Admissions to specialist schools

Including state funded (ie LA maintained special academy/free school and independent) and non-maintained.

Choosing a school, including a special school is an important decision.

A good place to start is to contact Norfolk SEND Partnership to talk through a change of school and what this might mean for you and your child. Norfolk SEND Partnership will be able to give you independent expert information and advice about the range of specialist provision in Norfolk as well as the law that the local authority (LA) must abide by.

If you are unhappy with your child’s current school, these are the things to think about:

  1. If your child has a statement / EHC plan – call an early annual review. Ask your child’s school to arrange this. It may be that your child’s needs have changed and the provision they need has changed and this can be arranged in partnership with your child’s current school and the local authority.
  2. If you child doesn’t have a statement / EHC plan - ask for a meeting with your child’s school so that you can raise your concerns. The school is required under SEN support to listen to your concerns and to work together with you to resolve them. It may be that your child needs an EHC needs assessment.
In either case you can consider disagreement resolution.  Used early, disagreement resolution can really assist parents and young people to avoid unnecessary stress and expense.

Under law, parents and young people with EHC plans has the right to request a school/setting of the following types to be named in the EHC plan/statement.

They are:

  • Maintained nursery school
  • Maintained school
  • Any form of academy or free school (mainstream or special)
  • Non maintained special school
  • Further education or sixth form college
  • Independent school or independent specialist college (where they have been approved by the secretary of state and detailed in the Section 41 list).

Parents and young people can also ask for a place at independent schools that are not on the Section 41 list but those schools are not under the same conditions to accept and enrol the child.

Once a school or college has been named in a statement / EHC plan this can only be changed following an annual review.  The annual review must take place 12 months after the statement / EHC plan was issued, and annually thereafter.

However if you believe either of the following you should ask for an early review:

  • Your child’s education, health or social care needs have changed and are no longer accurately described in the statement/EHC plan
  • The education, health or social care provision in the EHC plan is no longer meeting your child’s needs

Only following an annual review where the evidence is presented and discussed can an EHCP coordinator consider whether or not the current provision stated in the statement/EHC plan is meeting your child’s needs.

There are different types of special school.  Some are funded directly by the government, whereas others are fee paying where the LA would meet the cost of the fees.

Maintained special school / special academy / free school: schools that cater solely for special needs and are provided and funded by the LA / central government.

Non-maintained special school: approved as a special school under section 342 of the Education Act 1996. Non-profit making schools run by charitable trusts. Non-maintained special schools are funded primarily through pupil fees charged to LAs which place children there. There are currently no non-maintained special schools in Norfolk but there are some located in neighbouring local authorities.

Approved independent school: usually owned by an individual or limited company or group of companies but can be a charity. Approved by the Secretary of State to take children with statements / EHC plans, with the majority of placements funded by LAs. Wholly funded by pupil fees and can be run on a profit making basis.

Independent school: Owned by an individual or limited company or group of companies. Wholly funded by pupil fees and can be run on a profit making basis.

If you want to find out more about the special school’s in Norfolk speak to Norfolk SEND Partnership or read more here.

It is important to do some background research because different schools cater for different types of SEND and different ability levels. Whilst you may believe that a special school is right for your child, it is important that you really understand the special schools you are considering and the children that they provide for.

You may find it helpful to visit a school you are interested in and most schools are happy to arrange a visit for you if you request this.

What does the law say?

Once we receive a formal request for a special or independent school as part of the EHC plan or annual review process, there are a number of steps that take place.

The criteria for decision making

Where you request a school / setting of the type of the type named above, the law says that the LA is under a duty to name that establishment in the statement or EHC plan unless:

  • It would be unsuitable to the age, ability, aptitude and SEN of the child
  • The attendance of the child would be incompatible with the efficient education of others

For schools that are not on the list mentioned above, the LA is not under the same duty to name that school, but must have regard to the general principle that children should be educated according to their parent’s wishes, so long as:

  1. This is compatible with the efficient instruction and training of others, and
  2. Does not mean unreasonable public expenditure.

The LA therefore needs to consider all of these elements as part of its decision making.

How do we do this?

1. Considering suitability to age, ability, aptitude and the SEN of the child

The LA will liaise with the school in question and seek their views through a consultation that they are able to meet the SEN provision as set out in the child’s statement/EHC plan, checking out in particular:

  • The views of the governing body, principal or equivalent in meeting the SEND of the child / young person as set out in the statement/EHC plan and based upon any admissions criteria
  • Whether the child / young person’s primary need falls within the school’s special educational needs categorisation
  • The cognitive profile of the child in relation to the other children placed at the school, whether they could access the taught curriculum and have a peer group.

