COVID-19 – schools closing edition

All nurseries, schools and FE settings are closing to all children other than those who are cared for by at least one key worker and those who are “vulnerable”. There is quite a wide defintion of vulnerable for these purposes, giving a non-exhaustive list of:

  • supported by social care
  • safeguarding and welfare needs, including Child in Need Plans
  • those with Child Protection Plans
  • Looked After Children
  • Young Carers
  • disabled children
  • children with EHCPs
  • other children with “social” difficulties [which in this sense seems to be more of a reference to their family circumstances than to difficulties the child has interacting with their peers and staff at school]

Some of those definitions are overlapping: ie. a child with a Child Protection Plan, will have safeguarding and welfare needs and will be being supported by social care.

It is explicit that children do not have to be sent to school just because they meet the criteria of “vulnerable”; though for children where there is extensive social services involvement on a child protection basis, any decision to not send them to school should be discussed with the child’s social worker to avoid allegations being made that the child has been removed from school to conceal abuse.

Some children will also meet the criteria for vulnerability to COVID-19 due to eg. asthma, cerebal palsy, diabetes, learning disability. A smaller sub-group will meet the criteria for extra vulnerability to severe side effects eg. those receiving chemotherapy. For many of these children, particularly those in the latter group, it will be better for them to be somewhere other than school if at all possible.

The children with some of the most complex needs in residential special schools will probably need to stay where they are with their existing, familiar staff teams, so far as possible.

The issue as I see it is that the pandemic is going to be a marathon not a sprint and what can be put in place over the short term may not be sustainable for some months. There are considerable risks attached to keeping children out of school, where school is part of the “safety net” for the family. If you are living somewhere where it is difficult to safely take your child outside without getting too close to other people, there are likely to be considerable overall advantages of them going to school and being able to use the school playground. [You may for instance have a child with behavioural needs that mean you need more than one adult to manage them outside and there’s only one person available. you might live close to a main road, be unable drive and not have any open space within walking distance]

The patchiness of the provision and the way it is going to change to acommodate the changing numbers of children and the different staff involved may make it provision that is difficult for some autistic children to use. Conversley, I suspect some other children are going to shine in the different setting, with fewer pupils and staff and different activities.

My conclusion on this question is that it’s best to retain flexibility in your own thinking: you might conclude you don’t want to send your child to school (despite being able to due to being a key worker/them being vulnerable) and you’ll manage another way. You might equally conclude they need to go to school now and find yourself changing your mind in a couple of weeks time. The flexibility to send / not send children to school should be there over time, so any decision you make now isn’t one you’re going to be stuck with through the pandemic.




I’ve been thinking about posting this for a few days and wondering what I might have to say that’s different to the information that’s already available or expands on it in ways that are helpful for disabled people and parents of disabled children.

New normal

From what I’ve seen so far (and what is known about the general pattern of pandemics), COVID-19 is going to be around and a major difficulty [both personally and in terms of the overall capacity of the healthcare system] until a vaccine has been developed and administered to a reasonable number of people. That’s at least a year away and I reckon probably closer to two years.

What this means is that the advice about handwashing and ways to cough and sneeze that minimise the chances of passing on infections is here to stay. It needs to become routine for people for whom it isn’t already. It may mean some backwards steps for children who are toilet trained but not great at washing their hands effectively – they may need specific teaching and extra supervision until they can reliably wash all of the surfaces of their hands.

I suspect there’s going to be a lot of people in a few months time who develop skin problems as a result of washing their hands very frequently. If you already have problems with your skin, it’s probably worth getting advice from a pharmacist/nurse/GP/dematologist early about the best ways for you specifically to wash your hands. If you don’t, it’s almost certainly worth finding an emollient cream to use as often as you can after washing your hands.

These recommendations about handwashing are probably going to be difficult for some people to follow:

  • some people with pre-existing skin conditions
  • some people with sensory processing problems who find the physical sensations of handwashing really unpleasant, or if they’re OK with that, find say, the noise of handdryers in shared toilets intolerable
  • some people who have pre-existing anxiety around hygiene/health, who might have established rituals for handwashing or who might, in their anxiety, think the guidance doesn’t go far enough

There’s also going to be an increased overall burden on the NHS, which is almost certainly going to lead to increased waiting times for referrals as resources are diverted to deal with COVID-19. There isn’t a great deal anybody can do about this, though I think it’s probably wise not to delay seeking any referrals you think you need.


I don’t think it’s scare mongering to suggest you have a look at the advice on self-isolation and to think about whether it’s something you could realistically achieve with your particular family/household circumstances. Many disabled children won’t be able to manage what is needed to minimise the infection risk. Even those that can are likely to find 14 days in limited numbers of rooms in their home very difficult unless they’re feeling unwell enough to sleep. In some cases, you may be better off declining to self-isolate and having the child admitted to hospital. This is particularly likely to be the case where a child needs a lot of care. Paid care staff may themselves become ill or need to self-isolate meaning you have less support than you would usually.

It is likely this will become less of a problem later on in the outbreak when there will be more advice around general social distancing rather than isolation of ill people.

