One of the big decisions you’ll have to make as a parent is where your child will go to school. You will want to get it right.
Some children need more support than others within their education
Your child may have been diagnosed with a medical condition or disability that affects their learning, and it may be clear from professional assessments what kind of educational help they’ll need.
Whatever your family’s situation, if your child is likely to need extra help when they get to school, you may have additional questions or worries about which school is best. And while finding a suitable school may seem like a daunting task, there is help available.
All mainstream schools must welcome and cater for any child with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) except in very limited circumstances when they can prove that it would be detrimental to other pupils and there are no reasonable steps they can take to solve that.
Schools must have a policy on SEND and publish this along with details about how they support children with SEND in their SEND Information Report. This should be on the school’s website and you can find information on their Local Offer through the Families Information Direct website.
Though we talk about ‘choosing’ a school, in reality this means saying which school you’d prefer your child to go to at primary, junior or secondary stage. There’s no guarantee you will get your first choice. You may be able to argue that your child’s additional needs mean that they should get priority for a place at your chosen school. If so, you will need to provide strong reasons why on your admissions form and get a professional to back up your argument, such as your GP or your child’s therapist.
If your child has an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, you will be able to name your preferred school or type of school on the proposed plan and the local authority has to agree to this, as long as it’s a local state school (mainstream or special). They can only disagree if the school is unsuitable for your child, if it would prevent the efficient education of other children in the school or it would not be a good use of their resources. Though you can choose any local state school, be aware that the local authority may refuse to help with transport if they consider there’s an equally suitable school that is nearer to your house.
As your child moves from primary to secondary the EHC plan will be amended and you will get to name a preferred school again. When you know the outcome of the EHC needs assessment or the annual review process and have an EHC plan naming a school, you can tell admissions you don’t want the place allocated through the normal admissions process because your child is now going to the special or mainstream school named in the EHC plan.
Types of School
Mainstream Most children with special educational needs, even those with an EHC plan, go to a mainstream school. All children have a right to be educated in a mainstream school and if this is your preference for your child, the school and/or local authority have to put together a package of support to make this possible. If your child has more complex needs you may have to negotiate hard to get the support package you need in a mainstream school.
Special units and facilities Some mainstream schools have special units attached that cater for children with particular types of need, such as autism or hearing impairments. These units give children a chance to spend some time in a mainstream setting but also to get specialist teaching. Children need an EHC plan to be considered for a place in one of these units.
Special schools These are state schools for children with more complex needs that can’t be met in a mainstream school. Children need an EHC plan to be considered for a place. Often children in special schools will also spend some time included in a mainstream school too.
Non-maintained special schools These are special schools (local or further afield) run privately or by charities, some of which are residential. A small number of children may go to one of these where it has been shown that no local school can meet their needs. Schools can’t refuse to take your child just because they have special educational needs unless they can show it would have a negative effect on other pupils and there is no reasonable way they could avoid this.
When choosing a school it is important to remember that all children are different and what works for one child may not be the best for another. the ‘right school’ is a very personal decision. RIASS are unable to suggest or recommend specific schools but we can give guidance about the different types of school and inform you of which schools can meet which need. We would always advise parents to visit a school and make up their own mind.