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Helping all children thrive in education

6 Mar 2023 Reading time: 4 mins

Thousands of children with special educational needs and disabilities are waiting for a school placement or are being educated at home. Many more aren’t getting enough support at school. We want to change that. The Aurora Group is helping to give children the best possible start in life. Aurora is part of the Octopus Group and plays a part in our mission to invest in the people, ideas, and industries that will change the world. 

“I feel like I’m in a play and everyone else has the script but me.”1

How someone experiences autism is unique to the individual. But this analogy goes some way to explaining some of the difficulties children with autism can face.

People with autism may find it harder to communicate and understand the thoughts and feelings of others. They might find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, or get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events.

All of this can impact learning, so it’s critical that students with special educational needs (SEN) get the support they need. 

The education system in the UK is outdated and needs reforming to enable all children to reach their full potential.

The Aurora Group, is a network of pioneering special needs and disability schools, colleges, and residential care homes2, that are helping to provide much needed support for SEN students across the UK.

The UK education system needs help to better support young people with SEN

In a mainstream school, where one student in a class of thirty has special educational needs, it’s easy for their needs go unnoticed and they don’t get timely support. If a student is identified as needing extra support, they may require an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP), which is issued by the local authority.

Increasingly in cases where a child has been granted an EHCP, they still don’t have the support stipulated in their plan, because waiting times are long3 and specialist staff difficult to recruit. In fact, a poll of over 900 SEN coordinators from schools across the UK, showed that only six schools had sufficient support for students with additional needs.4

Where home schooling or a placement is required, it can be a lengthy process involving families, local authorities and educational professionals. This sometimes gruelling ordeal can place a greater burden on already distressed students and their families, further impacting the mental wellbeing of all involved.

There is a clear opportunity for the independent education sector to help relieve some of the burden, with highly specialised school environments where children can get the very best help with their special educational needs.

Education that empowers

“I have parents who look around and just burst into tears. They feel like someone finally gets their child.”

Tracy Whitehurst is the principal at two Aurora Group schools, one of them being Hanley School in Stoke.

“Every child is on their own unique journey,” said Tracy. 

She believes that the remarkable stories from Hanley prove environment is a key factor in the success of SEN school placements.

“I had one student come from mainstream education who was so anxious they had selective mutism, they refused to wear uniform because of sensory sensitivities and didn’t attend school for three years. They left Hanley with nine GCSEs and an A Level, have passed their driving test, they’re now in a relationship and attend Warwick University.”

When students first arrive at Hanley, they’re often extremely anxious and overwhelmed because of their previous school experience and might have been out of education for some time.

Hanley provides speech and language therapy to help students improve their social and communication skills, for better interactions with peers and the wider community. Other individual areas for development are identified using a clinical assessment tool, where the student will receive extra help and unique opportunities to develop in those areas.

Tracy is a strong believer that following an academic pathway is not best suited to everyone. So at Hanley, they provide a functional skills pathway which is centred around developing transferrable life skills.

“Before coming to Hanley, my son was suicidal because he hated school so much. Now he wants to go into further education,” said a parent at Hanley School.

Change is needed 

Without support, children will continue to grow up in an environment that fails to help them reach their full potential.

That’s what makes the stories of young people whose lives have been transformed by schools like Hanley so incredible. Companies like Aurora have the power to reimagine daily life for millions of people.

Tracy Whitehurst has an idea of how the education system could be improved to change the lives of children with SEN. “We need to look at how we educate children with SEN across the whole education sector, so they don’t feel excluded. And change the balance of the syllabus in schools. Make it as much about life skills as it is about traditional education.”

114 People with Autism Share What It’s Like to be On the Spectrum

2The Aurora Group

3Pupils in England ‘waiting up to five years for special needs plan’

4Schools crisis in England as special needs staff quit ‘in droves’ over pay