Not all children have the same needs and abilities. Some flourish best in a more competitive environment. Others do better in a smaller, more homely setting where the emphasis is more on nurturing creative and communication skills than aiming for Oxbridge. Some parents are primarily concerned about academic standards, many are as concerned about other factors that can make all the difference to their child’s happiness and wellbeing at school: the pastoral care; scope for developing a particular enthusiasm such as rugby, design technology, drama, art, music; in addition to the availability of extra support for a child who has learning difficulties.

There is no one best school that suits all children equally. Considering some of the points below may help you in making this important decision:
Do I like the Head and agree with his or her opinions about education and how it should be delivered?

Does the school offer specialist learning support for the particular needs of my child? Be open and honest with them. Withholding information regarding issues and difficulties when applying may lead to problems and unhappiness later, if the school is not able to provide the right support for your child’s individual learning needs. If there are some other children at the school with similar learning difficulties, your child will gain in confidence through feeling that they are the same as everyone else, rather than perhaps being the only one to be struggling and perhaps feeling like the odd one out.

Do I like the SENCO and feel that he or she understands the particular learning needs of my child and will offer them the right kind of support? It is very likely that this person will become one of your key contacts with the school in terms of communication regarding your child’s academic progress, so it is important that you find them approachable, knowledgeable and understanding.

What assessment and monitoring processes are in place? How often and through what means will the school communicate with you regarding your child’s progress and who do you get in touch with to raise concerns? How often will your child’s individual education plan (IEP) be reviewed and if necessary amended?

It is so important to ensure that the school you choose has the resources to both challenge and stretch your child’s capabilities and interests, as well as offer relevant, experienced support where needed. With this in mind, do you need to consider updating your child’s educational psychologist report?

The school which you decide upon will be keen to see a recent report as part of the application process, so it can save time and assist you when communicating with the school admissions team, if you have one readily available. This also enables you to evaluate how your child is progressing and if any new challenges or difficulties with learning have arisen, as well as give the school highly valuable guidance on how to best support your child with their learning. Contact the CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) team at Bucks County Council for advice regarding the assessment process or if you wish to make private arrangements, your child’s school or an education consultant will be able to recommend an educational psychologist to you.

How is learning support delivered? One-to-one, in small groups or within the classroom through a teaching assistant? What sort of training do teaching staff have when it comes to supporting children with special educational needs within the classroom?

Is technology, for example laptops, used to support the learning of those with difficulties and is this support available within the classroom and/or for use at home?

Does the school use streaming or setting for classes or are they mixed ability? If your child excels in maths but has difficulties with English, it is important to ensure they will be both challenged and offered additional support, where appropriate.

What kinds of facilities for teaching, sports and IT are offered and do these match up with the interests and needs of my child?

If your child has difficulty with organisations skills, what systems are in place to assist them to manage their belongings and make sure they have everything they need for each lesson as appropriate? How much movement do they have to do between classrooms during the school day and how easy is it to navigate the school campus?

Will I have opportunities to meet other parents? A supportive parent community with whom you can discuss your worries regarding your child with like-minded parents can be of great value in assisting you to understand your child’s needs better and to have access to support and a listening ear when things appear difficult.

Following your visits to schools it is highly likely that you will have a front runner. It may be the school that felt warm and welcoming as soon as you arrived or that you particularly liked the staff you met or the way they were interacting with the pupils during class. Whatever the reason for your ‘feeling’ it is my experience that this usually leads to the correct school choice.

Catherine Stoker is a Director of The Independent Education Consultants who offer specialist, individual advice to parents to support them in making the right school choices at all ages and stages of education, as well as offering higher education and careers guidance services from age 14-18 and beyond.