SEN Units at faith schools - what are the consequences for families?:
Richmond Council provides a broad range of specialist provision for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). Much of the provision is co-located with mainstream schools, where children with an appropriate SEN Statement will, quite rightly, be high on the list of admissions criteria.
Once a child with SEN has gained a place, families generally have sibling priority for younger children, so they can choose to place siblings at the same school if they wish to. Obviously the logistics of getting two or more young children, at least one with special needs, to more than one school, can be pretty complex, so it’s understandable that parents would value the chance to keep siblings together, even if the chosen school isn't their closest!
However, not all co-located SEN units are an integral part of the hosting school's admissions system. The George Tancred Centre, which specialises in autistic spectrum disorder, is co-located with St. James’s Catholic Primary in Twickenham. It has its own admissions policy, administered by the Council, and operates independently of St. James' admissions, with no reference to faith criteria.
Children whose SEN statement recommends attendance at the George Tancred Centre may live anywhere within Richmond Borough, and so could potentially have a complex journey to school. The council provides free transport, but as described in this report, that can involve journeys of up to 75 minutes, as vehicles generally pick up several other children along the way.
It is understandable that some parents may prefer to take vulnerable children to school themselves, but for that to be logistically possible, the needs of siblings have to be considered too.
St James' Primary is highly oversubscribed, and has complex admissions criteria, so even Catholic families living in SW Twickenham find it difficult getting a place there. It would be virtually impossible for a non-Catholic child to gain entry, even if they did have a sibling at the George Tancred Centre.
In our view, this should change. If faith schools are chosen to host SEN units, then those units should be integrated such that the siblings of SEN children have priority admission to the host school.
As far as we're aware the George Tancred Centre is currently the only example of this inequity within the borough. However, part of Strathmore School, for children with severe learning difficulties, may in future be co-located with St. Richard Reynolds Catholic College in central Twickenham, so we will be watching carefully to see if a similar issue arises there.
What is RISC doing about this?
This is a new issue for RISC, and we are still at an early stage of investigating it. However, we expect to approach borough councillors for their views, and we will report back on our progress. In the meantime, if you would like to share your own experience in relation to this topic, please do get in touch! We will of course fully respect your confidentiality.