National school choice week (Mainstream vs Special needs setting)


I started worrying about schools for my little boy around the time I received his diagnosis of Autism in June 2015.

Choosing a school for your little bundle of joy is no doubt  hard enough. When you have to decide between sending your little one to either a special needs setting or a mainstream I felt it was almost impossible to decide. I lost a lot of sleep and for months all I did was weigh up the pros and cons constantly in my head desperately searching for the ‘right’ answer.

R is my first born. It was his preschool that asked me If I’d started viewing schools already in which I replied ‘no, am I meant to be looking now?’ Late November 2016 I started calling around and making arrangements for visits.

I’ve got to say, what came next in store was completely unexpected. I have been bursting to write this blog for weeks but felt it necessary to hold off until I had made a 100% decision.

I will be writing to the schools directly to complain and for now I shall only initial the schools (I’m sure if you live close by us you will sure enough guess) BRACE yourself!! This will no doubt ruffle a few feathers but everything I write is the truth, from the heart and are my own opinions.

Pros to mainstream

  • R will be around ‘normal’ children and have role models
  • R is progressing better in the mainstream preschool he attends
  • R will be experiencing life as it is and may prepare him from the real world better
  • R will have a 1:1 with him at all times
  • R is clever and needs to be pushed
  • Socialisation, maybe?!


Cons to mainstream

  • Left out
  • Won’t be doing the same as everyone else as he’ll have a tailored curriculum to meet his needs

Are just some of the things that spring to mind.

Pros to a special needs setting

  • Teach through play, lots of play
  • Perfect environment however I feel he won’t get maximum use of this
  • Communication such as Makaton (all staff trained)
  • High ratio of adult helpers to children
  • Take my son out of school for holidays during term time


Cons to a special needs setting (how I feel)

  • Protected from the outside world
  • No role models and may come home with new ‘copied’ habits
  •  Biting and hitting deemed ok as ‘special needs’ opposed to disciplined (like in a ‘normal’ child in a ‘normal’ setting)
  • Labelled
  • Won’t be pushed to his limits


The decision between either mainstream or a special needs setting was still weighing up 50:50 so I decided to make visit’s to see if this could help.

One of my very close friends sends her daughter/s to a local school. I had made it up in my mind if R was going to a mainstream it’d be this school. The school is rated ‘outstanding’ by off stead and with just under 100 children meant smaller classes which was a huge positive for R. Plus I would already have a friend.

I made a visit to (W) First off I didn’t like the tone of the receptionist when I phoned to make a visit. I however gave the benefit of the doubt and went along. Annoyingly I got lost (downgraded my car and now no sat nav!) I phoned for directions and I felt the receptionist was rude, unhelpful and put me off the visit entirely. I went along with the support of my babies Daddy, Mick. As soon as I stepped one foot threw the door I said to him ‘no way’

Purely in my opinion the school looked old and out of date. There was little to no parking (or disabled) and the walk with R to the school gates would be a mission (for the first few weeks at least) I would no doubly be phoning daily to check on R to ensure he settles ok and that receptionist would certainly get on my t!ts! The inside of the school lacked a refurb and was gloomy with little ventilation. The rooms were small and even the SENCO lacked a certain kind of empathy.

We entered a classroom so I could speak with the senco. I was told ‘he couldn’t touch that’ it was a computer?! R was hardly going to blow it up!? Riley wanted to explore and it felt like he had to just stand still and not move to be ‘acceptable’ The senco did not stop the cutting out she was doing to give us her full attention. In the end both the senco and manager/ head teacher said ‘we won’t take him as we have reached our limit of special needs kids’ also ‘he’d be better off in a special needs setting’ What the F#ck?!

They met R for less that 10 minutes, what gives them the right to make that assumption and quite plainly say it to our faces if anything?! This is discrimination, what they saw was a ‘handful’ and thought bugger that! Needless to say I don’t have anything good to say about that school since that encounter, ‘outstanding’…my ar$e!!!!

The next 2 schools are linked with a joined SENCO and I’ve heard nothing but great things about both schools. I thought that’s good another 2 schools to fall back on if we find ‘the one’

First we visited (C) It was fricking cold as the hall we were sat in had just been built. There was a lot more work to be done from the sounds of it. The outside area didn’t look closed off with a gate. If you took your eye off R for just a second he’d be half way to the next village! The children seemed very happy and were helpful. I didn’t see much in the way of climbing or things to do in the playground. Accept space for the ‘normal’ football and skipping rope playing.

I didn’t get good vibes from the SENCO I struggled to work him out. I got this horrible feeling in my gut (which I don’t want to share) but I just wouldn’t feel 100% happy leaving my son in his care. I left feeling like the school was ‘ok’ and a possible yes if worst come to worst.