You might think about toys, hobbies, books and so on that would be likely to be entertaining for your child in advance. For some children the lack of exercise will be really hard and you might be able to find suitably sized home gym equipment. If you have a private garden, you might consider new garden based toys and/or exercise equipment. If you’re into nature and think not being able to go outside will be a particular problem for you, you might consider what house plants you own and whether cultivating some more, maybe including some herbs or similar will help. This is perhaps especially important for people who live in flats without gardens.

School closures

I suspect these will happen, it’s just a matter of timing. I have seen no published information so far about plans for residential schools for disabled children. There are pretty good reasons for some of these schools to stay open, to carry on caring for their disabled children. If your child is at such a school, it’s worth having a discussion with the staff there about their plans and contingency plans.

The school might move the children’s bedrooms around, so that all of those who are ill are cared for together, away from the children who are well.

If you’re in a situation where you wouldn’t be able to care for your child at home without school, it’s probably worth contacting social services for an assessment of your child’s needs for social care and your own needs as a carer. If you already have a social care assessment setting out support you need during school holidays but not during term time, this is a good starting point for the sort of support you’re likely to need if the schools are closed during term time. Some of the support that’s often available during holidays is unlikely to be made available eg. group activities for disabled children, mainstream group activities, as they defeat the purpose of the school closures. So, you can stress to social care that you will need an equivalent replacement service.

If you don’t have existing social care suppot, you may find you need some now, as the demands of caring for your child in circumstances where school is closed and perhaps other care arrangements have broken down (eg. your childminder is ill).

You might find other parents are in a similar position to you and perhaps willing to accept a slightly higher risk of infection by meeting up with you and your child – depending on the children’s needs, you may find it a welcome break to have two adults caring for two disabled children rather than being on your own with your own child.

If your child is in receipt of NHS Continuing Care funding, it’s important to think through how they would be cared for if existing trained support workers/paid care staff/nursing staff become unavailable due to their own illness – discuss with the people responsible for the care plan and any agencies or other companies who supply staff.

If your own circumstances are very complicated and you’re in a position where you cannot safely care for your child at home, remember that there remains a mandatory duty on the LA to provide accommodation per s.20 of the Children Act 1989 where a parent is prevented from doing so. Social care services will be stretched and will try to discourage you from making them fulfil their duty, but it is an option. It’s also useful as a consequence for children’s services departments that don’t take requests for help to enable you to manage at home seriously.

If your child’s school is likely to close, it’s worth discussing with them how they are intending to set work for the children over the closure. For some children, ongoing school work they can probably complete much faster than in a class setting, will be broadly welcomed. For others, who maintain a strict dividing line between home and school, attempts to persuade them to do school work at home will be extremely frustrating for all involved. Schools do have to make reasonable adjustments to their policies to accommodate disabled children, so for younger children who won’t be persuadable into doing what they think is school work at home, it is worth trying to agree a range of activities that will extend their learning whilst not appearing to be school work. For older children, particularly teenagers preparing for GCSEs, the school should be working with you to explain the situation isn’t typical and that it is essential they carry on with school work.


Whilst the general course of pandemics repeats over time (so is reasonably well known), there’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, how the UK Government will respond, how governments internationally are responding, what the WHO advice will be and how other international events will interact with it. This means a lot of the planning that can be done has to be contingency planning of the “if x happens, we’ll do y”. This overall situation is likely to be inherently stressful for many people. Some decisions will have to be made without complete information. It’s worth thinking about activities for children to help them tolerate uncertainty better.



Bad faith

This seems like a seasonally appropriate time to write on this topic, when Christians are thinking about peace and goodwill to all.

One of the things I often come across are parents who have concluded that their LA is acting in bad faith, out of malice. This does happen, but nowhere near as often as people have decided it does, as they misinterpret actions as being malicious when they’re in reality done out of ignorance or for some other motive.

The reasons it’s important to consider what is really going on carefully are these:

1. SEN is (when you’re looking at an EHCP) a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to “get on” with your LA case officer, but you are going to have to work with and around your LA until your child is an adult (and in some cases on an ongoing basis as they transfer into adult social care provision). A victory achieved at great emotional cost to yourself is of no better value than one achieved at lesser cost.

2. Acting on anger can lead to taking actions that aren’t the right thing to do in the longer term. Anger is a feeling, that’s as real as any other feeling and one that often needs an outlet – sport, talking to someone and so on. Actions based on anger aren’t often the ones that serve children best in the longer term. Anger can become a hinderance to taking effective action, particularly when it results in intransigence.

3. Spending lots of time being angry over a long period of time isn’t usually very good for our bodies. It’s a marathon, with periods of extra effort, not a sprint.

4. Understanding the likely motivations of LAs helps in planning how to respond to them. You can still conclude they’re wrong to act on those motivations, whether morally, or in many cases, legally. Generally, nobody likes to think of themselves as being the “bad guy” so people put their own actions into the contexts that make them feel like they’re doing a good thing. For LA officers, this is usually the knowledge that their education budget is fixed and that they have to educate a particular number of children within that budget. “Protecting” the budget for other, maybe more needy, children is a factor that makes LAs less likely to agree to more expensive placements outside of the Tribunal. It’s easier if you’re an LA to say to your Council Tax payers “The Tribunal made us” rather than “we agreed it was necessary to spend £200000 on this child’s education”. The obvious knowledge that most parents of children with SEN are themselves Council Tax payers seems to be ignored. This is one of the reasons why arguments put to an LA that say “my choice of school and accompanying provision is cheaper than your proposals” are quite often successful – there’s a saving to the public purse.

