Relocating a child with special educational needs

We take a look at the provision for special educational needs in international schools around the world, and suggest points for families to consider when relocating with a child who has special needs.

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Parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) often have to fight to get the necessary support. When moving to a new school in a new location, the process becomes even more challenging.While the UK government recognises the challenges and has updated its system of support in England, the situation for families moving overseas is more uncertain, with little regulation and consistency of integrated support in some international schools.

SEN provision in the UK

The UK government considers children to have SEN if they have a learning difficulty that calls for special educational provision to be made for them.All state schools in England are required by law to ensure that help is provided for children with SEN, and every local authority in England has a responsibility to support the children living in its area. However, the system of support available for children with SEN through local authorities is, by their own admission, complex.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsTeachers, health workers and social care workers often work separately to meet the particular needs of the child. Parents very often have to battle to confirm that their child even requires extra help and to be provided with a coordinated education and health plan – that is, an official record of the specific needs and requirements of the individual child.It can take years for parents to get an acceptable level of provision, so for them to up sticks and start again will be a not-insignificant task. Not surprisingly, the ability to get the right support can be a dealbreaker for these families when it comes to accepting a new assignment.In an attempt to make the process easier, the UK government has introduced a single assessment process for education, health and care, which results in what is known as the EHC Plan for children and young people (25 and under) who have SEN. An EHC Plan can only be issued after a child or young person has gone through the process of EHC Needs Assessment.The Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, Edward Timpson, announced in January 2017 that an extra £60 million of funding would be made available to “help embed the reforms made to the system of support for SEN and continue the support for the groups who have been instrumental in bringing about the progress seen to date”.

Best practice

It is important that the parents of a child who is currently receiving assistance in a mainstream school have documentation of everything that is being provided, to enable the new school and authority to make similar provision. A visit and an interview with the headteacher and the special educational needs coordinator (SENCo) will also be indispensable. For example, at Marymount International School, an independent girls’ school in London, the director of specialist learning provision, Sandra Forrest, is always included, at the earliest possible stage, in the admission of students who may need SEN support.“I work very closely with families before they even enrol at Marymount,” says Ms Forrest. “They send the relevant documentation to me when they apply, and I write a report for the headmistress and the admissions director outlining exactly what the student requires in the way of support, and whether or not we can provide that support. If they enrol and are accepted, an IEP [Individualised Education Plan] is developed in conjunction with the family before the student starts school, and is sent to teachers before the student enters their class.”In some cases, though, a mainstream school, no matter how well intentioned, will not suit the child’s needs, and parents will need to investigate a school specialising in the provision of education and care for children with specific learning difficulties, and to cope with the particularly demanding emotional and social issues that can arise.Cavendish Education, a group of five coeducational day and boarding schools in England, aims to challenge the common perception of specialist education. It provides an all-round education for students aged between five and 19 with high-functioning autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and language, communication and social pragmatic difficulties.“Each school has its own distinctive character, atmosphere and facilities on site, but they all provide a well-rounded, differentiated and skilfully supported academic curriculum,” says Cavendish Education’s Gemma Doyle. “Our schools offer a warm and friendly mainstream environment with outstanding specialist support. We believe that such learning differences need not be a barrier to success. Through our distinctive, caring approach, we encourage and develop our students to be the very best they can be – giving them the confidence to be themselves and drawing out their incredible abilities.“These abilities are nurtured and celebrated and, as a result, our students grow in self-belief. They are happy, they experience success, and each finds their individual opportunity to shine.”It is possible that a family could be entitled to an element of funding for the provision of specialist teaching in a school designed around meeting the needs of children with SEN. The local authority will be able to advise.

Moving overseas

For parents of children with SEN moving overseas, the situation is even more complex. International schools are not generally bound by local or national law as regards special education and provision of learning support, but prospective schools should be able to talk through with parents their system for target setting, monitoring, and recording the progress of children with SEN.Reports of a lack of SEN provision in some international schools in the Middle East may cause parents anxiety. Following a damning inspection report by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), which identified a weakness in the provision for children with SEN in the independent-school sector in Dubai, the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) has increased the focus on special needs assessment in its updated inspection guidelines, and has committed to its schools becoming “fully inclusive” by 2020.“Schools must develop their internal capacities to identify and remove barriers that restrict the achievements and educational experience of students with SEN,” says the 2016/17 DSIB school inspection report. “In order for this to happen, senior leaders and governors must develop and implement a policy that guides inclusive provision and practice so that students with SEN are not disadvantaged.”Schools must now demonstrate that they can meet the needs of all students, including those with learning difficulties or special talents. Schools in the region teaching the International Baccalaureate or the English curriculum were found to have the best SEN provision.Parents will need reassurance that the school they choose will meet their child’s needs. Properly accredited international schools are a good place to start. ISL Qatar, an international school based in Doha, is an International Baccalaureate World School, as well as being one of the first schools to open as part of the Qatari Supreme Education Council’s Outstanding Schools initiative.“ISL Qatar prides itself on being one of a small number of international schools that provide learning support across the school as part of its access and diversity agenda,” says head of school Chris Charleson. “This forms part of our philosophy to maintain a broad and diverse population of students who can enjoy counselling, language support and special needs support, allowing them to access the mainstream curriculum.”

International developments

According to a report from the International Schools Research Group (ISC Research) in association with Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI), an increasing number of international English-medium schools are embracing the opportunities and challenges of inclusion.A survey of over 8,000 international schools around the world about their approaches to inclusion and their provision for children with learning differences found that there were encouraging signs of increasing levels of provision as a result of the demand for specialist support from expatriate families and local families who were unable to access support in their state schools.“There’s a greater willingness towards inclusion,” says Ochan Powell, a director of NFI, “but there’s also some scratching of heads about what to do, and a fear about getting it wrong.”Richard Gaskell, director at ISC Research, believes that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests the market is moving towards being more inclusive. “This focused research will help us to provide the data that international schools need in order to know how the market is actually responding to the needs of all students,” he said.No matter which school parents choose, they should ask about the individual staff who will be helping their child, and ideally meet them, in person or via video conferencing. Providing honest information about the child’s needs is also vital.Marymount’s Sandra Forrest explains that working very closely with families during the transition is a key to success. “SEN support needs to be individually tailored and flexible in order to be effective,” she says. “This ensures that students who require support for SEN can make as smooth and successful a transition as possible.”
The International Guide to Education & Schools is designed to help relocating parents make informed education choices.
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