When There Is No School That Is Right For Your Child

As I fill in forms and prepare for my son’s first transition hour at his new high school I find myself being thankful that he has very complex and profound needs. Why? Well because this meant he easily secured a place in a local ‘Additional Support Needs’ high school (known to most as a special needs secondary school).

Next year will be different. His sister has no learning disability or difficulties, but she is autistic and won’t cope in mainstream high school. Having looked at different options it lead me to draw this simple drawing:

Where do children like my daughter go?

Far too often there just isn’t a school that’s right for your child.

This is the story of a child called Miss S written by her mother. This is the story of a child, who due to her autism, no longer fitted into the mould of mainstream school and despite having no learning difficulties she did manage to secure a place (eventually) in a special needs school but this didn’t work either.

Many will say ‘just home school’ but for many children this isn’t the best option. They want to go to school but there just isn’t a school that’s right for them.

Well, you’ve missed out on a pretty and symbolic sunset” Miss S texted me earlier.

I was out, picking up some fries. For her, to cheer her up. Yes, I’m aware this could be classed as comfort eating, we’ve discussed it… that’s not what this post is about today.

I asked Miss S why the sunset was symbolic. Her reply, via text, was:

“So, the sunset was pretty orange, and while the sun was still visible (from my room), it shone an orange light. When I wasn’t looking at it, it felt kinda like symbolism in the sense that the light at the end of my very dark tunnel was behind me and I couldn’t see it, and when I did see it, it was already gone.”

I asked if I could share her words here, she replied:

Sure, so long as you say AND THAT IS DEPRESSION FOR YOU, KIDS!”

It’s been a tough day, emotionally. Lots of them are, of late. And today’s upset was despite making it outside for a walk with Miss S, something she’s not done for a very long time now. I should have been over the moon. But the reason we went out was tough….

Last week, an advert popped up on Miss S’s iPad. It was for the local private girls’ school, a picture depicting five girls linking arms and laughing, in their uniform. Miss S sent it to me and said she wanted to talk about it; she had searched it up on the map, seen it was fairly close to our house and so decided she wanted to try it there.

Knowing that the private, academic school would not be suitable for our girl, I tried to steer her thoughts away from it. On the map we saw an even closer school to our house, ten minutes walk away (discounting the closest her sister attends, which takes only a minute to walk to) and so Miss S switched her attention to that. I didn’t want to crush her hopes so I promised her I would speak to the school. Knowing full well that it was highly unlikely they would be interested in being as flexible as they would need to be, I called anyway, but I couldn’t get past the gatekeeper receptionist who told me I should put it all in writing.

Today we took a walk to this mainstream secondary, so that Miss S could get a feeling for where it was and what it looked like. On the way there she was asking me lots of questions, about the uniform, about whether phones were allowed in school, about what subjects she would have to learn. She talked about how she would like to walk to school herself and would listen to her music en route to keep herself calm. She chatted about how she wanted to walk unless it was cold or raining. She spoke at length about lunchtimes, wondering what food would be served and whether she’d get her beloved potatoes which were pretty much the only things she’d only eaten for lunch at her previous two schools. She talked about how the school would be full of ‘normal’ children and so she might stand out for being weird.

We came home, and she asked to buy a new game for the computer – called School Simulator. She acknowledged with a wry smile that it showed how desperate she was, to want to pay £15 to be able to create her own school. Sadly, the game proved too difficult for her to understand, and it just magnified all the feelings of failure which she has. She took herself upstairs to bed, put her face mask on and her soothing piano music on the iPad, and said she wanted to sleep forever until there was any news about a school for her. She then slept for 2 hours in the middle of the day, when she wasn’t even particularly tired. Just upset, emotional, and ‘bored’ of life because she can’t see the point. As she said to me on our walk, she just needs to know something about the future, to have a plan. It’s not a lot to ask, is it?

Of course there’s no point in me putting anything in writing to that mainstream school we walked to today, despite having reams of ‘evidence’ of needs in my SEND parent files. My ideas of what could help are outside of the box, off the wall, not in keeping with the school system. Our girl would be seen as a burden, an issue, unwanted extra work. Mentally, and financially in terms of support and paperwork. Because it all comes down to the cost, and the budgets at the end of the day.

But our girl wants to be at school. She wants to be part of a community. To feel wanted, to have friends. So much so, that she is prepared to try anything (apart from wearing trousers as part of a school uniform apparently). But that doesn’t mean she would be capable of bending to the system, of becoming that round peg needed to fit in the round hole. And instead of being supported to find an alternative for her, I am left to be the one to break her heart.

It shouldn’t be this difficult, should it? All it would take is a handful of individuals who really care, to come up with some activities and solutions. A chance for Sasha to join in with small group work, music or swimming lessons, anything, to keep her going and think that there is a point in life. She wouldn’t be able to access busy corridors or playgrounds, or the lunch canteen without extra support, but surely the fact that she wants to try should be acknowledged and encouraged?

She is being let down, massively. I’m trying to keep her afloat. Who knows where this will end?


Miss S is being badly let down by an education system that only seems to allow those with learning disabilities, like my son, to receive specialist provision when so many others, especially those with autism, really need a viable alternative to mainstream too. I’m terrified my own daughter is going to be one of those children who are too clever for special needs school but too autistic to fit in mainstream. Where do children like her and Miss S go?

What do you do when neither mainstream nor special needs school are right for your child?

We need wider provision in the education system so there are no more children, like Miss S, left at home desperate to go to school but with no suitable school to go to.

