The first step to take when choosing a school for your child with SEN is: will the school will be able to meet your child's needs?
You may already know a particular school well because you have an older child at the school. Ask around locally, or look online; there may be local online discussion groups where you can find out more about parents' opinions and recommendations. Have a look at your Local Authority's Local Offer website.
Visit the websites of the local schools in your area that might be suitable. Read the Prospectus of each school so that you get an idea of the aims and ethos of the school. You can also check the latest Ofsted report which should also be available on the school's website.
The school's SEN Information Report should tell you about the training staff have received as well as the staff's qualifications and experience in teaching children with special educational needs. It should also include information about how the school assesses and identifies pupils with special educational needs. The Report should be on the school's website.
It is always best to visit potential schools in person. Call the school and ask for an appointment.
Here is a checklist of questions to consider when visiting the schools. Just use the questions which are relevant to your child's needs.
SOS:SEN produce a helpful guide to the different types of schools, which can be found here.
Choosing a school (for a child that does not have an EHC plan)
At the same time, while they vary in quality and usefulness, it is worth looking at your Local Authority's 'Local Offer' website should include all the information and facilities in the area that is relevant to parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities. In many cases, the schools (mainstream, academies and special) will have been asked to provide their own 'Local Offer' (SEN Information report) which will be available to read on the main Local Offer website. When you are seeking an appropriate school for your child, it can be very useful to read the information provided by the school. However, this is no substitute for undertaking a visit in person to the school. Most secondary schools will hold Open Evenings when prospective parents can visit to learn more information about what the school has to offer. It is also worth reading the school's latest Ofsted report and the SEN Report (both should be available on the school's website). The SEN Report should include the expertise and training of staff to support children and young people with SEN, including how specialist expertise will be secured. However, we strongly advise parents of children with special educational needs to make an individual appointment to visit the school, to meet with the SENCo and, where possible, to see the class and peer group your child might join. It can be useful to draw up a Checklist (see example Questionnaire) which will include:
The School Admissions Code of Peace states that Admissions authorities must not refuse to admit a child who has SEN but no EHC plan because they do not feel able to cater for those needs, or refuse to admit a child on the grounds that they do not have an EHC plan.
Choosing a school (for a child with an EHC plan)
The above process remains relevant in terms of visiting and asking questions. However, as the parent of a child with an EHC plan your only right of appeal (in terms of choice of a particular school) is to the First-tier Tribunal, also known as Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST). You cannot use the ordinary local Admissions appeals route.
Once you have chosen a particular school (mainstream or special maintained, Academy or Free School) or a school which is a Section 41 school (which means it has agreed to take children with special educational needs if named on the EHC plan), your right of parental preference is extremely strong. The legal onus is placed on the Local Authority to show that your choice of school is significantly more expensive than another school that the Local Authority states can meet your child's needs.
However, if you decide on an 'ordinary' independent school then you can only 'make representations' and the legal onus is on you to show why the school named by the Local Authority is unable to meet your child's needs and/or that the independent school of your choice represents an 'efficient use of resources' (i.e. is less/not significantly more expensive than the Local Authority's named school). For further information, we suggest you read the sections about Costs and appealing against the contents of your child's EHC plan, including Section I.
See 'Common Problems'