Choosing a school for your child with special educational needs and/or disabilities

A school’s website is a good place to start. It can give you a sense of the school’s character. Each school must also have a special educational needs (SEN) policy and information about managing health needs.

The school’s website will also include a copy of its most recent Ofsted report or a link to the report on the Ofsted website. Ofsted inspections include looking at how a school is supporting children with SEN.

5 cartoon people.  One of them is in a wheelchair.  They represent an individual ethnicity

Visiting a potential school is important. You will be able to see the school environment, meet staff, and see children learning.

Mainstream schools have open days for families of children starting primary or secondary school. The local authority’s school admission team sends information about these. You can also find details on school websites.

You can also make an appointment to visit a school at a different time. You should call or email the school to arrange this. You may want to ask to meet the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) on your visit or speak to them before you go.

Special schools and integrated resources do not tend to have open days. Instead, they show families around by appointment.

During a school visit, you might want to:

  • Tell the SENCO or teacher about your child’s needs and ask what kind of support they give to children with these needs.
  • Ask:
    • What experience does the school have in supporting children with similar needs?
    • What is the school day like? What happens at breaks and lunchtimes?
    • How do you support children to make friends and deal with friendship issues?
    • What’s the school environment like? Do you have any break-out rooms or quiet areas?
    • How do you stay in touch with parents?
    • How do you support particular needs? For example, behaviour, attendance, learning or physical needs.
    • How can you, as a parent, help the school understand your child’s needs?

It can be useful to make a list of questions you want to ask and to make a note of the answers.

5 cartoon people.  One of them is in a wheelchair.  They represent an individual ethnicity

Think about whether your child will come with you on the visit. This can be useful for your child and the school. But it can also lead to disappointment if they don’t get a place at a school they really liked. You may want to talk to the school about this in advance.

After the visit

Talk to your child and think about whether:

  • You felt welcome at the school
  • The children seemed happy
  • The school was able to answer your questions
  • You think your child would enjoy attending.

Talk to other parents whose children attend the school if possible. The school might have SEN coffee mornings that you could attend.

If you have any concerns

You can ask to speak to the head teacher or school SEN governor if, when you visit, you have any concerns that the school isn’t being supportive.

5 cartoon people.  One of them is in a wheelchair.  They represent an individual ethnicity

You can contact SSENDIAS or the Sheffield Parent Carer Forum. They will be able to share this information with Sheffield City Council.

SSENDIAS is Sheffield’s SEN and Disability Information, Advice, and Support.

Sheffield Parent Carer Forum (SPCF) is a parent-led charity. It brings parents of children and young people with SEND together, provides support, shares information, and influences policy and practice.