As with a lot of families across the country, this week we received our offer of a place at Primary School for Ella. We did our research and ended up choosing our local, mainstream school that we live in the catchment area for. We liked the staff, the atmosphere and the size of the school - not too big that Ella could be 'lost' among her peers and somewhere we feel she will be able to flourish given the support she needs. They also have a child with Down's Syndrome in reception at the moment which helped us in our decision. It's the school we would have chosen to send our children to, whatever their needs and will also be where we want Lucy to go when it's her turn for school in a couple of years time. Being that it was the one and only school we had applied for I am really pleased that she has been offered a place there *big sigh of relief*!
For a child with Special Educational Needs, being offered a place for your child at your preferred school is the easy bit. We now have the hard work of reading the draft Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP - which has replaced the old 'statement' of educational needs), ensuring it has all the information relevant to Ella, what her provision at school should be, who will provide it and when. Then we get the chance to amend the document and discuss it with a local 'Assessment and Review Officer' at a meeting yet to be arranged. It's a lengthy document too so lots of homework for me to do. I'm very aware that it's the most important document relating to Ella that I've ever had to read and act upon and that it has a massive bearing upon her education from September onwards.
The EHCP is a legal document that came into force last September as a change initiated by The Children and Families Act (2014). All children currently with a Statement of Educational Needs are being changed over to this new document. For children, such as Ella starting school this September they are the first ones to go through this new process from the beginning, so it's new to everyone involved. On the whole, our experience so far has been pretty painless although I know the same can't be said for all families going through this process at the moment. I think we have Ella's current nursery to thank for the smooth process - they have been very proactive at each stage and already have a good working knowledge of the new documentation despite it being so recently introduced. The process seems to differ so much depending upon where you live, where your child is currently placed and whether you have access to other agencies to help with the process or getting your head around the enormity of it all.
I can personally recommend IPSEA (Independent Parent Special Education Advice), speaking with the SENCO (Special Education Needs Co-Ordinator) at your chosen school or contacting independent supporters (agencies there to provide advice and support to parents through the EHCP process) if you need more help and support with understanding the process or help reading and amending the document to ensure it has everything you think it needs to have in it.
Everyone involved in a child's care has the opportunity to contribute to the EHCP document. For Ella, this has included her paediatrician, speech therapist, educational psychologist, sensory support service and her current nursery. They have provided their input so that all her health and learning needs can be identified and provision can be put in place to allow Ella to meet her potential through the outcomes stated in the plan.
It's not just the professionals that have the chance to input to the EHCP. At the front of the document is a 'one page profile' where us as parents get the chance to express who Ella is, what is important to her, her likes and dislikes and what she enjoys and what we feel her needs are.
Once she is old enough to do this herself, it will be her 'voice' that opens the document. For now, the job of sharing Ella's character, advocating for her needs and conveying how amazingly fabulous she is with people that don't know her comes down to Ian and I (her nursery teacher also added her observations and knowledge of Ella here too which importantly added another dimension as to how others see her and what they perceive her needs to be). Quite a responsibility and one I hope we have got right as it forms the cornerstone of what her needs are and therefore what her help and support will be. Here are some of the statements from her one page profile to give you an idea...
- Eager to Learn
- Being independent is important to Ella - she knows her own mind
- Caring big sister
- Family is important to Ella
- Having things modelled to her so she can learn
- Important to keep Ella safe as she is vulnerable
- loves messy play
- Enjoys being outside
- Understands more than she can say, so she sometimes gets frustrated
Ella is of course oblivious to everything that is going on. We will start to prepare her for her new school over the next couple of months with some organised visits so she knows the building and can meet her teacher and other people who will be involved in her life at her new school. Luckily, her friend Daniel who also has Down's Syndrome has also been offered a place at the same school so that's one face she'll definitely know!
One of my worries when we were told Ella had Down's Syndrome was that she wouldn't be able to go to a 'normal' school. My inexperience and preconceptions meant I wasn't aware that most children with DS are taught in mainstream schools, that they have access to the same opportunities as other children and are valued, included and supported to reach their potential - whatever that may be.
I am excited and proud of her at the start of her school journey. There is so much she will do and learn and I can't wait to watch her develop and grow over the years to come.
And just by being there, she and Daniel will teach too. Teach the value of inclusion, patience, understanding, and acceptance.
School Ella Bean??! Stop growing up so fast please xx