found these options by referring to the Local Offer but there is no one to assess these schools with me or give me advice. For the most part I'm on my own, armed only with the information that is on Alexander's statement of Special Educational Needs. We are still waiting for the draft of our child's E.H.C.P. which will include more detail about what my son needs. I had to insist for a member of the Local Authority to attend the transfer meeting, which took place at the beginning of January. The draft should be completed within 20 weeks, however 37 weeks later we are still waiting.
The overall process is slow and at times the hurdles we face seem endless. The search for a new school that is suitable for a child with special educational needs can be a daunting prospect. We are determined to find a new school that will cater for our son's special educational needs in the way he deserves, but it isn't an easy journey. There needs to be an increase in the number of specialist services available for children with severe and complex language needs, those that support children and young people in their transition from one school to the next.
It's worthwhile starting the process early and being aware of the hurdles you may come across, this includes fighting long and hard for the recognition and understanding you need when it comes to finding the right school for your child. Making any kind of compromise in light of your child's education can be frustrating so seek as much advice as possible before you start looking and be sure to understand the options that are available to you and any associated 'criteria' that come with them.