5.Also remember most LA staff are dependent for their own security on having a job and an income each month. They are rarely well paid and may very well be people who fall into the category of “just about managing” in their personal lives. It’s very difficult for someone in that position to go very far outside what their employere has asked them to do, even when they are personally sympathetic to your case.

6. As Government spending was cut from 2010 onwards, lots of LAs took decisions that resulted in them losing their experienced SEN staff. Prior to that point, most LAs had senior case officers, who acted as representatives in many cases before the Tribunal, who had a reasonable understanding of the legal requirements. This meant they would be able to negotiate a case sensibly. With these people retiring and moving on elsewhere, many Children’s Services departments have ended up with inexperienced staff who are trained in their own internal policies to the exclusion of the legal requirements. This means that quite often LA officers are acting out of ignorance – this is not the fault of the individual, but of the LA corporately in not training its staff properly. This is something that can properly be made the subject of a complaint.

7. In cases where an LA is behaving maliciously, you stand a better chance of resisting them when you can react to them firmly, but reasonably and calmly.


We’re at start of a new academic year when lots of four year olds are settling into their Reception classes and lots of Year 7s are trying to get to grips with bigger schools, a timetable, more teachers, more homework and so on.

My experience tells me that the Year 6 to Year 7 transition can sometimes go spectacularly wrong within a few weeks where a child has been well supported at primary school but cannot cope with the demands of the secondary school with the support available to them. Sometimes, a child’s special educational needs have not been fully diagnosed and often it’s an Autism diagnosis that follows the child’s exclusion or removal from the school.

If you’re in this position, where you have a new Year 7 struggling with their new school, I suggest considering the following:

1. If they have an EHCP, seek an Emergency Annual review of their EHCP as soon as you can. If the problem is not identified and fixed quickly, the child can become too anxious about school for any subsequent ‘fix’ to stand a reasonable chance of working.

2. If you’re in the middle of an EHC Needs Assessment and you like the school they’re at and want them to stay there, if possible, engage with the school a lot over temporary solutions, pending the conclusion of the EHC Needs Assessment. This is an occasion when it may suit you to make less of an issue of the school behaving illegally (ie. imposing a part-time timetable) than you otherwise would.

3. If you’re in the middle of an EHC Needs Assessment and you’re convinced the school isn’t right for your child, operate in whatever way is least stressful for your child and compatible with your childcare arrangements. In your case, it is likely to assist you in obtaining an EHC Plan for your child if the school exclude them, so avoid taking action simply in order to avoid an exclusion.

4. If your child has known SEN that were thought to be milder than would require an EHC plan, now is the time to make the request for an EHC Needs Assessment, whilst talking to the school about how to help your child. Everybody’s original assessment of the severity of their SEN based on what they were like at primary school may well be mistaken, but it’s taken the move to secondary school to identify the problem. If you ask for an EHC Needs Assessment and it turns out you’ve “overreacted” to a teething blip, it’s not a problem – LAs routinely decline requests for EHC Needs Assessments and nothing will happen unless you appeal the LA’s refusal to assess.

5. If your child does not have known SEN and things appear to be going wrong with their move to secondary school, it’s worth:

