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Choosing an inclusive school - SEND

Updated: Feb 22

Guest writer, Annie Cole - teacher and SEND parent/advocate gives the Mindfulness for learning community a helping hand in choosing the right provision for our children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

Finding the right provision for your child is a mammoth task. Whether a mainstream, independent, resource base or specialist school, you will be seeking confidence and reassurance that your child’s needs will be met. 

Depending on where you are in your journey, you may be:

- delving into accommodations for your child on the SEND register (this applies to all children with identified SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) or SEMH (Social Emotional and Mental Health) differences, not just those with diagnoses)

- seeking an improvement on an inappropriate (possibly traumatic) placement

- looking to name a school on your child's EHCP (Education Health and Care Plan)

- exploring Alternative Provision as a temporary arrangement or as part of an EOTAS ( Education Otherwise Than At School) package. These are found on each council’s website under Local Offer

Although choosing a setting may seem daunting and uncertain, there are some key things you can ask and look out for in order to give your child the very best chances. In preparation you can: 

  • arrange visits

  • trawl websites

  • read policies

  • explore SEND reports and Ofsted reports

  • connect with current families (where possible) 

It is important to remember that it is entirely possible for a SEND child to thrive, not just survive, in school.

See below for my 10 top tips on choosing the right provision for SEND children.


A collaborative home / school relationship is paramount to a child's wellbeing and success. It is essential that there is mutual trust and you feel heard, so gauge reactions to your questions and requests from the get-go. Find out how parent/carer and teacher communication at the school has worked in the past, and be clear on how you would like it to work for you. This could range from informal conversations at the end of the day to a communication book, daily tick / circle sheet, weekly phone calls or monthly meetings. If it is important to you, ask about the availability of the SENDco (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator), Head of Year or Head Teacher to be present for meetings / phone calls as well as the Class Teacher. A school's openness with communication will give you peace of mind that your child's needs are being met.


Likewise, your child's relationship with, and trust of, the people working with them will form the foundation of a mindful and enjoyable time in school. Enquire who will be working with your child including TAs (Teaching Assistants), Cover Teachers and Lunchtime Supervisors, and arrange for your child to meet as many of them as possible in advance. Make a one-page profile crib sheet detailing your child's needs at a glance, to give every relationship a head start. Ask about the transition process and see if staff are able to offer home visits and/or dedicated 1:1 time in school to build those powerful bonds.


An appropriate and accessible environment is absolutely essential. Spend some time in the classroom and consider your child's needs. A bright and over-decorated classroom can be overstimulating for neurodivergent children, whereas a calm and ordered environment is more conducive. Clear, visual signs and labels help children to understand how the space is organised and support child / teacher communication. 

Other considerations include: how many children are in the class, and what is the staff : child ratio? Is there a sensory area or quiet corner children can retreat to if they need a break from the hustle-bustle? Do children have access to fidgets and ear defenders? Will the size and layout of the space meet mobility needs? Is there access to outside space and large exercise equipment?

It is also worth visiting the assembly, PE and lunch spaces, as these are notoriously tricky for neurodivergent children. Make a plan with the teacher for accommodations that will enable your child to feel safe in each of their new learning environments.


Every SEND child has a unique profile of needs that should be at the forefront of all aspects of their education. A flexible approach to rules and policies will support this. Take some time to read the school's behaviour policy, and look out for words like "restorative", "reflective", "support", "nurture", "welfare" and "intrinsic", which are all neurodiversity-affirming.

Speak to teachers about expectations of your child, and be honest and clear about any that are unrealistic. Blanket policies often don't "fit" SEND children but the right teacher will be willing to make accommodations. For example, many teachers will schedule movement breaks for those who have difficulties sitting for long periods, allow extra screen time for those who need regulation, and relax "politeness" rules for those with communication difficulties. Willingness to be flexible is a huge green flag. 

Emotional literacy

The mental health of children in school is crucial. Every school should have a member of staff who is Designated Wellbeing Lead (whom you can organise to meet) as well as an SEMH policy. Listen to the school's stance on mindfulness and wellbeing, and ask the teacher how they build this into their daily practise. Positive examples include exercise breaks, free play, outdoor time, meditation, mindful affirmations, sensory breaks, time with animals and open-ended art activities (e.g. clay modelling, painting or collage).

