Home Help for families Information & Advice Education & learning Admissions and school choice Finding the right school
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The information on this page is for families in England only. I live in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
On this page we explain how to find out information about schools and suggest some questions to ask when visiting. For information about the admissions system, see our school admissions webpage.
Finding the right school place involves weighing up the pros and cons of different schools and the chances of getting a place.
Even if you have been through school admission with other children, you may have a completely different set of questions for your child with additional needs.
The best thing you can do is get as much information about different schools as you can.
The local authority must publish details of all local state-funded schools on the admissions section of its website. There is usually a separate section for each phase of education, for example primary and secondary. This information must be updated every year in time for the new admissions round.
There should also be links to the admission sections of neighbouring local authority websites.
Your local authority’s ‘local offer’ site should have information on schools in the area. As well as the local authority’s own schools, it may also have links to independent schools or schools in other local authorities where local children have been placed. What’s on offer varies between local authorities.
You should be able to find information about:
If you want a place in a special school or unit, your child will need to have an Education, Health and Care plan.
Get information about schools is the new government schools database. This lists all schools, both state-funded and independent. You can search by local authority or by town or postcode and view the results on a map to find schools near where you live. The site also enables you to filter by type of school or phase of education.
Details of independent special schools and specialist colleges are available to download separately.
In addition, there are a number of commercially-available directories of special schools. These tend to focus more on independent schools. You should be able to find copies in larger public libraries.
Schools must publish the following information.
All state-maintained schools and academies must publish an SEN information report on their website. This is a good place to start to find out about the help that is available from the school’s own resources.
The SEN information report must include information about:
The accessibility plan must include information about the steps the school is taking to make both the environment and the curriculum more accessible for disabled pupils. This may be included within the SEN information report.
All state-funded schools now have a duty to make arrangements to support children with medical needs. They must produce a policy saying how they will do this.
All state-maintained schools must draw up a behaviour policy, which must be published on the school’s website. The policy will set out how the school encourages good behaviour and the sanctions for breaking the school rules, as well as the measures it takes to prevent bullying.
Academies and independent schools must also have a behaviour and anti-bullying policy. There is no legal duty to publish it on the school’s website, though it is good practice to do so.
You can find Ofsted inspection reports either through a link from the school’s website or from the Ofsted website. Be aware that reports may be several years old and that schools can change from one year to another.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, you may not be able to visit the school you are considering. However the school may have a virtual tour or online open events which you can attend, in which case the information below may help.
It is essential to visit the schools you are considering, as this can give you a feel for how your child would fit in.
All mainstream schools have open events as part of the normal admission round, but it can also be helpful to visit during the normal school day. If it is a mainstream school, ask for an appointment to talk to the SENCO (special educational needs coordinator). You can then ask specific questions about how the school will support your child.
It’s a good idea to take with you a consistent list of questions, particularly if you are visiting a lot of schools. You may also like to take a brief summary of your child’s strengths and difficulties, such as a one-page profile. This will help give the school a sense of your child as a person.
What you ask will be personal to your child and their particular needs. The following questions may help you put together your own list.
In addition to the above, you may want to ask:
Once you have gathered information about different schools and drawn up a short list, you will be able formally to express a preference for the school you think would be right for your child.
There is a different process for children with and without Education, Health and Care plans. This is covered in full on our page on applying for a school place.
For more information about this topic, you can speak to the education team on our freephone helpline.
Read our information about education in Wales.
Find out about the system of support for children with special educational needs in Northern Ireland on the NI Education Authority website or Senac (special educational needs advice centre).
In Scotland, the system of support for children with additional support needs is called additional support for learning. You can read more about it on the Enquire website.
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