Back to School/Choosing a school series
September 2023 – Back to School/Choosing a School – what to consider and remember
Right to mainstream education
The fundamental principle underpinning the law is that where a parent of a child, or young person, with SEND wants a place in a mainstream setting it cannot be denied based on mainstream being unsuitable, or their needs or disabilities being too great or complex. “The School Admissions Code of Practice requires children and young people with SEN to be treated fairly.”
- Inclusive education, and access to it, is one of the principles underpin the SEN and Disability Code of Practice.
- must consider applications from parents of children who have SEND with no EHC plan, based on the school’s published admissions criteria, as part of normal admissions procedures
- must not refuse to admit a child who has SEN with no EHC plan because they do not feel able to cater for those needs
- must not refuse to admit a child on the grounds that they do not have an EHC plan.
Children and young people without EHC plans
Children and young people without education, health and care plans (EHCPs) must be educated in a mainstream school (section 34(2) of the Children and Families Act (2014). The exceptions are that parents or carers could choose to pay for them to attend an independent school, or to home school them (electively home educate).
An LA must not place a child or young person without an EHC plan in a specialist provision except in very limited circumstances. Those exceptions nearly all require the consent of children’s parents or of young people themselves when over the age of 16.
General Preference Forms
It is not uncommon for LAs to ask parents to complete a ‘general preference form’ so their preferences for schools can be considered. These forms apply to children and young people without an EHC Plan.
Parents and carers of children or young people who do not have an EHC plan, should ensure that the general preference form is completed within the deadline.
Support for children and young people with SEND but no EHCP will be through SEN Support. It is important to find out what the SEN support might look like in specific schools before making choices.
How do I find out as much as I can about the SEN Support available?
This information must be published on the school website – usually in the form of a SEN Information Report.
Although sixth form colleges and FE colleges are not under the same obligations to produce SEN Information Reports, they should have information available on their policies and the support they offer.
Your local authority’s Local Offer (available on your LA website) should also contain useful information about the type of support available.
Ask to meet the person responsible for SEN Support in prospective schools/colleges and discuss with them what types of support might be available for your child/young person. This would often be the SENDCo.
SEN Information Reports
All schools and settings must prepare a report containing SEN information in the form of SEN Information Reports.
These SEN Information Reports (SIRs) must contain information about:
- the kinds of special educational needs for which provision is made at the school;
- how children/young people with SEN are identified and assessed;
- how provision might be made for them and the success of similar provision – how they review it;
- how they support children/young people with SEND to engage in school activities.
Children and Young People with EHC Plans
Parents or young people have a legal right to request that a particular school or college is named in an education, health and care plan (or to express a preference for an independent school, college or other institution).
A parent or young person will be able to request a particular school or college when they receive a draft EHC plan or an Amendment Notice amending an EHC plan. This might be when they are getting an EHC plan for the first time; if the EHC plan is being amended after an annual review; or if the EHC plan is being amended at any other time.
Types of school or college that children and young people with EHC Plans can request
The parent or young person has a right to request any of the following types of school or college:
- A maintained school or nursery (mainstream or special)
- An Academy (mainstream or special)
- An institution in the Further Education sector
- A non-maintained special school
- A section 41 school.
Do general preference forms apply to children or young people with an EHC Plan?
Parents who have children with EHC plans are not required to complete general preference forms. Local Authorities should not impose this requirement on these parents or young people but you might wish to consider that if the LA refuses to name your preferred school, they may name a school that you would be particularly unhappy with.
What happens after making a request for a school (with an EHC Plan)?
A local authority, before naming a school, must consult:
(a) the governing body, proprietor or principal of any school or other institution the authority is considering having named in the plan, and
(b) if that school or other institution is maintained by another LA, that LA.
The LA should give them 15 days to respond. If they fail to respond, the LA does not have to wait to make a decision about naming a school/college.
The final decision rests with the LA where the child or young person lives. Even if the school or college, or the LA where the school or college is located (if different), objects, the home LA can still choose to name the school or college in the plan.
Talks with your preferred schools (consultations)
Once you have let the local authority know you school preferences, they will start formal talks with these schools, also known as consultations. As long as your preferred school is one you are entitled to request, they must name it on your child’s final EHC plan if:
- the school is suitable for the child or young person’s age, ability and aptitude and the special educational needs set out in section B of the EHC plan
- the child or young person’s attendance is compatible with the education of other pupils in the school
- the placement is a good use of the council’s resources
The named setting must admit the child or young person.
Key dates – Applying for a primary school place (without an EHC Plan)
You must apply for a primary school place a year before your child can start school.
Applications open in September and close on 15 January. Your child will be 3 or have just turned 4 when you apply.
You need to apply by 15 January even if you want your child to start part-way through the year.
Key dates – Applying for a secondary school place (without an EHC Plan)
The deadline for applying is 31 October.
Your child is less likely to be offered a place at their chosen schools if you miss the deadline for applications.
When you’ll find out
Local Authorities will send offers of schools (to pupils without an EHC Plan) for:
- primary schools on 16 April
- secondary schools on 1 March
If either date falls on a weekend or a bank holiday, offers are sent the next working day.
You must accept the offer by the deadline given in the offer letter. Otherwise, it may be withdrawn and the place given to someone else.
If you are not offered your preferred school or schools the local authority will write to you with details on how to appeal the decision. They must provide a place at another school, if your child is not offered a place at any of the schools you’ve applied for. This is usually your nearest school with places still available.
What is a key stage transfer?
A key stage transfer is when a child or young person moves between key stages of education. This includes the move from:
- nursery to reception
- infant to junior school
- primary to secondary school
- secondary school to education after the age of 16
- If your child is aged 16 or over and is applying for a college or sixth form place, they must apply directly to the college or school.
The key stage transfer steps for a child or young person with an EHC plan
- Your child’s current school should review your child’s EHC plan in line with the statutory annual review process. When a child moves between key stages of education, some local authorities refer to it as a key stage transfer review.
- During this transition review process, you give your local authority your preference of school or schools. The local authority issues an amendment notice following the annual review meeting, which includes any proposed changes to your child’s EHC plan.
- The local authority will have formal talks with your preferred schools, also known as consultations.
- The local authority will update your child’s EHC plan with the new school and any other changes from the key stage transfer review. This step is called final EHC plan.
- If you are not happy with the changes or the school named, you will have the right of appeal.
Final EHC plans and dates
The final EHC plan:
- includes any changes from the amendment notice issued after the annual (or transfer) review
- names the child or young person’s new school, college or setting
It must be issued by 15 February for:
- early years provider to school
- infant school to junior school
- primary school to middle school
- primary school to secondary school, and
- middle school to secondary school
It must be issued by 31 March in the calendar year of transfer for all young people moving from secondary school to a post-16 institution or apprenticeship.
Transfers between post-16 institutions must take place and EHC plans must be amended and issued 5 months before the transfer takes place.
For more information please read our additional info sheet