You and the local authority might decide a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school is the best way to support your child's education. These are sometimes called 'special schools' or 'specialist schools'.
Finding the right SEN school will depend on your child's needs and what you can access.
Your child will need an Education, Health and Care plan, also known as an EHCP or EHC plan, to get into a SEN school.
The local authority may give you a list of schools in your area or suggest schools they think will meet your child's needs. You can also ask the local authority for a list of suitable schools.
To get a SEN school named in your child's EHC plan, the following will need to happen:
your local authority considers your preference
your local authority agrees that the SEN school can provide the support in the plan
the named school agrees that they can meet the needs of your child and have a space. They have 15 days to respond to the local authority.
your local authority agrees to fund the place
Keep communication open and be clear about why you want a SEN school. Show how your preferred SEN school or schools can meet your child's needs. Use any assessment reports, emails or letters to support your request.
Talk to professionals involved with your child
Ask the school and professionals if they think that a SEN school will meet your child's needs. This could be the SENCO, an occupational therapist (OT) or other professionals supporting your child. They may also help you find the right school.
Read through EHCP reports
The local authority should send you reports after they finish a needs assessment or annual review meeting. Contact the school or local authority for copies if you do not have them.
Look at the reports from professionals. Highlight any descriptions or recommendations about your child's needs that would be better met at a SEN school. You can also use any assessments your child had before applying for an EHCP, like from a Child Development Centre (CDC) or an occupational therapist.
It can also help to think about the future and if your child will need to change schools. You might want to consider an integrated primary and secondary school depending on your child's needs.
The SEN school must match your child's needs
The local authority can refuse your request if:
the school is unsuitable for your child's ability, aptitude or special educational needs
accepting your child will affect other pupils' education
If your local authority thinks a mainstream school can provide the support, they may decide a SEN school is not an "efficient use of resources". Ask your SENCO if they think a mainstream school can support your child or if they would recommend a SEN school.
Even in a SEN school, the staff and therapies available may not be enough to support your child. It can help to check:
which professionals are available, such as counsellors, physios and other therapists, specialist teachers such as in dyslexia, challenging behaviour or autism
their qualifications. For example, are they a fully qualified speech and language therapist (SALT) or a SALT assistant?
how much time they will have with your child
if your child will have direct, group or indirect support
if the school or an outside agency employs therapists and other professionals
if the support is full-time or only available on certain days
Many parents find that the feeling they get from a school during a visit helps them decide if it's right for their child. It can sometimes be difficult to visit a SEN school without an EHCP or the local authority's support. But you can still ask schools if you can visit.
If you can:
talk to the staff and some of the students
look at the school environment to see if it's accessible for sensory or physical needs, such as noise, movement, lighting or space for equipment
visit with your child to see what they think
find out about lunchtime and playtime arrangements
It can help to keep track of:
the schools you're considering
what's available at each school
how they can meet your child's needs
You could do this in a few different ways, such as:
using a red, amber, green rating next to each school
lists or bullet points of how each school meets your child's needs
pros and cons list for each school
summaries, including how you and your child felt about a school
Find other parents of children with additional needs who go to the school you're interested in. Search for groups connected to the school online. You could try to arrange a play date.
Questions for the school
Make a note of questions you want to ask before visiting or speaking to someone at a school. If visiting, take something to write down the answers or any notes. It can help if someone goes with you and takes notes.
Here are some ideas of what you could ask depending on your child's needs.
How big are class sizes and what is the ratio of teachers to students? SEN schools might not be able to provide one-to-one support.
How do you meet the specific needs of a child? Can you give any examples?