With special thanks to Steph Curtis from Steph’s Two Girls who writes a wonderful blog about autism and pathological demand avoidance. I would encourage you to read her blog and check out her Facebook page too.


23 thoughts on “When There Is No School That Is Right For Your Child

  1. This really hit home for me. My daughter with autism tourettes anxiety and ADHD struggled through secondary school. She’s very bright but couldn’t cope in lots of ways. We need a third kind of school where accommodations are made, lots of breaks, low lighting, repetition of instructions etc. I saw a programme once about a school which does all of this and the girls thrived. Sadly these schools are few and far between

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have similar fear as you Miriam. My son is too academic for special needs school (even though he came on in leaps and bounds at special need nursery) but struggles in mainstream. We’re at the start of school and I already have worries for how the next few years are going to go.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This doesn’t just happen at high school, my 5 year old is unable to cope in mainstream but is not suitable for the MLD/autism or SEMH schools in our area either. He probably managed less than 100 hours in school for in the whole of year R. The battle to try and get alternative provision has been draining and we still do not have anything permanent or any admission that he is anything other than “fine” in school despite having failed one reintroduction plan already and not being able to attend for the last 9 months.
    They are building a new autism school in our county for autistic children of all ages without learning disabilities, but there will not be nearly enough places for the amount of need in our area.
    If the local authorities were forced to provide an education for all these children via EOTAS then they would quickly see the cost benefit of providing appropriate schools, instead they are forced out and into home education where parents have to muddle along, meeting their child’s needs as best they can without any of the support that teachers would be given in schools.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Such a powerful post that will resonate with many on different levels…we’ve finally got our girlie at a school that is right for her and it’s confirms even more so what a difference it makes. Thanks as ever for articulating the difficulties faced by many.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It is so sad. My son is at a wonderful autism resource base (set up by parents) but there are far less options when it comes to secondary for us locally. I think too often children get signed off as being home schooled as there is no option and the scale of the issue is hidden.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sadly the local authorities make out that they are “missing in education” like it is something the parents are hiding and responsible for instead of it being their failing to provide an adequate education. And of course reserving the right to try and prosecute you should you try and ask them for too much. If you were to count the children home educated not through choice, those currently not attending due to emotionally based school refusal, those on a part time timetable long term, those who have been excluded for having (unsupported) behavioural issues – the numbers would be huge.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. My gorgeous ASD/ADHD struggled so much throughout her school years, it was bad enough at primary but things got so much worse when she started high school. We had tears most days. My son, also ASD/ADHD lasted four weeks before he refused; the start of a downward spiral where he eventually ended up trying to commit suicide and he was only eleven. People have no idea how utterly heartwrenching it is as a parent to watch your child go through this. The lack of support and availability of suitable school places is a national scandal in the fifth richest country in the world.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. She should just give up. Home/life schooling is the best. She will get used to it and she will like it! The world isn’t ready for people like her and she just has to get used to the fact!

    Liked by 1 person

    • And who would home school her? It’s definitely not the right option for her or our family. We now have experience with three months of lockdown and it’s been a disaster. I will continue to fight for the right school.


      • I would just give up. I speak as an autistic myself and I fell through the cracks in the American education system- and this was at a time when autism was unheard of!

        The reason so many parents give up on home schooling is because they are doing it all wrong! All a child needs to be taught is basic subjects for a regular everyday life: how to read, how to write, how to do simple math, basic geography, history and physics, the religion of the household (if any), and how to obtain and hold down a practical job.

        All subjects would be taught only by the parents using everyday life experiences for the lessons.


      • My daughter is capable of college or university so needs exams and therefore needs every opportunity to get this. I won’t limit her opportunities just because she’s autistic. I will never ever give up ever.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with Jeanne, my children are capable of college too, homeschooling won’t limit them, it will actually help them achieve more because they will be less anxious

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for posting! It’s such a struggle I hope you find a solution.

    I am having these struggles at the moment
    My daughter is four this week and is unable to get the right SEND school for her she’s been just given a mainstream which I’ve declined .

    She is not speaking much at all and had no idea about social cues and interacting with other children. She can be very obsessive but doesn’t have the language to socialise with children so it becomes difficult and awkward for the other children and herself because she doesn’t know how to communicate with them.

    She doesn’t have much comprehension for a lot of spoken language and she can’t go to the toilet without help or dress herself and put shoes on.

    The whole situation is an absolute nightmare my local council ( Lancashire) are being absolutely horrendous to me local councils everywhere are letting these children down so badly!!! They are being left to fend for themselves.

    Home education seems like it is going to be our option now.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for sharing your story (and everyone else’s). It is such a lonely and isolating journey when you have a child who appears “neurotypical” and copes well academically but struggles massively with social, emotional and has sensory issues which impact massively on their school experience. Your daughter’s journey mirrors my son’s (the “high-functioning” autism, selective mutism, sensory/food issues, mostly coping well with school work but not feeling a part of the school and suffering from anxiety. The only difference is he doesn’t care about making friends).

    The loneliest part is the endless, often invisible battle for inclusivity, people Ning your child is just “weird” or “bad” and feeling as if you have one foot in the neurotypical world but never getting to be a part of it. It really is like being on another planet, I love my son fiercely but it is isolating. My friends have disappeared and people mostly politely avoid us. I insist on him being a part of this world and I feel that would be impossible if I home-schooled. The fight is real, but we will win in the end because we never give up on our children and they will know they are loved.

    Liked by 1 person

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