    • Starting a diary – make a record of what’s happened each day for your own and/or your child’s use.
    • Consider who at the school knows what about your child; if your child is adopted, donor conceived, has been bereaved, is living in an “unusal” family set up and so on, there’s considerable risk to them of insensitively chosen or simply inappropriate tasks in lessons. Where a child is a Former Looked After Child (ie. you’ve adopted them, are their Special Guardian or have a Child Arrangements Order under which they’re living with you, after they’ve been a Looked After Child) they are eligible for the Pupil Premium. It is therefore in their interests that someone at their school knows about this in order to claim the funding. However, in a secondary school, communication is generally more fragmented than in a primary school – information known to the school as a whole may not in practice be known to each of the child’s subject teachers and is highly unlikely to be known to external supply teachers. Secondly, in the social milieu of school, your child’s preferences for who gets to know information about them are becoming much more important than when they were much younger. They may not want any teacher to know they were adopted or they may want their form tutor to know but no one else.
    • If there’s something else unusual in your family circumstances – say a parent has a long term health problem, a younger sibling has very significant SEN and they’re a Young Carer or perhaps one parent is in the military and liable to be deployed to dangerous areas, it is worth, in discussion with your child, considering whether to pass this information on to their school.
    • If something goes seriously wrong or there are a number of moderately serious incidents, request an EHC Needs Assessment. As in (4) above, if everything turns out to be teething difficulties, you don’t have to appeal against the LA’s refusal to start one. If what’s gone wrong is the beginning of identifying your child as having significant needs, you’ll be further along the process by having a right of appeal six weeks after your request.
    • Consider what is going on socially and helping your child make safe use of social media for staying in contact with friends.
    • Checking, so far as you can, that your child is drinking enough water, eating enough food and sleeping enough. School toilets are still [I left school in 1997] often not in a good state of repair/decor and can be a venue for bullying, which can lead to children not drinking enough to avoid using them. Lunchbreaks can be short at secondary schools. Consider a packed snack, even if your child is intending to eat a school dinner. Days at secondary school are usually longer and involve more walking than those at primary school, so are likely to be initially tiring.
    • Consider how to keep evenings and weekends less busy for a few weeks – this might be counter productive, because hobbies outside of school are generally good for self esteem and confidence, but is worth thinking about.
    • Contain homework to a reasonable amount of time each evening. Adequate sleep and at least some time to relax in the evening is more important than homework at this stage.
    • Providing direct help to organise their bag each evening for the following day – books for each subject, a pencil case, a calculator, packet of tissues and so on [yes, they should be learning to do this independently, but it’s somewhere you can help, in the short term, whilst they settle]
    • Making sure they know about anti-perspirant and the importance of washing .
    • Checking that their clothing, including their shoes, are comfortable and suitable for what they’re doing. Some children have sensory processing disorders and struggle with wearing any sort of school uniform because of the feel of the fabric. Anybody expected to walk any distance in shoes giving them blisters or that are very flimsy will have sore feet. Shirt collars can be unpleasantly stiff until they’ve been washed a couple of times. Talk to the school about issues that arise and discuss solutions – if a school is not willing to adjust its uniform requirements for a disabled pupil, you may well have an Equality Act claim for disability discrimination.
    • If school uniform and PE kit is particularly complicated, it’s worth getting them to practice changing quickly from one to the other.
    • Taking them for an eyetest, if they’ve not had one recently.
    • If they’ve previously had glue ear or other problems with their hearing, it’s worth seeking a referral back to audiology/the ENT department to check their hearing.
    • Also consider when they last saw a dentist and if relevant take them for a routine appointment.
    • If they menstruate and they appear tired, consider if they might be anaemic – this is one issue worth a GP appointment. If they experience painful periods, discuss with the GP what painkillers are recommended and how these should be administered at school.
    • If they might start menstruation, including for the first time, make sure they have clean underwear, tights (if relevant) and menstrual products with them. Find out where they can go to borrow a skirt/pair of trousers if in need, or get them to store a spare one in their locker, if they have one.
    • Consider a GP appointment if they appear particularly tired, after a few weeks or earlier if you suspect a potential (physical) health problem.
    • Also consider an early GP appointment if the ways that things aren’t going well for them look like a mental health problem – the earlier a referral is made to CAMHS the better.
    • Bear in mind that school may not be the problem – something might have happened outside of school and timing is coincidental.

Elections and voting

Another topical issue to consider.

Everybody in England over the age of 16 who is a British, Irish, or Commonwealth citizen or (currently) a citizen of another EU country should be registered to vote.

The issue of voting is one of a very limited number of areas that is excluded from the Mental Capacity Act’s provisions for making decisions for another adult. Even people who might arguably not have capacity to vote have a right to do so. This is perhaps particularly important for people who have lost capacity due to a brain injury or dementia who would be quite rightly angry at being prevented from doing something everybody else is allowed and encouraged to do. But it is also important in terms of engagement with wider society for learning disabled adults.

People with two addresses, which would include pupils attending a residential school are entitled to be registered at both addresses (though can only vote once in each election).

If you do want to vote in person and your polling station is too far away for you to easily get there, you may find your local political parties are willing to offer you a lift to the polling station on election day.

It is relatively easy to apply for a postal vote and for some disabled people, it will be easier to vote privately at home with time to consider the ballot paper. Although large print ballot papers are available at polling stations, which will help some people, the arrangements for visually impaired people to mark ballot papers are poor and rely on a tactile device placed over the ballot paper.

People who are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 can vote by post/proxy (with the exception of those detained because they have been convicted of a crime). The same would be true for people who are deprived of their liberty in accordance with the Mental Capacity Act 2005 – whether authorised by way of the DOLS procedure or by a Court Ordere.

People who care for disabled friends and family might also prefer to vote by post rather than be committed to travelling to a polling station.

It is slightly more complicated to apply for a proxy vote, but it can be done. This is worth considering for anybody who prefers to vote in person but who has a fluctuating condition (so might be unable to go to the polling station on election day) or who has complicated travelling arrangements for work.

There are deadlines to apply for postal and proxy votes some weeks before elections are held, so it is worth sorting one of these out (or both – it is possible to vote by post as a proxy for someone else) at a time when there is no pressing election.

Where someone has an emergency after the deadline to apply for postal/proxy votes, it is possible to be granted an emergency proxy vote up to 5pm on polling day eg. if you’re in an accident and break a leg.

Internet Safety – School Uniforms

Not solely an SEN/disability issue, but a topical one.

It can be extremely easy to work out which school a child goes to from a photograph of them in school uniform. Sometimes there’s a logo that gives it away. Sometimes local knowledge of the schools in the area combined with a less clear picture is enough. Sometimes it takes a little more effort to complete the jigsaw, but it can be very easy.

Primary school pupils old enough to travel independently and secondary school pupils are more vulnerable to attempts at grooming than younger, more closely supervised, children.

Children who can be identified as attending special schools will be particularly vulnerable.

Best to keep your photographs of children in school uniform to those you know well enough to invite into your home / who you’d tell, if they asked you, which school your child was at. This may well be a subset of the people you interact with online.

Oxbridge Admissions

I’m writing this on my own authority; as someone who went to Oxford from a state comprehensive and state funded sixth form college and as someone with some level of expertise in access on the basis of disability, from my professional life. The detail of what I’m writing centres on Oxford, because that’s where my knowldge originates.

