Common problems:

Parental Preference.


Problem 1:


My child, who is 18 months old, was born with a very rare genetic syndrome which means she cannot walk or talk as yet.  I had lots of help in the early months from various health and Early Years professionals but now they are telling me the best place for my child will be a special nursery attached to a special school.  I want him to go to mainstream school – how can I achieve this?’ 


There is an assumption that all children will be taught in a mainstream school unless it is against the parent's wishes, or that the attendance of the child would be 'incompatible with the education of others' and that there are no reasonable steps that can be taken to removed the barriers (such as providing a high level of TA support).


You need to be aware that you have a very strong case for your child to attend a mainstream school (including a pre-school).  The legal 'onus' (i.e. burden to proof) will be on the Local Authority to show that there are no reasonable actions that can be taken to enable your child's attendance in a mainstream school.


Problem 2:


'I do not believe that a mainstream education would suit my child, so I want him to attend the pre-school attached to our local special school'


If you do not want your child to attend a mainstream (ordinary) school, you will need to consider why you do not think that mainstream education is going to meet the needs of your child.  A child will usually require an Education, Health and Care plan to access specialist provision so, if there is no EHC plan in place, you will need to request an EHC needs assessment.


Suggested approaches for both types of pre-school placements:


  • Visit your Local Authority's Local Offer website.  Explore the local pre-schools and nurseries to see what each can provide.  
  • Understand how the system should work and how to argue your case effectively.
  • Make a list of the pre-school and nurseries and arrange to visit in person.  If possible, ask your Health Visitor or another professional to visit with you.
  • Make a list of questions to ask including what, if any, additional support can be provided by the setting (staff/pupil ratios, staff training etc.)
  • Make an appointment to visit the local pre-schools, including nurseries. 
  • Ask about the funding arrangements for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities.
  • A temporary placement (two terms) at a special school is possible but in most cases, a child will have an EHC plan in place prior to placement in a special school.
  • The pre-school or nursery SENCos will be supported by an Area SENCo, who will often have a key role to play in supporting the placement with completing the paperwork, including record-keeping and the application for the EHC needs assessment.
  • You need to be aware that you have a very strong case for your child to attend a mainstream school (including a pre-school).  The legal 'onus' (i.e. burden of proof') will be on the Local Authority to show why your child’s needs cannot be met in a mainstream environment.    

Next steps:


You can request the Local Authority to undertake an EHC assessment for your child at any time, including before they enter education.  For some children, it will be clear that an EHC plan will be needed very early in life.  For others, any special needs may still be emerging.  The Local Authority will always approach the pre-school or nursery for information about your child, including the support that has been put in place to meet their needs.


If your child does not have an EHC plan, you could ask the pre-school or nursery leader if they will support a request for an EHC assessment. 


In many cases, it may be helpful to wait until the pre-school or nursery agrees an EHC assessment (a statutory assessment) is necessary, unless it is clear that your child has significant educational needs.


Even where a school is submitting a request for your child to have an EHC assessment it is always advisable for parents to submit their own separate ‘parental request’ (see template letter).  We also advise sending the parental request by email or Recorded Delivery.  The Local Authority must provide the parents with a Decision within 6 weeks of receiving a request – so establishing the date the parental request was received is very important.


Most Local Authorities provide schools and pre-schools with a ‘Criteria’ for the type or level of need a child will need to have in order to have a statutory assessment.  There is also likely to be another ‘Criteria’ for those children who are likely to need an EHC plan. 


Some Local Authorities include these documents on their ‘Local Offer’ website and it can be helpful to download them. 


It is important to understand that these ‘Criteria’ are just Local Authority policies.  They have no legal standing – they are just guidance. 


If the Local Authority refuses to undertake a statutory assessment of your child’s special educational needs, you will have two months to submit an appeal to the SEND Tribunal.