Choosing a school for a child with SEND

SENDIASS advice and tips for parents choosing a school for a child with Special Educational Needs and/or Disability (SEND).

16431 Sendiass Logo FinalThe vast majority of children with SEND will go to a mainstream school as set out in law. You can find out about Suffolk schools within the Admissions webpages or via the Suffolk Local Offer, which also includes information about other local services, including specialist education and health support.

Schools must provide detailed information about their arrangements for the admission of disabled pupils to the school and publish an accessibility plan explaining adjustments they can make and ongoing plans to improve access.

They must also publish a SEN information report explaining and how they identify and support children with Special Educational Needs & Disability - so the schools' own website can be a useful starting point. Read more about how children with SEN are supported...SEN Support.

If you think your child needs to go to a Special School, have a look under the tab 'Children with an EHC plan'.

By doing some research we usually find parents feel better placed to make a decision. We understand this can feel like an overwhelming responsibility for parents and carers, particularly where a child has additional needs, and it can be helpful to talk this through with us.

So to get started you can have a look at the information within the admission pages, read our Top tips and related information and get in touch with us if you have any questions.

Read more about the School Admissions process.

Have a look at the Suffolk Local Offer

You can contact us by telephone, email or text message...

Phone: 01473 265210

Text: ADVICE4ME to 87007



The starting point for most parents is the school location, Ofsted rating, academic results and opinions of other parents. Though these can provide useful insight, we would encourage you to think about your child, his or her needs and which schools they might be most suited to.

The timing of the school day might be a factor, or length of lessons and access to breakfast & after school clubs.

For some families, the physical environment might be very important.  For example, if your child would benefit from access to a calm-down area, it is best to visit the school and discuss strategies of support with the SENCo, (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) since not all primary schools may be able to provide a separate area.

When choosing a high school your child’s friendship groups may also influence decisions. Gathering as much information will help you work out your preferences.

Some things to consider...

  • Your child's views
  • What kind of support helps your child at home or has helped in a previous school
  • Schools' Offer - facilities and support available
  • Reading the full Ofsted reports 
  • Curriculum
  • Location
  • Size of school
  • Environment
  • Start and finish times inc any breakfast or after school clubs
  • Length of lesson 
  • Siblings & other family members
  • Transport links


It’s a good idea to visit schools so you can have a look at the environment and meet the staff. Most offer open evenings or afternoons, where the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator) is often available.  Take the opportunity to ask any questions you have.  

You can also request a separate visit and meeting with the SENCo where you can discuss your child’s individual needs in more detail.  

Before you go look at the schools’ websites to view their SEN information & related policies as this may help you think about what you want to ask.


When applying you can rank up to three schools inside or outside Suffolk (you accept transport responsibility for any school you select where there is a nearer suitable alternative - find out more) and each of your preferences will be considered equally and separately.  Listing second and third preferences will not affect your child’s chance of being offered their first preference.  It is recommended you apply for more than one school. 

A place at any school, including your catchment school, cannot be guaranteed.

Read the oversubscription criteria for each school and check if unclear.  This is how applications will be ranked if there are more applications than places available.

For example if you choose 3 schools which are all oversubscribed the admissions team will offer you the next nearest school which has a place. It can therefore be helpful to include a realistic choice for at least one of your preferences.

Watch out when applying for some voluntary controlled, voluntary aided, foundation, academy or free schools as they may require a supplementary information form (SIF). Read more within the admissions web pages.

If you don't get the school choice you wanted, you can appeal for one or more of your preferences and information about how to go about this will be in your offer letter.

See also under FAQ's

School Admissions manage the application process and there are some useful downloadable books within their web pages. You can call to request copies on 0345 600 0981

There are circumstances where you may want to move your child to a new school during the school year, or at the start of the school year but in a different age group from the school’s normal year of entry.

Suffolk County Council co-ordinates the offer of school places to all community and voluntary controlled schools.  However, for in-year applications for voluntary aided, foundation, free schools and academies you will need to apply to schools directly.

Academies and free schools must have regard to the School Admissions Code and SEND Code of Practice.

You can apply for an in-year school place even if you think that the year group you wish to apply for is full.  You will have the right of appeal should your application be unsuccessful. 

School admissions have some useful information including a guide on transferring schools

If your child has an EHCP it’s a good idea to contact admissions, the school you wish to apply for and the Special Needs team as soon as you have decided you wish to transfer, as this will help with forward-planning support for your child.