For LA maintained, special academies and free schools, this is undertaken through a termly admissions meeting between the LA and those schools.

Your request will therefore be submitted for consideration at those admissions meetings. We do this so that all families seeking a special school place can be considered simultaneously to ensure fairness in the admissions process and so that places can be prioritised to the most complex children.

For non-maintained and independent schools, the same criteria will apply, but the LA will do this in a direct consultation per child.

2. Considering incompatibility with the efficient education of others

This criteria is more of a factor in state funded provision ie LA maintained special schools, special academies / free schools. This is because in Norfolk our special schools are oversubscribed and all schools are currently over their number on roll. Our special schools generally operate with a maximum of 6-10 children in a class, but depends on the needs of the children. For example, children with very complex needs such as learning difficulties with ASD or children with profound and multiple learning difficulties requiring specialist equipment, have high adult to child ratios and therefore there will be fewer numbers of children in a class compared to other schools.

Wherever possible the LA would expect the school to adjust its arrangements to accommodate a new admission but this may not always be possible ie where the school has significant limitations to expand the physical footprint of the school, without building works. The LA will therefore consider very carefully the impact of admitting children over and above the schools maximum number on roll and will need to consider the impact on the other children already attending the school. Where we consider the impact to be too great and that there are no reasonable adjustments that can be applied, we will not name the school in the child’s statement/EHC plan.

Non maintained and independent schools will apply similar criteria and in most cases the LA is not under a duty to name the school, nor is the school under a duty to admit the child.

3. Considering the incompatibility with the efficient use of resources

This criteria is more of a factor in non-maintained and independent schools where the costs of placements generally exceed the same provision available in the state funded sector. Therefore for any request in the non-maintained and independent sector, the LA will undertake a cost analysis of the non-maintained or independent school fees and any transport against the costs associated with arranging that provision differently (ie in a mainstream school). This will be particularly the case where it is the view of the LA that with suitable adjustments and an inclusive ethos, the child’s needs could be met in a mainstream environment. Sometimes the LA will agree a place in any type of school but with the condition that the parent is responsible for arranging the transport. This will be where the LA has deemed that the child’s needs can be met through a placement in a different school more efficiently but would be prepared to name the school of preference if transport arrangements are met by the family.

The EHCP coordinator undertakes the cost analysis and the case is moderated by the SEN Placements Advisory Group. This group meets fortnightly. The group may require additional information to make its decision and this will always be communicated. We try to make decisions as quickly as possible and within statutory timescales.

Your EHCP coordinator will receive your request and will give it initial consideration using the general criteria describe above. They will talk with you about this and gather your views.

Where the EHCP coordinator decides that the request does not meet the criteria set out above, they will talk to you about this and explain why and will issue your child’s EHC plan / statement naming the setting the LA judges as being appropriate for your child’s needs.

Where the EHCP coordinator considers that the criteria above could be met, they will compile all of the relevant documentation and submit this to the next decision making forum. Here the case will be further moderated and a decision reached. It should be noted that in some cases, this may take a number of weeks to be completed due to the need to coordinate the consultation process with schools.

Where a request is for a school in another LA area ie Cambridgeshire or Suffolk, Norfolk will need to abide by any admissions arrangements that may apply to schools in that LA area. This will particularly be the case for any LA maintained special school and usually for special academies and free schools. It does not apply to non-maintained and independent schools. It is important to say that this may add further delay to a decision being reached as multiple schools and LA need to liaise, but we will try to reach an outcome as soon as possible and we will always keep you informed.

Your EHCP coordinator will contact you to let you know the outcomes of your request. If the LA has not agreed to your request, they will explain why. They will then issue a final EHC plan / statement with the named school, this will trigger a parental / young person right of appeal if you do not agree with the school that has been named.

Where a school is agreed your EHCP coordinator will also discuss with you the admission and enrolment of your child. It is important to say that for placement in the non-maintained and independent sector, the school and the LA need to enter into a contractual agreement with the funding arrangements agreed and arranged and this will need to be completed prior to your child’s start at the school.

An appeal to the First Tier Tribunal for SEND about the school / college placement or where no school / college is named, does not require mediation to have been considered or taken place first.

At all stages your EHCP coordinator should keep you up-to-date and informed of the status of your request.

Due to the volume of requests sometimes we may not be able to get back to you as quickly as we would like, but each team operates a duty line that you can contact to speak to a duty worker if you are worried.

It is important to say that outcomes from any decision making forums can take up to 14 days to be communicated and sometimes there may not be an update to give you.  We will always try to reach a decision and inform you of this as quickly as possible.

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