Admissions to specialist schools
Specialist schools can include:
- State funded schools (i.e. local authority maintained)
- State funded special schools
- State funded nursery schools
- Free schools
- Further education or sixth form colleges
- Approved independent (private) schools or colleges
- Non-maintained special schools (not maintained by a local authority)
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.
If you are unhappy with your child’s current school, these are the things to think about:
- If your child has an 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. This can be arranged in partnership with us and your child’s current school
- If you child doesn’t have an 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
Under law, parents and young people with EHC plans have the right to request a school/setting of the following types to be named in the EHC plan.
- 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. However these schools are not under the same conditions to accept and enrol the child.
Once a school or college has been named in an EHC plan this can only be changed following an annual review. The annual review must take place 12 months after the 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 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 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 we 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 us or 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 paid for by us. 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 EHC plans, with the majority of placements paid for by us. 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.
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 or setting of the type named above, the law says that we are under a duty to name that establishment in the 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, we are not under the same duty to name that school. However we must have regard to the general principle that children should be educated according to their parent’s wishes, so long as:
- This is compatible with the efficient instruction and training of others, and
- It does not mean unreasonable public expenditure
We need to consider all of these elements as part of our decision making.
How do we do this?
1. Consider suitability to age, ability, aptitude and the SEN of the child
We will liaise with the school in question. We will seek their views through a consultation that they are able to meet the SEN provision as set out in the child’s EHC plan. We will check 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 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
We do this through a termly admissions meeting with our maintained school, special academies and free schools.
Your request will be submitted for consideration at those admissions meetings. We do this so that all families seeking a special school place can be considered simultaneously. This ensures fairness in the admissions process and that places can be prioritised to children with the most complex needs.
For non-maintained and independent schools, the same criteria will apply, but we will do this in a direct consultation per child.
2. Consider incompatibility with the efficient education of others
This criteria is more of a factor in state funded provision, i.e. our maintained special schools, special academies and free schools. 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 six to 10 children in a class, but this 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. Therefore there will be fewer children in a class compared to other schools.
Wherever possible we expect the school to adjust its arrangements to accommodate a new admission. However but this may not always be possible, for example when the school has significant limitations to expand the physical footprint of the school without building works. We consider very carefully the impact of admitting children over and above the school's maximum number on roll and 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 EHC plan.
Non maintained and independent schools will apply similar criteria and in most cases we are not under a duty to name the school. Nor is the school under a duty to admit the child.
3. Consider 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. For any request in the non-maintained and independent sector, we undertake a cost analysis of the school fees and any transport, against the costs if the provision is arranged differently (i.e. in a mainstream school). This will be particularly the case where it is our view that, with suitable adjustments and an inclusive ethos, the child’s needs could be met in a mainstream environment. Sometimes we 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 when we have 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. They will issue your child’s EHC plan, naming the setting we judge 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. 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 local authority area, eg Cambridgeshire or Suffolk, we need to abide by any admissions arrangements that may apply to schools in that area. This is particularly the case for any local authority-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. However 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 we have not agreed to your request, they will explain why. They will then issue a final EHC plan 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, we need to enter into a contractual agreement with the school, with the funding arrangements agreed and arranged. This will need to be completed prior to your child’s start at the school.
You can make an appeal to the First-tier Tribunal for SEND. Mediation does not have to have been considered or take place first.
At all stages your EHCP coordinator should keep you up-to-date and informed of the status of your request.
It is important to say that outcomes from any decision making forums can take up to 14 days to be communicated. 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.