If you are seeking a place at a special school see our FAQ tab for how to go about this.

As for children without plans make sure you visit schools you are considering for your child, go along to open evenings and take the opportunity to ask any questions you have.  The SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) is often available.  Before you go look at the schools’ websites.

Even with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, in the process of being assessed for one, or where you are considering a special school placement it is still important to make an on-time mainstream application.

You should follow the normal process for applying for a school place, it’s important to check what these are at and get your application in on time. The application form asks whether there is an EHC plan so this will flag up to admissions. 

If your child has an EHC plan you have a right (section 38 of the Children & Families Act 2014) to request a particular school, this includes mainstream, special, academies, free schools, special academies and further education institutions (also some independent special schools approved by the Secretary of State, see section 41 schools).

The SEND Code of Practice says:

1.21 Parents of children who have an EHC plan and young people who have such a plan have a right to ask for a particular educational institution to be named in the plan and for a Personal Budget for their support.’

The local authority may only reject your request to name your chosen school where:

  1. the school or other institution is unsuitable for the age, ability, aptitude or special educational needs of the child or young person;
  2. the attendance of the child or young person would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for others;
  3. the attendance of the child or young person would be incompatible with the efficient use of resources.

A school being ‘full’ is not a lawful reason to refuse.

The local authority (LA) will issue you a draft EHCP and ask which school you would like your child to go to. They must consult with that school before deciding whether to name it in the plan, provided a type of school on the approved list (see box above).

Though schools can make representations to the LA, it is the LA that apply the above tests and decide whether to name your chosen school.



Which schools are good at supporting children with SEND?

We can't recommend schools to you, everyone's experience is unique and opinions will therefore differ. We would advise you to keep an open mind about the opinions of others and visit any school to form your own views before making any decisions. By doing some research, asking questions and getting a feel for the school you will find you get an instinct for where you would like your child to go.

What happens once my application goes in?

The admissions webpages explain the process of applying and what happens next.

Applications direct to foundation, voluntary aided, free schools and academies:

The school will check to see if there is a place available in the year group you have applied for.  If there is you will normally be offered a place and the school will write to you with the outcome of your application. 

If your application is unsuccessful then the letter must inform you of your legal right to appeal.  Some schools hold waiting lists throughout the year for all year groups and this information is available from the schools directly.  The school will let the Admissions Team at Suffolk County Council know the outcome of your application and you may want to contact them directly to discuss alternative schools at this point.

I am currently going through the EHC assessment process  for my child, where do I start with finding a school?

You should apply for a mainstream school place as part of the usual admissions process. This will ensure you secure a school place for your child regardless of the outcome of the EHC process.

You can find all Suffolk schools listed within the two Directory of schools (primary & secondary) which can be found within the admissions pages, also listed in the Local Offer, every child has the right to a mainstream education so this would usually be the starting point.

By researching and visiting schools, meeting staff and asking questions we usually find parents feel better placed to make a decision, we understand this can feel like an overwhelming responsibility for parents, particularly where a child has additional needs, and it can be helpful to talk this through with us.

If the Local Authority decide to issue an EHCP, you will be asked to name your preferred school at the draft stage and the local authority must consult with your chosen school (provided one of the approved types of school – see also EHCP tab).

I approached several local schools but they said they could not meet my child’s needs

Schools (including academies and free schools) must have regard to the admissions code (see links below), the Equality Act 2010 and the 2014 SEND Code of Practice,  chapter 6 outlines school responsibilities and chapter 1 explains the basic principles, which focus on inclusive practice and removing barriers to learning. 

If a school says they are concerned about their ability to meet your child’s needs, get as much information as possible as to what these needs are.  You may find that you can explore with the school other means of supporting your child.  If they cannot offer a strategy a previous school provided, what could they offer instead which might have a similar impact?

Children and young people should be educated in mainstream* education in accordance with sections 33 & 34 of the 2014 Children and Families Act.

A *mainstream school is defined in section 83 of the Act as follows:

‘ “mainstream school” means—

 (a) a maintained school that is not a special school, or

(b) an Academy school that is not a special school;’’

It is against the law to discriminate on the grounds of disability (& other characteristics). Section 6 (85) of the Equality Act 2010.

