Atmosphere, caring teachers at special schools most important for special educational needs children, study shows

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Parents are more influenced by the atmosphere and how caring staff are than academic educational standards or the curriculum when choosing a special educational needs school, a study shows.

About two-thirds of parents surveyed as part of the research said they did not feel that they had a "real choice" between special schools and other types of education because mainstream or other provision was inappropriate or not an option, or they were "pushed" towards a Special Educational Needs (SEN) placement. Not being able to travel or the location of the was sometimes an "impediment to real choice."

More than half the participants considered high-quality inclusive education provision to mean a sense of belonging to class and school and by peers, and also a more individualized curriculum.

The most popular option—for 37 percent of parents—was special school provision only for their child.

The research, by David Satherley and Brahm Norwich from the University of Exeter, is published in the European Journal of Special Needs Education.

Researchers surveyed 57 parents whose children had attended special schools in the South West of England for a year or more via an online questionnaire. The children had a mean age of 12.5 years (ranging from 5 to 20 years), around three quarters were male and they represented a range of SEN and disabilities.

The factors which had most influenced the school choice of parents were the atmosphere (59 percent had said this was important), whether had a caring approach to pupils (important to 58 percent of parents), and class size (important to 45 percent).

Dr. Satherley said, "Parents told us they see the school itself and its staff as in their decision-making. By contrast, factors about the standards of education and curriculum were not rated as highly. No participants indicated that exam results or siblings currently attending the school influenced their decision.

"Special school only provision for their child was the most popular option among parents for their child. This implies many parents believe belonging, social acceptance and individualized curriculum are only found in special schools."

Almost half of the parents (49.1 percent) said did not believe that "with the right level of support, a mainstream setting could have been appropriate." However, slightly more (29 out of 57) indicated to some degree that mainstream education could have been appropriate.

Around a third of parents had not considered alternatives to a special school, while 63 percent had considered either a mainstream school with or without a resource base, home education, split placement or co-located special school.

A total of 43 percent of parents said they had had one school to choose from, while 56 percent had a choice of two or more. Most of those who felt that they had a "real choice" (82 percent) reported having 2 or more schools to choose from. A small majority of those who felt that they had no "real choice" reported having one school to choose from (55.3 percent). Around 44.7 percent of those who felt they had no "real choice" reported having two or more schools to choose between.

Professor Norwich said, "Parents were roughly split over the appropriateness of mainstream provision with the 'right level of support.' Just under half did not believe this at all, with reasons which were about the insufficient levels of support and funding required, lack of staff training and previous negative experiences in mainstream schools."

Most parents did not believe that they had a "real choice" of schools because there was a lack of options relevant to their child's needs. This included mainstream school provision not being an option and feeling pushed towards special schools with location and travel also being factors.

By contrast, only a large minority of parents (40 percent) reported experiencing a "hard choice" when choosing an appropriate provision because of having no or a limited choice of settings and fighting to get appropriate provision. Three-quarters of the in this study believed that the system of parent choice could be improved by having more school options with greater availability of professional support and advice and information about these options.

More information: David Satherley et al, Parents' experiences of choosing a special school for their children, European Journal of Special Needs Education (2021). DOI: 10.1080/08856257.2021.1967298

Citation: Atmosphere, caring teachers at special schools most important for special educational needs children, study shows (2021, September 15) retrieved 20 April 2024 from
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