Choosing a school for a child with SEND

When we talk about ‘choosing a school’, what we really mean is that all parents have the right to state a preference for a primary or secondary school for their child, but without a guarantee they will get a place there. This is the same for parents of children with additional needs, though you are more likely to get the school of your choice if your child has an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

There are local rules that are used to decide who gets places at each school and your local authority will publish details of how this works in your area.  

Choosing a school without an EHCP

Children with SEND without an EHCP will attend mainstream schools along with their peers and follow normal admission procedures to state a preference for their chosen school.  

Sometimes, you may be able to argue that your child’s additional needs mean that they should get a place at your chosen school even if they don’t have an EHCP. 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.  

Maintained schools (including academies and free schools) cannot refuse to admit your child because they claim they cannot meet their special educational needs. 

Getting an EHCP for secondary?

You may think you need to get an EHCP sorted for when your child goes to secondary. However, if your child is making good progress with the support they are getting at their primary school, the LA is likely to conclude that there is insufficient evidence that an EHCP would be needed. They would expect a good SEN support package in secondary school to address your child’s needs just as well. 

If you are concerned about the support they will get in their new setting, you should make contact with the new school. Check they have the information they need about your child, that a clear transition package has been arranged and that you know what SEN support will be in place for them. Of course, the option of requesting an EHC needs assessment is also still open to you. Read our tips on Managing the transition to secondary school 

Choosing a school with an EHCP

If your child has an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, you will be able to request 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 state (maintained) school, mainstream or special, including academies and free schools
  • a non-maintained special school
  • a section 41 school

See IPSEA’s guide to Choosing a school/college with an EHC plan  for more information.

The local authority can only disagree with your choice if the school is unsuitable for your child, if it would prevent the efficient education of other children in the school or it would be incompatible with the efficient use of resources.  

Though you can request any of these schools, be aware that the local authority may refuse to help with transport if they consider there’s an equally suitable school that’s nearer to your house. Read more about home to school transport here. 

You can also ask for an independent school, but the legal position is not so straightforward. Ask for advice from Amaze SENDIASS if you are thinking about this option.  

You may be asked to state your preferred school/s through your local authority’s ‘normal’ admissions process, even though your child has an EHCP.  If this is the case, when you 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. 

As your child moves from primary to secondary, the EHC plan will be amended and you will get to name a preferred school again. 

Tips for choosing a school

Most parents will be looking at mainstream schools and trying to choose the one best suited to their child. Your Local Offer should list all the schools in your area with details of how each school supports students with SEND. You can also look on the school’s website to read their SEND Information Report. 

You may also want to look at how school places were allocated the year before you apply for your child:

Ask other parents, but remember word of mouth can be out of date. Look at a school’s results and Ofsted report but don’t judge a school just by league tables. Schools lower down the league tables may have the best experience or attitude.  

If your child has more complex needs you may have to decide whether you want a mainstream or a special school for them, or you may have the option of a specialist unit attached to a mainstream school.  

If you’d like some help making your decision, contact our SENDIASS advice line. We can talk through your options with you and give you advice on your rights. We also publish a fact sheet called ‘Choosing a school’ which offers lots of handy tips on what to look for when shortlisting or visiting schools for a child with SEND.

Download our Choosing a school fact sheet (pdf 700kb) .

Moving between schools when your child has SEND

If your child has no EHCP and they are moving from one mainstream school to another, normal admission processes apply.  

Once they have been given a school place, the old and new education settings will work together to help make sure your child’s transition goes well. For example, nursery leads may visit classrooms to talk about the children coming into reception and your child will have a settling day or days to get used to their new environment. If you think your child needs more visits or anything else to help them settle, speak to the new school. Read our Coping with transition section below. 

If your child has an EHC plan, there are certain deadlines for reviewing their plan in the year before they move to another phase of education. This is to ensure the plan is up to date and names the new school. These deadlines are as follows:  

  • 31 March if the transfer is from secondary school to a post-16 education setting 
  • 15 February in any other case 
  • If a young person is moving from one post-16 setting to another at any other time, the review must take place at least five months before that transfer takes place. 

This means the local authority should be starting the EHC review in the autumn term before your child moves schools. 

Coping with transition to a new school for a child with SEND

Moving to the next phase of education can be stressful for all children and particularly those with SEND.  

Your child’s current education setting should work closely with the new school to outline your child’s needs and to plan any additional settling or orientation activities that will help the transition go more smoothly. 

There are lots of things you can do too. 

Read our Starting secondary school fact sheet (pdf 700kb) for lots of tips on things that can help your child to settle into their new school or college. 

Get advice from Amaze

Our SENDIASS advice team can give you one to one advice on anything to do with education and your child or young person’s special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).

Amaze SENDIASS adviser, Sally, on the phone in our office.