An admission authority must not discriminate on the grounds of disability; gender reassignment; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; or sexual orientation, against a person in the arrangements and decisions it makes as to who is offered admission as a pupil. (School Admissions Code)

The school I want my child to go to says they don’t receive enough funding to provide the support he/she needs?

All mainstream schools within a local authority receive money to provide SEN Support and can apply for additional funds for any child requiring a higher level of support, where this can be evidenced.  

Our leaflet ‘SEN Funding in mainstream schools’ explains this in more detail. Schools must not discriminate and are responsible for meeting the needs of every child in their school, sometimes this will mean making 'reasonable adjustments' or purchasing resources/planning individual support.

If your child has an EHC plan the special education provision (outlined in section F of the plan) must be provided.

My child is not ready to start reception, can I defer to a later date?

Children normally attend school full-time in the Reception Year in the September following their fourth birthday. All primary schools must offer children a full-time place at the start of the Autumn term in September. However, legally a child does not have to start full-time education until the term after their fifth birthday. Whatever you decide, it is important that you apply for an infant or primary place by the closing date.

My child is not ready for the next year group, can he/she repeat a year?

Teachers are trained to differentiate in the classroom to meet the needs of each and every child, in any class there is a wide range of ability and any support a child receives is targeted around needs. If you feel your child would benefit from repeating a year discuss with school and the Admissions team (and the special needs team where there is an EHC plan).

The local authority must make any decision based on the best interests of your child.

2.17A Admission authorities must make decisions on the basis of the circumstances of each case and in the best interests of the child concerned. This will include taking account of the parent’s views; information about the child’s academic, social and emotional development; where relevant, their medical history and the views of a medical professional; whether they have previously been educated out of their normal age group; and whether they may naturally have fallen into a lower age group if it were not for being born prematurely. They must also take into account the views of the head teacher of the school concerned. When informing a parent of their decision on the year group the child should be admitted to, the admission authority must set out clearly the reasons for their decision. (School Admissions code)

I applied to a school for an in-year place and they declined, even though I know there are spaces, can they do this?

A school may refuse a place if they currently have a high proportion of children with challenging behaviour:

3.12 Where a governing body does not wish to admit a child with challenging behaviour outside the normal admissions round, even though places are available, it must refer the case to the local authority for action under the Fair Access Protocol 66. This will normally only be appropriate where a school has a particularly high proportion of children with challenging behaviour or previously excluded children. The use of this provision will depend on local circumstances and must be described in the local authority’s Fair Access Protocol. This provision will not apply to a looked after child, a previously looked after child or a child with a statement of special educational needs or Education, Health and Care Plan naming the school in question, as these children must be admitted. (School Admissions Code)

If you are declined a place the local authority should therefore be notified by the school via the ‘In-year Fair Access Protocol’ known as ‘IYFAP’.

Read the Suffolk Fair Access Protocol.

2.15 A parent can apply for a school place at any time on an in-year application form and it must be processed. Young people without a school place who are considered to be hard to place, will be referred to and allocated the most appropriate education provision by IYFAP. This is likely to be in a mainstream school unless there are legitimate reasons for refusing an application when places are available in a year group. It is anticipated that a mainstream placement will be the main allocated pathway. Schools must not take account of reports from previous schools about children’s past behaviour, attendance, attitude or achievement, or that of any other children in the family. (Fair Access Protocol)

3.7 If a school/academy refuses to admit a pupil under the terms of the Fair Access Protocol, the case will be returned to the next IYFAP panel meeting where the reasons for the refusal will be considered and either: another school/academy or Alternative Provision will be named or action will be taken either (a) for a direction letter to be issued to a maintained school; or (b) to seek a direction from the secretary of State for an academy. (Fair Access Protocol)

A parent unhappy about being declined a space may consider lodging an appeal Where a child has SEN and/or a disability we can provide support with this. If you feel your disabled child has been discriminated against you might consider a disability discrimination claim. Contact us for further advice about either of these options. 

The school my child goes to has suggested a special school would be more appropriate. We have an EHC plan but I’m not sure what to do next?

Children must be educated in a mainstream school where this is your wish as a parent and where this would not be incompatible with the efficient education of others.

The Annual Review would be the ideal time to discuss provision (what's in place currently and what might need to change) and appropriateness of school. You can request an early review where there are concerns and this provides you with the opportunity to share your views with the LA. 

Consider whether fresh advice might be needed from an Educational Psychologist and discuss this as part of the annual review. It could be that fresh advice includes recommendations that the current school could implement, equally this advice may indicate that a specialist setting would be more appropriate.

