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Special Education Needs (SEN)

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Differences in the UK from elsewhere

Over the last few years the number of families relocating to the UK with children who have learning difficulties has dramatically increased. However, it has come as something of a shock to large numbers of them, that unlike their home environment the children will not necessarily be mainstreamed - indeed that is normally far from the case.

Likewise parents have decided that they will not inform the schools they are trying to enter, that their child might have special needs until they are in the meetings with respective heads in the hope that it will not matter, only then to be told that the school cannot or indeed will not be able to cope with the level of need required.

One family for example placed on their application that their son needed Speech Therapy but it was not a significant need. The file on the student arrived at one of the International Schools and was an inch thick - the school felt it could not cater for the child and the parents were devastated. Eventually the young man concerned was placed in a school, which could cater for the need and prepare him for the international school at a later date - if only they had indicated that situation up front the situation would have been so different and the distress to parents and child minimalised.

The United Kingdom has numerous schools, which cater for the individual needs of certain learning difficulties, and these are both within the Independent and State sectors. They have devoted teaching staff whose aim is to do everything necessary to eventually place the children in a natural learning environment.

A number of the International Schools do have teams who are able to work with children with special educational needs, although some do not. This is also true of many Independent Schools and whilst they may indicate that they can cater for a specific need parents must ensure for themselves that this is actually the case! Those who wish to remain in the American Programme can try The Centre Academy based in Battersea or the American Community Schools , but they can only take a certain number of students and will not obviously allow their teams to be overstretched.

Likewise if parents decide they wish to place their child in the state system because this may mainstream the child they must be prepared for differences. Any child with SEN must be statemented by the local authority in which area you intend to live. Any specialist report one may already have may help, but it will never be accepted as definitive - only the individual authority's specialist statement will be accepted in placing a child.

This can only be done when you have a residential address in the area concerned. Many parents arrive and demand that this statementing happens. They hope they can then decide which area they want to live in and where the best schools might be. It will not be done no matter who you contact , until you are actually resident, so do not try to bring the child over just to have them statemented. As with ordinary state schools , until your child is resident within the area of jurisdiction , they do not legally become the responsibility of the local authority concerned.

Some local authorities are adept at providing specialist schools others are not and it is advisable to obtain specialist advice as to where these might be - but remember they can only cater for the numbers set down in their establishment. At the same time if provision of a "shadow" for a child is necessary then it will be the authority who will decide who that shadow will be and will employ them accordingly - in short it is their decision as to how your child should be educated within the state sector.

This statementing can take a number of months. A child will be placed provisionally whilst the process is undertaken but do not expect everything to happen overnight. Once a statement has been achieved and effectively a "label" allocated then in reality things become a little easier and the authority will do everything in its power to ensure the right provisions are made.

In some cases if an authority cannot provide the right kind of education, they will provide travel to another authority, which may be able to do so. In some cases they might even provide transport to an Independent school outside the authority, which may be a specialist in the particular field if that is the best course of action.

The aim will be to provide the best education for your child within the area of need and every authority will take time to ensure it achieves that goal - as frustrating as it may be, they will work at their speed and not yours - yours - so be prepared!