Choosing a school – for those with EHCPs

If you have a child in year 5, with an Education Health & Care Plan (EHCP), you will have recently received a letter from SENAT (Special Educational Needs Assessment Team) asking you to let them know your school preference for year 7. Or perhaps you are expecting or have just received your draft EHC Plan and have been asked to state your preference for a school on the form.

Once a child has an EHC Plan (or it has been agreed that one will be issued) the process for choosing a school changes and instead of going through the admissions department, decisions are made between yourselves and the Local Authority (SENAT are the representatives for the LA where an EHCP is involved).

The decision about which school to choose can often be a very difficult one, especially as there are wider considerations other than just your mainstream catchment school. This can be made even harder depending on the age of your child and their special educational need(s).

We hope the following information and advice will help make your decision process easier.

What type of setting can be accessed for those with an Education, Health & Care Plan (EHCP)?

Having an EHCP means your child or young person has a higher level of need in terms of Special educational provision than those without. Although the majority of children with EHCPs can be supported within a mainstream school (and parents have the right to request this), some may need more specialist provision (like a Special School). Special schools can only be accessed with an EHC Plan.

Education settings sit within 1 of 3 categories of control (ownership/ responsibility)

  • those controlled by a local authority (“LA”) – referred to as maintained – shorthand for “maintained by a local authority”;
  • those controlled by the Secretary of State – referred to generically as Academies;
  • those which are neither of the above, which are usually controlled by private contracts between the parties.

Within these categories there are then different types of educational settings:

  • Mainstream schools (maintained or Academies)
  • Mainstream schools with Special Support Centres (SSCs) or units (maintained or Academies)
  • Maintained Special schools / Academy Special Schools
  • Non-maintained special schools – all charitable foundations and “not for profit”. (This type of school can take a mixture of children and young people with and without Plans but in practice almost 100% of their pupils are publicly funded through EHC plans)
  • Section 41 Independent schools – These are independent special schools which have been approved by the Secretary of State under section 41 of the Children and Families Act (“CAFA”) 2014 as schools which a parent or young person can request to be named in an EHC plan. This means parents or young people have a right to request this type of school is named in an EHC plan in the same way they can request a maintained school
  • Non section 41 independent schools – these are mostly controlled by charities (and therefore, “not for profit”) but there are some private “for-profit” owners. Due to their independence their SEN provision will be very different school to school. They include prep schools, public schools, and private nurseries (early years provision). Some private schools are registered as “specially organised to make provision with pupils for SEN”. However, for legal purposes independent schools are neither special nor mainstream, but all simply “independent”
  • Private post-16 institutions. These may also opt for section 41 status

To find out what specific type a setting is, you may find the following helpful:

Department for Education: The Department for Education website has a database which you can search by the name of the school, the location, or the local authority. It lists information about the type of school and other basic details such as the age of pupils and the name of the head teacher.

Ofsted: Inspection reports, obtainable from the Ofsted website, also give a brief outline of the type and characteristics of educational institutions.

How do I choose a school when they are closed (either due to the coronavirus or because it is the summer holidays)?

Understandably, the coronavirus pandemic has made school visits very tricky for some schools to accommodate, even more so if you are particularly wanting to look around any of the special schools or independent schools. This can also be difficult to arrange if you receive your draft EHC Plan leading up to and during the summer holidays when all the schools are closed.

However, there are still a number of things you can do whilst you are waiting or not able to visit the school.

  • Virtual tours – a growing number of settings have now created a ‘virtual tour’ which allows you to look round the school online. Whilst you don’t get to physically experience how it operates when it is working ‘normally’, you may get a sense of the classroom layouts, areas for therapies and SEND provision etc.
  • Website – Sometimes by looking at a setting’s website you will be able to get a good sense of how inclusive it is, the type of support staff there are (ie teaching assistants, Specialist learning support assistance, counsellors, inclusion staff etc), how the different year groups are set out, as well as the different activities that the school engage with etc.
  • SEN Information Report – schools should publish their SEN Information Report on their website. This report should set out how they as a setting have specifically supported those with SEN and whether anything has changed (or is likely to) within this provision.
  • Speak to or email the Senco / Inclusion Manager – even though the setting may be closed, you may find that some staff are still accessible by phone or email. If so, a phone call could be arranged to discuss the contents of the EHC Plan, specifically your child’s needs and provision available. It may be worth asking them to do an informal ‘virtual tour’ round the school for you or even have a webchat via phone so you can have a chat whilst you see the school through their phone’s camera.