I’m reminded of the economics thing of “supply side” and “demand side”. Much of the work people are trying to do around Oxbridge admissions seems to be concentrated on persuading potential students they should accept what Oxbridge offers and this work has a place, but it’s only part of the story. Oxbridge has to look very closely at itself and start to adapt to become more attractive to a wider range of students.

At the moment, Oxford is not an attractive choice, compared to living in their current home (or at least home town) and going to a local university for many students from “non-traditional” backgrounds.

Language is culture and region specific and different terms mean different things to different people. Calling a sit down evening meal “supper” when that’s a usage of a term associated with a particular social class and fairly unfamiliar outside it is alienating, even though nobody would be intending the usage to be alienating. It doesn’t matter that the usage might be obvious from the context to an intelligent potential applicant; the point is the universities should be trying to meet people half way by trying to avoid this sort of loaded terminology.

So one thing, Oxbridge could do that might help is to arrange for different groups of people to test the materials they produce aimed at prospective applicants, looking for language use that is strongly associated with particular classes or regions and working out alternatives.

Another thing it could do is provide an easily accessible glossary. I had no idea what “lounge suit” meant when I started at Oxford in 1999. I didn’t really have internet access until I went to Oxford, and back then we didn’t really have search engines the way we do now (I think someone showed me how to use Alta Vista at some point, but it was most usual in those days to go to websites you already knew about via bookmarks/typing the address into the address bar).

Course structure

Some people get on better with courses with a bigger dissertation/thesis element and others with an exam element. Some people will do better with Oxford style finals where there’s an opportunity for your learning to coalesce as a whole before you sit exams. Other people will prefer courses where exams are taken more frequently.

Oxford’s slavish adherence to heavy reliance on finals is really unhelpful when thinking about attracting students from different backgrounds.

Very few Oxford courses can be taken part time. This is a barrier for disabled students, students who are carers, some students who are parents and other students who want to study whilst working. It is all the more annoying because the tutorial system certainly for arts, humanities and social sciences lends itself to flexibility. Individual or paired tutorials can be arranged at mutually convenient times with tutors. Lectures are optional and are often not well attended, as many of the people who get on with that style of learning are happier to learn by solitary reading / working with others from their College informally to discuss what they’ve read. [I accept that lab sessions for those taking science based subjects require a bit more thought, but that’s no reason to not provide for arts based subjects]

Oxford’s insistence on designating part-time students differently, in its documentation and on their library cards is part of the problem. Institutionally it sees part-time students as different to full time students.

The term structure needs to be reconsidered. The theory is that three eight week terms (with up to another week at the beginning of each term to allow for mock exams known as Collections to be taken) allows for periods of concentrated work, with the vacations free to take up paid work. For some students this works well. For those with extensive caring commitments for disabled relatives, those parenting young children and those who are disabled, this may be a less helpful model. It might be more helpful to them to spread the work out over ten or twelve week terms. Even if lectures remained concentrated in the eight weeks of full term, spreading tutorials and other small group teaching out would be likely to assist people to have a more even work/study/life balance.


The “standard” offering of accommodation is of a room within a College or nearby for two or three (or four) years of an undergraduate course. Rooms are single occupancy and very often have to be vacated during the vacations to enable Colleges to use them for conference guests who generate useful income.

Accommodation does not often come with kitchen facilities adequate for proper self catering, because the assumption is that students will eat many meals in Hall. Halls vary in their ability to cater for students who don’t eat a “standard English” diet. Vegetarians will be OK and I suspect catering staff are getting to grips with catering for students who require gluten free food but where the problem is that somebody’s diet centres around dishes from a non-English culture, the food that’s on offer will be unfamiliar and not a shared cultural thing.

In my view, there needs to be more accommodation available throughout the year to better accommodate students who don’t live with family members, including those who are formerly Looked After Children, international students, disabled students, students bringing family members with them and so on. This needs to be accommodation in self contained flats/houses, that can be occupied 365 days per year, with a sensible sized kitchen for the number of occupants.

Where this cannot be provided by individual Colleges, there should be consideration given to helping students find privately rented accommodation and using some of the available financial support to off-set their additional costs.

In addition, the peculiar, paternalistic rule, that undergraduates at Oxford must live within six miles of Carfax Tower (in the middle of Oxford City Centre) should be repealed. The University and its Colleges have no business dictating where students live and the rule contributes to the very high cost of private rental accommodation in the area. [I am aware that it is possible to apply for exemptions to the rule; the point I am making is that it is access barrier to have this as a rule at all]

Also to be considered; there are good environmental reasons to use cars less, but it is very difficult indeed to keep a car in Oxford as an undergraduate student living in College, unless you have a Blue Badge. For some people their car is essential to enable them to fulfil their caring or other responsibilities and the available public transport options aren’t a good substitute.


Students are often discouraged from accepting part time work during term time (in the context of there being three eight week terms during the year and an expectation that an undergraduate degree should be treated like a full time job for those 24 weeks).

Some bursaries and other funds may be available on application – but there is a problem with certainty here that affects people’s ability to budget.

In addition, it is not unusual for Colleges to effectively impose costs on students with an assumption that there’s money for these things eg. ball tickets can be expensive (say £60-£100+ for one night) and where balls are taking place in College, students who are living there can find themselves forced out of their own room for the night or effectively locked in and unable to leave (whilst quite possibly unable to sleep due to the noise).