Break times and lunch times are the least structured and most social times of the day, so ask what provision is in place for children with additional needs at these points. Alternatives to crowds and neurotypical play options could include: doing jobs for an adult, reading books, drawing, playing games on a computer or ipad, watching TV, building with Lego, or gardening. The option of a safe cubby or inside area with a trusted adult is ideal.


The deeper the understanding of your child and their needs, the more wonderful the school experience can be for them. Although SEND training is minimal within teacher training courses, most schools will have built this into their CPD (Continued Professional Development programme). It is worth asking what relevant training has been undertaken by the teachers and additional adults who will be working with your child. “Trauma informed” is a key phrase to listen for. 

If your child has a disability or condition that adults haven't received training on, could the school buy into some? Is there a local charity or outreach service that could be accessed? Sunshine Support offers a range of affordable courses on all areas of SEND. You could also point teachers and school leaders in the right direction by sharing key resources / websites / books that you have found helpful on your journey. You are the expert on your child, and a fantastic resource. 


In order to feel understood and accepted, our children need to see, hear and feel themselves represented throughout the school. If it is a specialist provision, ask which neurodivergent and disabled adults have informed their policies (this will be less common practice in a mainstream but it is worth asking). Are there any members of staff who are part of the SEND community that your child could connect with? Likewise, have any neurodivergent or disabled adults visited the school either to work with children or as advocates (you could ask if this is something they would be open to)? 

Look at wall and table top displays: are all types of people represented in pictures and resources? Ask if the school has stories and fact books about your child's disability or condition, and if they don't yet, see if they can obtain some (and even better, read them out at story time!)


Many schools already have access to resources that will benefit your child. A number of mainstream schools now have a SEND resource base that children can utilise throughout the day. Forest School practices are also becoming more commonplace across all types of schools, and can provide valuable alternative learning experiences. There may be peripatetic teachers, specialists or therapists who visit regularly. Schools may also have pets and/or visiting service animals which many children find therapeutic. 

It is likely that some existing staff will be trained in Makaton, BSL (British Sign Language), or PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). IT systems may have Widget or AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) software that support communication, and there are usually spare iPads and laptops that could be used for regulation or to enhance learning. 

Often, a school's investment in resources are a useful marker of their wider ethos.

Teaching / learning style

Finding the right fit for your child in terms of teaching and learning can make a really positive impact. Consider their learning style and see if there is a match in terms of school and classroom ethos. For example, if your child has a PDA profile, they will benefit from a low-demand approach. If your child thrives on routine, timetables, now / next boards and fixed daily systems will suit them. Some children need lots of play-based learning while others prefer a formal, academic style. Meeting both the Head Teacher and Class Teacher, and spending some time in the environment, will give you a feel for this.


Children should be interested and engaged in their learning. Many neurodivergent children are "outliers'', meaning they work either above or below the "expected" attainment targets for their age group; and many also have a "spiky" profile, meaning they excel in some areas and find other areas far more difficult than their peers. Discuss with the teacher how your child will be supported in these areas. Will they have access to any interventions or special groups? Are differentiated learning alternatives available within the classroom, and what will this look like? Will they spend any time outside their main classroom, and if so, where, with whom, and for how long? Will they be paired / grouped with peers? 

Finally, if your child has a special interest, mention this to the teacher, as this has been a powerful way into the curriculum for many children.

To conclude

Focusing on your child’s unique profile will enable you to prioritise needs and define appropriate provision. We are aware that for many families, this is just one step on a long journey (securing a place can often be complicated), however being clear on your objectives and non-negotiables is key throughout the SEND education experience. Once your child starts at a school or setting, you may wonder if you have made the right choice. It will soon become obvious if it is working. Continue listening to and advocating for your child’s best interests, and carving a collaborative, mindful learning journey for them and your family as a whole. You've got this and we are right behind you. 

Have any questions? Please contact us at or book in a 15 minute free check-in with us so that we can explore next steps for you and your family.


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