Admission to special schools

Guidance on admission to special schools for pupils with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

Considering a special school

Sometimes the EHCP may show that a child or young person has such high, complex or specialist needs that a special school might be a suitable option for placement.

Suitability for a special school does not mean all other types of provision are unsuitable. The most important thing is that the school can offer the provision and support recorded in the EHCP to enable the pupil to meet their outcomes. Any type of setting may be able to make reasonable adjustments to meet the pupil’s needs and these this is considered.

When considering the suitability of a special school for a child or young person with an EHCP, the Local Authority (LA) will take into account the detail of each setting's 'provision descriptor'. The descriptor outlines what a school offers and how it meets the needs of its pupils. This consideration will also take into account the individual needs of the child or young person.

This guidance and the provision descriptors (linked below) are to support families and professionals in understanding the process and provision available. It does not, however, reflect specific criteria that must be met before admission.

Parents and carers are able to choose a mainstream setting if they wish to.

"If a parent of a child, or young person, wants that child or young person to attend a mainstream setting, the LA can only refuse if a mainstream placement would be incompatible with the efficient education of others, and there are no reasonable steps the LA could take to avoid this"

Section 33 Children and Families Act 2014

Many children and young people with SEND will have a range of needs, and all schools, including special schools, must make reasonable adjustments to meet the full range of needs of a child or young person in line with the Equality Act 2010.

West Sussex special schools

Special schools offer a range of provision for children and young people with the most significant needs who require a specialist and personalised curriculum and approach to teaching and learning.

Children and young people placed in special schools typically have:

  • a range of needs that significantly impact on their learning and development or their ability to access a mainstream curriculum and environment
  • a combination of need that means that they require more specialist support than that which can ordinarily be met in a mainstream school or special support centre in a mainstream school.

Children and young people who attend special schools require provision that is:

  • in addition to or different from what might be expected through 'quality first' teaching and the range of differentiation and targeted intervention in a mainstream setting
  • in addition to or different from that which would usually be provided in a mainstream setting through provision made as set out in an EHCP
  • in addition to and different from other children and young people of a similar age.

Children and young people will normally only be admitted to a special school if they have an EHCP or under Education Health Care Needs Assessment (EHCNA), except for exceptional circumstances.

An example of an exceptional circumstance might be a child or young person with very complex needs moving into the country or a significant change in a pupil’s presenting needs due to accident or illness.

The EHCNA is an important process which ensures a full understanding of a child or young person’s needs, as well as the provision required to meet those needs. In most cases it will, therefore, be important for the full assessment to take place before consideration can be given to placing a child in a special school.

There are 12 maintained or academy special schools in West Sussex catering for children and young people with a range of needs.

If you are thinking about a special school placement, you are strongly encouraged to look at the provision descriptor for the setting and also the school websites. Where possible it is advisable to arrange to visit the special school to see what they do.

This guidance does not cover independent or non-maintained special schools. Information on independent special schools can be found on the Local Offer and on the Special Educational Needs Assessment Team's (SENAT's) information pages accessible here.

There is also a further document explaining key information about independent and non-maintained schools.

The consideration and admissions process

The West Sussex County Council (WSCC) SENAT are responsible for coordinating admissions into West Sussex special schools.

Parent carers or the young person themselves can make a request for a particular nursery, school or post-16 institution and WSCC must comply with that preference and name the school or college in the EHCP unless:

  • it would be unsuitable for the age, ability, aptitude or SEND of the child or young person
  • the attendance of the child or young person there would be incompatible with the efficient education of others, or the efficient use of resources, for example their needs could be met in a mainstream school.

The consultation

Where a parent carer or young person makes a preference for a West Sussex maintained special school or academy, the West Sussex SENAT will always consult with that setting.

Alongside this consultation, SENAT will also consider the suitability of the preferred setting and, as a result, they may consult with other settings they consider may be appropriate.

SENAT will send the draft or final EHCP and associated documents to the governing body, principal or proprietor of the school or college. If the school or setting is in another local authority area, that local authority must be consulted too.

The school or setting has 15 days to respond, and their views will be considered carefully before deciding whether to name the setting in the child or young person’s EHCP. The setting must consider the child or young person’s needs and required provision in their response to the consultation. They must consider the SEND Code of Practice when providing their response.

This may include schools considering the following:

  • Whether they can meet the child or young person’s needs and make suitable provision as described in the EHCP. This should include considering what reasonable adjustments could be made to meet their needs.
  • Whether they can offer a meaningful peer group of children or young people of a similar age, and with similar developmental, verbal, social and academic levels.
  • Whether they can physically accommodate the child or young person in the school, having considered reasonable adjustments to create appropriate space.

SENAT will consider all responses received and make the final decision on placement. As this process may be different depending on the current situation for the child or young person, the SENAT will keep individual families informed regarding progress.

During times of consideration of a large number of preferences for a particular setting, SENAT and the setting may arrange specific consideration processes, such as a Consideration Meeting, to look at the full range of pupil’s potentially seeking a placement. This ensures a fair consideration process based on need during these busier times, for example when considering admissions into Year 7. Again, the SENAT will keep families informed.

Although the majority of admissions take place at the beginning of an academic year, admissions into special schools can take place across the school year.