Next was (H) which is liked to (C) The senco explained that (H) has a better changing area if my son isn’t potty trained and it would most probably suit us better. I sat through the same presentation as (C) as it was done by the same head teacher as she oversees both schools.

A mum asked the head about allergens and what they had in place. The head replied ‘whatever the allergy or problem’ quoting special needs. That was the moment that I switched off and decided both (H&C) were off the list! ‘The problem’ What educated person would use this context, especially in front of a load of parents?! I guess as the majority of parents are ‘normal’ not everyone, if anyone picked up on this. I did and I don’t agree that ‘special needs’ is a problem. A problem can be solved there isn’t a cure to Autism – go figure!

The inside of the school was smaller than (C) and the outside was similar with not much to do accept hang out on the playground. I felt classrooms needed a huge sort out and simplified. There was a lot of clutter and not a lot of space to move around and the floor was covered in toys. The outside desperately needed a gardener!

Next up (SN) I have been told by so many parents to visit this school as I would get a feeling as to whether or not this would be the right environment for my son. Mick and I went along and we were both over whelmed by how amazing the school was. It was perfect for Riley’s needs. However something was still niggling at me. I cried as we wandered around viewing all the classrooms and activity rooms, it was a very emotional visit.

There was a hypno pool, sensory room, soft play room, huge gym hall with a climbing wall and so much more. It seemed perfect we both walked out and said ‘well that’s that then’

Since viewing the school and making up my mind 99%. I have coincidently bumped into people I have met either at church or other events that have put me off the idea of a special needed setting in particular (SN)

There was one lady in particular that I shan’t name. I am in the very situation she was in last year. She had her child in a mainstream and special needs preschool. She saw more progression in her child at the mainstream setting (which is the same as us) She chose to send her child to (SN) believing this was the best environment for her child. However now she is in the position that she is fighting to get her child into a mainstream setting part-time along with the special needs setting as she is seeing no progression.

This is one of my hugest fears. By sending R to a special needs school it makes me feel as though it’s the easy option. Like because R is  ‘Autistic’ and registered disabled this is where he ‘should’ go. It would make me feel like I have given up on his fight. That evening I spoke with Mick and said although I think the school amenities at (SN) are perfect I want to fight for mainstream. And if then after a few months R cannot cope or things aren’t working then I’ll get R into a special needs setting.

Next I visited (P) after the drive and noticing the new estate being built I felt like turning back thinking the traffic would be a nightmare in the mornings with trucks and also come when they are built the school will become overcrowded.

I headed in anyway, I was already there so it seemed stupid not to have a look. As soon as I walked up the gates I noticed the large black fencing right around the school and a huge climbing frame and lots of other apparatus to play on. The receptionist was unbelievably kind and helpful with the cutest ‘school dog’ laying by her feet snuggled by a radiator. We signed in and out (which was a first at all the other schools I’d visited accept (SN) where I made my own ID card)

I arrived late but was allowed to join the group already viewing and caught up with the head teacher after to answer any of my questions. I also had a 1:1 with the SENCO to ask him questions. He was very easy to talk to, accommodating, empathetic and knowledgable. He gave me his email address and said I could email him If I had any further questions, which was great! The school was fab! The rooms were bright, clean and airy. The kids were happy and polite and the staff were all approachable.

I visited this school twice in the end. The first time I visited I thought this was the one. The next time I visited was after I visited (SN) and I began to worry that R wouldn’t cope. There was one last school that I felt I must visit although I was told by professionals R didn’t have a chance in hell in getting in.

(LG) This is closest school to us specialised within Autism. I felt that if this was the right setting for my little boy I would fight to get him in no matter. Turns out the school will only accept children with a certain criteria ie ‘mildly autistic’ so as not to effect their grades.

I said to Mick ‘I’m so confused, this is a school especially for children with Autism however my Autistic son can’t get a space because he’s ‘too’ autistic?’

The staff seemed stuck up and unapproachable. The school was newly built but had a clinical feel and seemed very plain. Also we wasn’t allowed to view the school with the children present which I didn’t like. The school is for children with Autism/ ADHD plus, for children that are high functioning but couldn’t necessarily cope in a mainstream environment? Yet my son is Autistic not able to attend the autism specialist school and has the choice between mainstream or a special needs school that is not specialised for autism but all special needs??!!

Wouldn’t it be better to have an Autism specialist school with staff trained in Autism of all levels. I won’t go on but you get my gist!

Anyway sorry for going on I didn’t mean for this blog to go on quite as long but we have decided to go mainstream first and review after 3 months. If I have any doubts R can fall back on a special needs setting.

What choices have you made for your child this year or in the past?

How did you decide on the right school?

Any tips or advice?

What school did you choose in the end?

I’d love to hear from you, contact me

Clare x



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