CHOOSING a school for a child with special needs is often a heart-wrenching decision for parents.
And no-one is more aware of this than Nicky Rogers, headteacher at Lydgate School, whose own son Liam suffers from autism.
It was through Liam, now 21, that Nicky developed a particular interest in special needs education. And after a year as deputy head, she took over at Lydgate two years ago.
The New Mill school is one of three in Kirklees – the others are Longley and Ravenshall – which cater for children with complex learning difficulties.
Lydgate currently has 62 pupils aged between four and 16 from all over the south Kirklees area.
As with all special needs children, each child is coping with a unique set of difficulties, some physical, some mental. Downes Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, Williams Syndrome (a neurodevelopmental disorder) and mobility problems are just some of the challenges facing these children.
Nicky spoke of the agonising decision facing parents when it comes to deciding which school is best for their vulnerable child.
She said: “Parents of children with special needs come to a crossroads when it becomes clear they can no longer cope in mainstream.
“As the parent of someone with autism myself, I know how agonising that choice is.
“Many are very emotional and desperate to make the right choice.
“It’s a big step to move into a special school and many fear it or see it as failure.
“They are afraid of the stigma, that they are closing down their child’s options and their child’s future, that expectations will be lowered or that they will mix with pupils whom will frighten them or give them negative models.”
She said that, despite their fears, the outcome was usually overwhelmingly positive for parents with children at Lydgate.
“Young people blossom and develop, they become happy and successful, and do things parents no longer believed possible.”
The school prides itself on the strong progress its pupils make, not only academically, but also physical, social and personal.
Nicky believes that having a son with autism has been “one of the greatest blessings of my life” and has given her an insight into the mind of a child with special needs, as well as being able to empathise with parents’ fears.
She said: “Liam has taught me so much by being himself and by being different, although that’s not to say it hasn’t presented many challenges.
“I understand that journey that parents have to make, the battles they have to fight and how wearing that can be. She added: “Liam was unable to make friends and so quite often he became the object of ridicule and abuse.”
Eventually she found Liam a place at a specialist school and he is now taking Level 3 of a creative media course and involved in voluntary work.
Nicky, 53, stresses the importance Lydgate places on treating every child as an individual with specific mental, physical and social needs.
She described the importance of person-to-person relationships between staff and pupils at the school and the emphasis placed on transition; i.e. successfully delivering the young person on to the next stage of his or her life.
Notable successes have included pupils who have gone on to mainstream education or workplaces, others who have taken GCSEs and many Duke of Edinburgh achievements up to gold standard.
“We believe passionately that everyone has something to give, ” said Nicky.
The school, built in the 1970s, is earmarked for expansion from 2013/14.
It was awarded £6m in the last round of grants from the Building Schools for the Future scheme.
Nicky is full of enthusiasm and optimism for the next few years, and hopes the added finances will help to build on the good work of the last two years.
Sensory rooms, outdoor learning areas and life skills classrooms are all in the pipeline.
She said: “The investment is very exciting, we will make the environment more active and stimulating for our pupils.
“This school has so much potential and we have high aspirations. We want to become outstanding in every sense of the word.”
“At first I felt sad knowing my daughter was coming to a special school, but became happy knowing it was the right place for her. She loved it from Day One and is very happy and excited to come to school every day.”
“Christopher has thrived at Lydgate and become a secure, confident young man. The lessons are sympathetically tailored to meet the complex needs of the pupils.”
“I never realised how much a specialist school could assist my child’s physical development. When my daughter’s previous teaching assistant saw her, she was taken aback by her ability to play on outdoor equipment and couldn’t believe how much she had come on.”
“I believe that a shift in thinking must occur in ‘special education’ and the teachers at Lydgate accomplish this by highlighting the accomplishments of the students, which instils a sense of pride and worthiness in their students.”
“Lydgate was the best decision I have ever made for Jake. The progress I have seen is astounding.”