Finding a school which will be good for your child will depend on your child’s needs and what you can access. Visiting a school and talking to parents at the school will help you to find out more before you make a decision.
Your child’s needs may change over time. The right school for them when they are younger might not be the right school when they’re older.
For example, you may send your child to a mainstream school, then choose a specialist school later.
At a mainstream school, your child will meet children with and without additional needs. They will be taught the national curriculum.
Mainstream schools may offer a wider range of academic subjects and GCSEs. Some specialist schools focus on teaching life skills, which may be more useful for some children. What is right for your child will depend on their needs and personality.
Your child may be able to get special educational needs (SEN) support or an education, health and care (EHC) plan. Your child may get less specialist support at a mainstream school than at a specialist school. Some mainstream schools have specialist departments that support disabled children.
Schools that specialise in teaching disabled children often have:
teachers with more experience of supporting children with additional needs
more specialist equipment than mainstream schools
smaller class sizes
Pupils often learn more practical life skills at a specialist school, such as managing money and cooking.
Your child will get fewer chances to meet non-disabled children at a specialised school.
Before your child starts going to school
Your child can be referred to a child development centre for an assessment. The centre may recommend that a specialist school is the best way to meet your child’s needs. You need a healthcare professional like a paediatrician, health visitor or physiotherapist to refer you to a centre. Check the referral policy of your local centre to find out more.
After your child has started school
To get a place at a specialist school funded by your local authority, all of the following must apply:
your child has an education, health and care (EHC) plan
your local authority agrees that the specialist school can provide the support in the plan
the school agrees that they can meet the needs of your child
your local authority agrees to fund the place
In some rare cases, a child might get a place at a specialist school after their EHC needs assessment has started, but before their EHC plan has been finalised. This is called an ‘assessment placement’.
Sometimes your child can go to a mainstream school and spend some time in a specialist school to get extra support.
This means that they could get the benefits of both. This is called being 'dual registered' or 'dual registration'.
For example, a specialist school may be able to provide access to accessible sporting facilities, sessions like hydrotherapy or wheelchair training.
see if your local authority has a dual registration policy
talk to your school about how this might work for your child
Larger schools are likely to have a higher number of children with similar needs to your child’s. This can mean that the school is more willing to invest in staff and equipment to support disabled children. But it could also feel busier.
You may decide that home schooling would be the best option for you and your child. You may be able to get support from your local authority.
choose how you teach your child
give them more attention than they might get at school
it may be harder for your child to meet other children and make friends
some parents find supporting their child all day tiring and stressful
applying to college or university may be harder without a school to help you
Education Otherwise is a charity that supports families whose children are being educated outside school. They have extra resources for people who pay to become members. There is a discount if you receive benefits.
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 or on social media. You could try to arrange a playdate.
The more contact you have with a school, the more you will know if it's right for your child.
Think about going:
with your child to see what they think
without your child so you can focus on talking to teachers
during school time so you can see how pupils interact
Open days can also be helpful. But they are not the best way to see what everyday life at a school is like.
Meeting the SENCO
All mainstream schools have a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO). There may be a person who does this full-time or as part of their role. Talk to them where they work to get a feeling of how they do their job.
You could ask them:
what their typical day is like
if they are a full-time SENCO or if they have other roles at the school
how much time they get to spend supporting children with additional needs
how children talk to the SENCO when they need to and if they have an open door policy
if they feel that they’re supported by the leadership team at the school
Questions to ask the school
Meeting the needs of your child
Do you have any children like mine?
What do you think this school does well?
How many exclusions has the school made?
How does the school welcome and settle new children with additional needs? Do they do anything specially for them or is it the same for all new pupils?
How do they meet the specific needs of a child? Can they give any examples?
Can they describe a typical week at school? How much time would pupils spend in the classroom, in specialist sessions or doing group work?
Does the school specialise in supporting children with a particular condition? How does that work for those children and for children with different needs?
Do all children have access to the curriculum and how does this work?
How do teachers teach children with different needs in the same class?
How is progress measured? How often? Who tracks it?
How do children with additional needs progress in the school?
How does the school let parents know how their children are doing?
How does the school communicate with parents and how often?
Does the school communicate differently with parents when their child has complex needs?
How do parents give feedback to the school?
Funding and staff
Does the school pay any outside agencies for support?
Who provides additional support? Is it a teaching assistant, the SENCO or someone else?
Are children supported by people from outside the school such as speech therapists or physiotherapists? How do children get that support? How do those professionals share what they know with staff at the school?
What training have staff had for children with additional needs?
How does the school get funding to support children with additional needs?
How does the school support parents? For example, does the school offer workshops for parents and who runs them?