What questions can I ask when speaking with a school/setting?

SEND IAS services are not in a position to recommend educational settings for your child. That is a decision that rightly must be left to parent carers, as you know your child best. However, there are several questions you might want to ask when visiting or speaking with a school or setting in order to build up a picture of what support etc is available and help you compare one with another:

  • Please can I have a copy of your school’s SEN Information report? – (this will explain how the individual school manages the provision for pupils with special educational needs (SEN))
  • Are there any spaces in my child’s year group?
  • What is the average class size in my child’s year?
  • Do you have many pupils with special educational needs/EHC Plans?
  • How do parents receive copies of the child’s inclusion plans and information on their child’s general progress? Is this done automatically?
  • How regularly are children’s individual learning plans reviewed?  How would I be involved in the review of my child’s plan?
  • How is support for children with special needs organised?
  • How is the curriculum adapted to meet the needs of children with special educational needs?
  • How does the school ensure children with special needs/disabilities are fully included in school life?
  • What opportunities for parents to come into school to discuss their child’s progress?
  • I have particular needs myself which are …… how will you be able to help me take part in my child’s education? (if applicable)
  • Have you/your staff had experience of working with children with similar needs to my child?
  • What is the structure and timetable for the school day?
  • How do the school access support for/manage challenging behaviour? (If applicable)
  • Are all areas of the school accessible to my child? Are adaptations required? (if applicable)
  • What clubs or activities might the pupil get involved in (e.g. supported homework, after-school clubs, specific activity groups, etc.)
  • How does the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) communicate information about individual pupils to teachers?  (This is especially important at secondary school where a pupil might be taught by 13 – 14 different teachers in a week).
  • Ask for a school prospectus/governors report.

Additional questions you could ask a special school:

  • Does the school cater for Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD) / Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) or both?
  • What special equipment / therapies are available for my child’s particular needs?
  • How is each child’s support co-ordinated/arranged?
  • What is the staff/pupil ratio in each class?
  • Have any of your children returned to mainstream education?
  • Have the Learning Support Assistants (LSA) had experience of working with children with similar needs to my child? If not would training be available to them so that they can support my child?

Things school might ask you:

  • Child’s name, date of birth and address.
  • The name of the school your child currently attends.
  • Is your child on SEN support, going through an EHC Needs assessment or does he/she have an EHC Plan?
  • Does your child currently have an Inclusion Plan?
  • Is your child involved with any other agencies/therapies?
  • What are your child’s needs?
  • What are your (or your child’s) aspirations for the future?
  • What sort of support is your child receiving at the moment?
  • Why are you thinking of changing schools?

Questions you may want to ask yourself after the visit/conversation:

  • What kind of a welcome did I/we receive at the school?
  • Is the peer group appropriate for my/our child? This can be important in a Special School.
  • Did the school seem confident that they could meet my/our child’s needs?
  • Did the school answer our questions to my/our satisfaction?
  • Did I/we have a general positive or negative “gut instinct” about the school?

It is important that when you discuss the contents of the EHC Plan, it is an accurate reflection of your child/ young person’s needs. Legally this should be reviewed at least annually, and a request made to the local authority if the EHC Plan needs amending or there needs to be a re-assessment of your child’s needs. You can find further information about this in our blog on Annual Reviews.

If you still have questions about any aspect of choosing a school, please contact us at the SENDIAS service by calling our main helpline: 0330 222 8555 or by emailing: send.ias@westsussex.gov.uk

Following on from this, look out for our future blog – ‘How my school preference should be considered by the Local Authority’

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