You can research special schools listed in the Local Offer or within the Directory of schools (one for primary and one for secondary) found in the admissions pages to find out which school or schools might be appropriate for your child’s needs.

We would encourage you contact special schools directly to discuss your child’s individual needs and if possible arrange a visit, before you make any decisions.

See response to the next question which outlines the Suffolk process. 

I would like to apply for a Special school, what is the process?

Only children with a Statement of SEN or an EHC plan may be offered a place at a Special school.

Read more about EHC plans.

Read also Children with an EHC plan

Allocation of places in Suffolk Special schools is by referral (from current School) to a panel for consideration, with prescribed deadlines throughout the year. 

View key dates and referral information.

There is no right of appeal following an unfavourable outcome from panel. By using the legal process of requesting a school to be named in the EHC plan (when finalising the initial plan, or following amendment at Annual Review), you will have opportunity of mediation and/or appealing if you are in disagreement with the LA.

I requested a Special school (or academy) for my child but the LA have not named in the EHC plan, can they do this?

 The local authority may only reject your request to name your chosen school where:

  1. the school or other institution is unsuitable for the age, ability, aptitude or special educational needs of the child or young person
  2. the attendance of the child or young person would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for others;
  3. the attendance of the child or young person would be incompatible with the efficient use of resources.

These are the only lawful reasons a local authority can reject a parental request for a place at a school (within the prescribed list of types of school outlined in section 38 (3) of the C&F Act 2014).

A school being ‘full’ is not a lawful reason to refuse.

If, after consulting with the school, the LA decide to reject your request and name another school or type of school, you will have the option of mediation and/or appealing to the tribunal within two months of receiving the final or amended EHC plan.

If you are requesting an independent (fee-paying) school it is likely you will need to appeal as there is no automatic duty for the LA to consult, unless the school is on the section 41 approved list of schools you may request.

Read more about appeals

I’m moving to Suffolk, my child has an EHC plan what do I do?

Contact the SEN team in Suffolk and ask to speak to a Special Needs Officer, your current or previous local authority will liaise and pass on your child’s file & EHC plan.

If you have identified a mainstream school you can apply by following the process outlined by the Admissions team – the process varies depending on which school and whether your child will be joining a school at a phase transfer stage or during the year.

It’s a good idea to contact admissions, the school and the Special Needs team as soon as you know you will be moving, to help with planning support for your child.

If you are seeking a place at a Special school when you move to Suffolk you will need to talk to your Special Needs Officer.

Advice around appealing a school place

This page is for appeals without an EHC plan. If your child has an EHC plan you may find the answers to your questions within the tab 'Children with an EHC plan' or you can contact us with any questions.

It can be an unsettling time if you have not been offered a place at your chosen school. Try to remain relaxed when speaking with your child, we can transfer our anxiety to others without realising! Reassure them they will make new friends & stay in contact with current ones.

You have the option of appealing to any or all of preferred schools and this should be explained in your offer letter.

Infant class size appeals for reception and Years 1 & 2 appeals. Classes in these year groups cannot contain more than 30 pupils with a single qualified teacher. There are very limited chances of success for Infant Class Size appeals, read more in the guidance below.

If you decide to appeal, we recommend you think about what your back-up plan will be should you be unsuccessful. Securing a place elsewhere should not affect your appeal.

To appeal read the guidance & complete the form: Education Admission Appeals form and guidance

Start to gather your evidence...

  • You don't need all of your supporting evidence before completing the appeal form, you can send this in later:
  • Gather evidence about your child and how he or she might be affected if they don't attend this school, you could ask the current school or nursery for any paperwork that might help, for example any information about their needs.
  • You could ask other professionals and specialists working with you and your child whether they can provide you with any supporting evidence.
  • Consider what it is that this school can offer that others cannot. Websites can be useful here as schools are required to publish information about how they support children with SEND.
  • If school location and start times are an issue perhaps due to siblings attending different schools, use maps to help you explain routes, you could think about how you can show to the appeal panel that a route is 'unworkable' for you, maybe a video of the journey at school pick up time. 
  • Equally think about all other options and what the appeal panel may question you on, for example is there another school with places which also offers breakfast and after school clubs that might resolve your location or start/ pick up time issues?

Have a look at the appeals guide which should answer any questions you have about the process.

You can contact us if you want to talk any of this through.