This sort of thing needs to be thought about as does the price of things like matriculation photographs and the cost of buying clothes to satisfy “lounge suit” and “black tie” dress codes.

Partners and children

There are perfectly good reasons why young children need to be supervised, but Colleges are not always welcoming to students’ children – this should be an easy thing to fix. The same is true for partners – Colleges should be welcoming to the people who support students.

How to pick a mainstream school for a disabled child or one with special educational needs

This post is about questions to ask and other things to consider when thinking about a state funded mainstream school for a disabled child or a child who has special educational needs.

It doesn’t cover special schools (whether state funded or independent).

To my mind there are three important things to consider when looking at potential schools:

  1. The physical environment
  2. The attitude of the school / individual senior members of staff
  3. The stability of the senior leadership team within the school.

Looking at them individually

Physical environment

At some level this one is obvious; you want a school with a site that is accessible to your child and also to you.

For some children, this means picking a modern building with level access so it is safe for them to use mobility aids.

For some children it means good contrast and use of lighting and tactiles to make the site somewhere they can navigate independently

For some children it means classrooms and other spaces that are acoustically really good, with very limited background noise.

For other children it means having a playground with spaces designed for quiet play or a school where there is well designed space for 1:1 work with a Speech and Language Therapist or specialist teacher.

For others again, it might mean a school site that is comparatively small, so it is less fatiguing for them to navigate, but for others a large, rural site, with space to run and comparatively little noise is better.

For others it might mean a school site that’s particuarly secure, in the sense of it being physically difficult for a child to leave the site just by running off. Most of the time schools are secure to stop unwanted visitors getting in, rather than to stop anybody leaving.

A visit to the school site should enable you to get a reasonable “feel” for how good the physical environment would be for your child as the school is at present.

This can be trickier where you don’t know the full extent of your child’s difficulties as well as in cases where there is reasonable potential for their presentation to deteriorate.

In some cases arranging for an Occupational Therapist or a Acoustician or a Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired to visit your top choice(s) of schools is a good move, because they are likely to be able to advise on the work that would need to be done to make the school site suitable for your child.

For children who are disabled, but who don’t have special educational needs (they have different definitions and it is possible to fall into one category but not the other), the mechanism to force the school to accommodate your child is via their duties under the Equality Act not to discriminate against disabled pupils, including their duty to make reasonable adjustments.

In nearly all cases where you would want early input from an OT, Acousician or QTVI, it will be for a child who has special educational needs (in addition to any disability) and probably one where your child will have an EHCP or you are in the process of assessment for one and it will be possible for the adaptations to be included within the EHCP that the LA will be required to fund.

The law provides an almost absolute right to a mainstream education for any child, no matter the cost. This does not extend to a right to a particular school – meaning that where a child would need very expensive adjustments to be made to school A, but school B would need substantially less expensive adjustments, the LA can refuse to place the child at school A. For this reason, it’s usually worth visiting all of the schools within a reasonable travelling distance for your child. The totality of the respective costs of the placements would be considered and sometimes a school might have higher “one off” costs and lower ongoing costs – if say, your child would need less TA support in that school compared with the other one.


Attitudes to disability and special educational needs vary considerably. It is not possible for teachers to have a detailed knowledge of rare conditions and it will be necessary for them to learn about how your child’s condition specifically affects them. But it is often possible to get an indication of how the school approaches these issues. Some questions you might like to ask are:

  • Do you reward children for attending school?
  • If so, how do you adjust your awards system so that it is fair for disabled children (who are likely to have medical appointments during school hours and some of whom may be more prone to illness)?
  • How do you support children to carry on learning when they’ve missed a lot of school due to ill health?
  • What’s the school uniform?
  • How do you accommodate children with tactile processing problems, who struggle with the feel of typical school clothing?
  • How do you accommodate children who have been prescribed specific shoes?
  • What’s your bullying policy?
  • How do you deal with bullying that centres around a child being disabled?
  • What’s your behaviour policy?
  • What adjustments have you made to your behaviour policy to accommodate individual disabled pupils?
  • How do you support children who become overwhelmed with anxiety in school?
  • How do you support children who are made anxious by school and are at risk of school refusing?

More generally, think about the tone and content of the responses you’re getting. Teaching staff do sometimes seem to be dismissive of family concerns and questions. The school you want is likely to be one where more than one member of staff is either already knowledgeable or, if not, open to learning and receptive to your input and that from other professionals eg. an Educational Psychologist, Speech and Language Therapist and so on.


Teachers and school support staff move jobs for the same reasons as everyone else. They also take maternity/adoption leave and at times are too unwell to be at work. It is unrealistic to expect your child will be able to go to a school where there are no staff changes.

What it is worth looking for is a reasonable degree of stability within the senior leadership team at the school. My experience of this has been with specialist independent schools, but the same principle applies – where there is rapid change in the senior team or where there is a lot of staff turnover (higher than you’d expect for the location), it is likely that knowledge and experience are being lost. Additionally, it may indicate that the staff are generally unhappy / there is a problem with the school’s management and where this is the case, it is unlikely to be providing the best education it could.

