Last year my wife Nicole and I spent a number of months researching and visiting schools, looking for a setting that would be the perfect place for our youngest son, who has Down’s syndrome.
Before visiting each school we checked their website and quickly ruled a number of them out, as there was no mention at all of their SEN provision. The most appealing schools went much further than box-checking and compliance.
But I also write with my professional hat on. Nicole and I run a company that has built hundreds of websites for schools, and know that a school website will always the first port of call for prospective parents. Their initial questions will be quite straighforward: What kind of school is this? What are the priorities? Will my child belong here? What are the staff like?
For parents of children with additional needs, however, these questions will be different: Will my child be cared for and included? Will they be taught outside of the classroom or in a corner, or will they be in the thick of the classroom, fully included as much as possible? With your website presenting the best opportunity to prove to parents you’re the right setting for their child, it’s worth taking steps to make it inclusive – and it needn’t be all that complicated.
If you simply throw your LA’s SEN policies on there, don’t expect parents to think you take inclusion seriously. Why not create a page dedicated to inclusion for showcasing what you’re doing for everyone and celebrating the life stories within the school? The very best school websites will include a page about SEN provision that includes at least one appropriately chosen and visually appealing photo, a message from the headteacher or SENCo about why your school would be the best place for parents’ sons or daughters if they have additional needs, and links to relevant policies and resources. A brilliant example can be seen here.
Talk about specific children. Every child is different, and the same applies to children with additional needs. A child with Down’s syndrome isn’t a ‘Down’s syndrome child’ – they’re a child in their own right, with their own loves and struggles. Parents will want to know how you’ll meet their child’s needs; not how you’ll apply a template.
One of the biggest worries for parents of children with additional needs is whether they’ll be included in decisions around their child. Reassuring parents that you’re open and welcoming and that you want their input is a huge boon. All you’ve got to do then is prove that’s the reality when welcomeing them to your school.
If you update your SEN page along the lines set out above, it’ll contain everything inspectors expect to see, make the content easy for visitors to find, and prove you’re taking SEN seriously. Everything you’ve done to make your website more inclusive can then be applied to the rest of your website, creating a much richer picture of life in your school – which is what everyone visiting your website will ultimately be looking for.
Ian Richardson is the co-founder and director of Schudio – a company that specialises in building compliant and easy-to-manage school websites