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Choosing the Actual School
In this Irish study, once parents knew their child’s ability and available options, they chose placements based on school structure, supports and school leadership. In choosing the actual school most families did not choose their local school, reflecting the complexity of the decision. Most parents visited at least one school beforehand to inform their choice, though not necessarily a special setting. Some parents felt smaller schools were better because the child would get more attention and there was a greater sense of ‘family’ and care in the school. Other parents felt the associated multi-grade classes in small schools would be distracting and the child would be expected to work independently while the teacher worked with other classes. Some parents also felt that larger schools would have better supports.
Parents who chose special settings perceived inadequate mainstream supports or enhanced supports in special settings. If you choose a special school you have no choice in the actual school, you will be given a placement in the nearest special school that suits the intellectual functioning of your child because school transport is provided. In all settings you apply to enrol your child there and if there is space you’ll get a place. You’ll have an enrolment form to fill in. Be honest about your child’s needs so the school can organise for the appropriate resources to be in place for your child starting school.
Supports are a significant concern if your child has mild/borderline general learning difficulties as she will not qualify for automatic resource hours in mainstream. Over time (sometimes several years) all children with WS in mainstream acquired resource hours, sometimes by parents seeking other diagnoses such as ADHD or on the grounds of emotional/behavioural difficulties.
The principal’s attitude to special needs was a factor for many parents that chose mainstream schools or a special class. Two parents who chose a mainstream school for their child had very negative experiences. The principals did not overtly refuse to enrol the child (as this is against the Education Act) but they made the parents feel very bad and made out that the school would not suit their child’s needs. This is a very difficult experience for parents. That is why it is important not to set your heart on a particular school. Check out a few in your area and see which one feels the best for your child.
At the time of the research, six of the seven children had remained in the school in which they first started; this indicates parents’ satisfaction with their choice of educational placement. One child had transferred from mainstream to special. This is an ongoing trend. It is also interesting to note that in this research, all the learners indicated they were happy at school, they felt their teacher liked them and they felt they had friends at school. This was regardless of educational placement!
© Fionnuala Tynan 2014