Other factors to consider

Unit provision – some mainstream schools have attached Units specialising in a particular disability eg. Autism, Speech and Language, Moderate Learning Difficulties, where the children spend some of their time in mainstream lessons and some of their time in the Unit being taught in smaller groups. Some Units are very good, others are OK and even some of the ones that are good may not be right for your child. It’s always worth asking enough questions to get an idea of the timetable for the children in the Unit – in some cases they are expected to be in mainstream lessons for everything other than English and Maths and your child’s SEN may mean that model of provision won’t work for them.

Ofsted Reports (or equivalents for independent schools)- these are always worth reading, but bear in mind that at the moment some schools that are graded as “Outstanding” haven’t been inspected for ages and may have changed over time. An Ofsted inspection is in some ways still a snapshot of how a school is on the day(s) it is inspected and some schools will take extensive steps to present their best possible image on the day – ie. arranging school trips for the “naughtiest” children, provoking children into behaving in ways that justify a temporary exclusion for the days of the inspection.

Any published assessment results – eg. GCSE data for secondary schools and progress data for Key Stage 2 for primary schools, is worth looking at.

Wraparound care – does the school offer this? Can you find any local childminders or other providers of childcare who deliver to and collect from that school?

Travelling time / method – is the school walkable from home? Cycleable? Wheelable? Some children will be entitled to LA funded transport due to their SEN, disability or distance from the school, but it’s still worth considering how your child might get to and from the school each day and the potential length of the journey.

For each of the schools you are considering you want to know its status ie. LA maintained or Academy, because this affects your routes for complaint if your child attends the school and you have a problem of a sort that does not lend itself to a claim for disability discrimination. You have more routes for complaint if your child attends an LA maintained school than an Academy.

Usually, the easiest place to start gathering general information about a number of schools is the Get Information About Schools Service

Some schools have a religious character or affiliation. You want to know what this is and to assess through your interaction with the school how compatible the school’s ethos is with your family’s situation. Sometimes schools with a religious affiliation are very good at accommodating children who come from families that don’t share that religious background. Sometimes schools without a formal religious affiliation have a close relationship with a church (nearly always this is a problem with churches rather than synagoges or mosques) that is overly forceful in its presentation of one faith tradition.

Often families end up having to compromise over a school that reflects their faith background vs one that caters well for their child’s disability. You can withdraw a child from participation in collective worship in school and also from RE lessons (though RE lessons should be about understanding religions rather than worship).

Is my child “ready” for school?

The simple answer to this is that it’s the wrong question to be asking. Education has to adapt to meet the needs of the child, not the other way round. A child with Severe Learning Difficulties has the same right to an education matched to their developmental level as a typically developing child.

The more nuanced answer to the question involves thinking about what the school tells you they are expecting of their four year olds in Reception classes and working out what your child can do, what, if anything, they can reasonably be specifically taught to do and what they can’t do for which the school will need to adjust its practices to accommodate your child’s disability. It may be your thinking leads you to the conclusion that your child might have special educational needs and that you need to make a request for an EHC Needs Assessment.

Most of what is talked about as “school readiness” involves self care and the skills for learning as part of a group.

Thinking in broad domains:


Can your child sit? Do they need specialist seating to enable them to do this? Can they sit on the floor? (If not, it’s worth talking about adjustments that the school can make to enable your child to take part in the curriculum together with their peers – it might be usual for whole class teaching to be delivered to children sitting on the floor for Reception children, but it might be better in some cases for all the children to be sitting on chairs rather than the floor or it might be possible to obtain equipment to support your child to sit on the floor rather than for them to remain sitting on a chair whilst the other children sit together on the floor.


Can your child walk? If yes, is walking something they can do enough of, without tiring themselves out, that it’s a reasonable means for them to navigate the school site? If they use a mobility aid, like a stick/crutches/walking frame, what arrangements will the school need to make for them (eg. space to store the mobility aid either by the child’s desk or elsewhere in the classroom, if it’s not needed for short distances).

If your child can walk, but gets fatigued, what are the realistic options? Can they do less walking through the day? Can they have a wheelchair to use when tired? What are the options for playtimes? Although many Reception classes operate with a lot of child led activities, it’s unusual for the children to have the option of being in a space big enough to run around in outside of play times. Most of the children will get a lot out of playtimes where they are allowed to run around so where there are children who will get unduly fatigued by (too much) running around, a solution needs to be created for them that allows them time and space to rest.

If your child can walk but is unsteady on their feet, is it safe enough for them to walk around school generally? If not and they’re using a wheelchair for most travel around the school site, when would it be safe for them to be on their feet and doing some walking?

Is your child independent using a wheelchair – whether manual or self-propelled? If yes, where is there to store/charge the wheelchair when it’s not being used? If not, what adult support is available to supervise them and/or help them move around?


For children who use wheelchairs, what arrangements need to be made to enable them to transfer from their wheelchair to a classroom chair/the floor/a toilet/a changing trolley. If they are very physically dependent and/or have a lot of uncontrolled body movements they are likely to need to be hoisted for their own comfort and for their own safety. Additionally, it is important that nobody is repeatedly lifting a child to provide care, particularly in ways that may pose a risk in the longer term of back problems.


Can your child feed themselves the sort of food they’ll be served at school with the available cutlery? If not, could they do so if supplied with alternative cutlery and/or alternative food?

