About Special Schools
About Special Schools
Sandra Hutchinson (Editor, the Good Schools Guide: Special Educational Needs) gives expert video advice on: How do I find special schools in my area? and more...
What should I consider when visiting a special school?
You need to look at the school, and you need to look at your child and think, “Will my child…” Look at the children who are there in the classrom. “Do I see my child in that group of children?” Look at the end result, the older children. Is that what I imagine my child to be like in ‘x' years time. Those are very good starting points, but importantly remember, your child doesn't have special needs. They're a person, they have strengths and they have a personality, and you need to make sure that those marry with the school. If your child is sporty and the school has a very limited outdoor space, that's not going to marry with your child's needs unless it happens that they go to the local gym or swimming or do some sports everyday of the week, that will help place your child's strengths. If your child uses lots of visual clues, then it's important that the classrooms and things should be sunny, bright with lots of displays on the walls. If, however, too much stimulation affects your child, you want obviously a low arousal environment. So it's very much about looking at your child, at what the school is providing, and seeing if you think there's a fit. A lot of that is to do with the atmosphere. Are the staff engaged with the children? Are the children happy? Look at their work - is this the type of thing that you expect your child to be doing? How are they teaching? Are they using lots of different teaching strategies? How involved are they with the child? How do they talk about the children? Do they talk about ‘these children'? Do they seem to care about them? Is there a passion there? It's all those hidden things that can't be shown in a perspective because I would hope that before you've visited a school you've got your checklist of things the school is providing, and then it's very much about the feeling that you get when you step over the threshold.
What is 'differentiation'?
Differentiation is adapting a task so that a learner can not only access the teaching objectives but also work through them, achieve, and move on. It may be that we differentiate the task by giving additional materials or different support, that we break it down in a different way, or it could be that within a task we actually have children working on it differently. If you have, for example, a passage in English that children have to punctuate, at the very simplest levels children could be putting in full stops, capital letters, whilst at the same time the more advanced could be using colons, semicolons, speech marks, and so on. So that would be differentiation. Differentiation isn't giving children a different task to the one that everybody else is working on.
What is 'multisensory learning'?
Multisensory learning is exactly what it seems to be. It's using many senses. It's using sight, it's using hearing, it's using touch. It may be using taste. Basically, we use all the senses to help with learning. Traditionally, teaching has been very much, "listen to me." Only 8% of children are auditory learners, and so therefore very few of them are actually accessing what's there. Significantly more are visual learners or kinesthetic learners. Most of us learn through a mixture of all our senses. Multisensory learning will make sure that within one particular topic, one piece of work, we are using as many senses as possible.
What are 'Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic' (VAK) learning styles?
Visual are obviously "show me, let me see", so that's using sight, using pictures, using graphics. Auditory is "tell me", so that's listening to people, it may be involving music or listening to tapes. And the kinaesthetic is perhaps the most important. That's the way you experience it for yourself, "let me feel it". For example, if you're riding a horse you don't really want to see a picture of someone riding a horse, or for someone to tell you about riding a horse. You want to get on the horse and you want to gallop and you want to feel the horse and to actually experience learning in that way. So visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning is a means of making sure that the different styles are met within teaching and learning.
What is '24hour curriculum'?
24-hour curriculum is used particularly in residential special schools where individuals have a care plan that details what should happen throughout the whole day. The 24-hour curriculum can also be used with children in special schools, where they go home every day. The way it works is that the school and the parents will work together and they will meet to make sure that tasks that are carried out in school in a particular way are done at home in the same way and vice-versa. It also means that very often there may be a link worker who, for some of the time, may go into the child's home and spend time with them there, perhaps helping them with strategies if there is a problem. If an autistic child has problems getting dressed in the morning, then part of the 24-hour curriculum will be that somebody will go in and support the family and help the child with the dressing in the morning until the problem has disappeared. That has huge advantages, because you can imagine that the stress of getting a child dressed for school can affect the whole school day so it's beneficial not just to the school but to the family as well, and it works both ways.
What is respite care?
Respite care is basically giving a break to both the carer and the child. Some schools have respite provision, particularly residential schools. It may be that your child isn't actually in residential provision, but can access it perhaps one day a week, or maybe just two weeks in the holidays. It can be very ad hoc. You needn't necessarily be at a particular school to access respite care. Some schools have respite care for children who do not attend that school. If you're interested in respite care and don't know how to find it, speak with Social Services because they're the ones that tend to fund it, too.