What are the arrangements for drinks? Can your child serve themselves a cup of water?

If your child doesn’t eat orally, do they know how they are fed? If your child is allergic to a particular food, do they know what they cannot safely eat?


Can your child understand and respond in spoken English? How able is your child to communicate about things that are bothering them to the adults around them? Would they tell someone if they’d hurt themselves? How able are they at communicating with other children? If they’re D/deaf, do they use hearing aids? How much do they know about how their hearing aids work? How much do they need an adult to manage for them? Do they use any form of AAC? Might some AAC help them eg. a communication book – either with symbols/pictures for the child to use to help conveying their meaning or the sort of book where someone who knows the child very well describes their communication.


Is your child fully toilet trained? Do they know how to make sure they’ve cleaned themselves properly? Do they know about needing to wash their hands afterwards? Do they know to tell an adult if they have an accident? Are the facilities in the school suitable in size/location for your child?

If your child has more complex continence needs eg. they need to be cathetrised intermittently and/or they need to wear pull ups because they are incontinent, what do they know about their own needs? Can they change their own pull up? How do the school make sure the children using pull ups aren’t bullied by other children for doing so?

If your child is not yet at a developmental stage where toilet training makes sense, do they know that urine and faeces are waste and not for playing with?

Personal hygiene

Can your child blow their nose? Do they know used tissues go in a bin? Do their school clothes have pockets for tissues?

Not usually an issue in September, but for the summer of the following year: is your child likely to be able to apply suncream to their arms, legs and face independently?


Can your child put on and take off their own socks and shoes? Can they manage tights, if they wear them? Can they put their own jumper or cardigan on and take it off? What about their coat? Gloves?

If they can’t manage this themselves, do they know what these items of clothing feel like when they’re on properly, so they can get someone to help them?

How much clothing do the Reception children usually change for PE? Can your child manage that?


If your child uses an asthma reliver inhaler / is prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector, what are the arrangements for storing these items safely in the classroom?

How much does your child know about their own medication?

If your child wears glasses some or all of the time, do they know when to wear them and how to store them when not wearing them?

Does your child use any other equipment, eg. splints, a “second skin”? What help do they need to manage it?

Awareness of danger

Would your child know they’re supposed to follow adult instructions?

Does your child know not to take somebody else’s medication?

Sensory processing/other environmental factors

How able is your child to cope with the sensory environment of school? Is it too big/too noisy/otherwise difficult for them? What can be done to make it better for them? Is there somewhere outside the classroom they can go if they are overwhelmed?

For lots of children, including those who are D/deaf, the acoustic performance of the different rooms is important.

Likewise, for lots of children it’s important that the light in the classrooms is good ie. not glaring and with blinds at any windows to avoid their being too much light.

Should you move a child with (suspected) SEN to a different school?

I’m in the middle of moving house at the moment and it’s summer, so we’re mid GCSE and A Level exam season with Year 11 and Year 13 leaving school/college, so I’m thinking a lot about “endings”, in a way that’s relevant to this question.

I moved schools when I was in Year 3, when we moved house from one side of Tadley to the other. I continued to feel like an “outsider” a lot of the time, until we went to secondary school, as both Tadley Primary School and Burnham Copse Junior School (as it then was) fed to the Hurst Community School and I was “reunited” with people from Tadley Primary School.

Children are capable of ongoing nastiness to each other, in ways that are really unpleasant for the child on the receiving end. And yes, they are children who need to be helped to learn how to interact with others they don’t necessarily like, not people to be condemned.

Children are also capable of being much more accepting than many adults are of people who are “different”. See #DisabledTwitter for examples of positive interactions between visibily disabled adults and (probably non-disabled) children. Children who grow up in homes with a variety of configurations other than as a nuclear family with two parents of different genders are fine with how their own lives are.

Generally speaking the younger children are, the easier it is for them to be open and accepting of children who aren’t quite like them.

There is therefore something special about the first school a child attends and the peer group they meet there, when they’re four or so, that it won’t be possible to replicate at another school when they’re older. Sometimes changing school is unavoidable due to say moving house or intolerable bullying, but as a first intervention when you think a child might have special educational needs, it isn’t one I can recommend.

Moving a child from one mainsteam school to another is unlikely to help with SEN – because the features of the school environment and teaching that don’t work for a child are likely to be the same in the other school. [There are occasional exceptions to this as a general rule].

Moving a child from state funded education to a mainsteam independent school is both unlikely to help with SEN and expensive. There’s no evidence that being in a class of say 20 rather than 30 helps [there is some evidence for much smaller classes of say up to 12, depending on the children’s needs, when looking at specialist schools for SEN]. The teaching models are likely to be equivalent to those in the state sector and in some areas, where few children with SEN go to the school, the understanding of SEN and disability can be poorer than in the state sector.

Even where it’s thought fairly likely that it will be better for a child to change schools, moving them to the ‘wrong’ school, will just lead to them having to move again, with all of the losses associated with losing another peer group. It’s usually better for them to stay where they are and to move once from their original school to a school for which there is evidence it is highly likely to be able to meet their needs.

Where a child is attending a school with an insufficient level of support, it can be very useful for an EHC Needs Assessment for them to carry on attending that school, in the short to enable assessments to be conducted of them there, so that the difficulties experienced are seen and fully documented.