For parents and caregivers: starting a new UK school with a disability
Who to talk to and what support your child can get
If your child has a disability, it can feel overwhelming knowing what to expect from their new school, and what information they’ll expect from you in turn. This guide breaks down the process.
Before accepting a place at a new school, book a visit and an appointment to meet with the headteacher and/or SEN(D)Co (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator).
Use this meeting to make the school aware of your child’s SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) status. This could be a medical diagnosis, or a more general concern you have that your child might need additional support.
Prepare any questions about facilities and accessibility in advance.
When you visit the school, take your time to get a feel for whether this will be an environment which will nurture your child and meet their needs. Don’t be afraid to book a second visit if you’re not yet certain, and visit a few different schools - and different types of schools - if you can. Remember, if you already have an EHCP in place (see below), you can name the school you believe is most suitable for your child, and the school has a duty to admit them, even if they are based outside your catchment area.
Once you’re fairly confident, invite your child for a visit and chance to meet any teachers they might be taught by as well. This will help them feel more at ease once they arrive, but also give them the chance to raise any concerns you might not have thought of.
What support can my child get?
Your school is expected to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ or ‘reasonable accommodations’ in order to support your child’s learning. This is a legal requirement which ensures your child will receive the same quality of education as others at the school. See our guide to the UK Equality Act for more on this.
Reasonable adjustments might look like:
- regular check-ins with the school’s SEN(D)Co
- transport arrangements if your child has mobility needs
- extra support from a teaching assistant in class
- resources like coloured overlays for students with dyslexia, or books in Braille for a visually impaired student
- support with physical care, like getting around the school or using the toilet
It is up to the school to determine what kind of adjustment is ‘reasonable.’ Unfortunately, if they do not deem a request as being so, you may need to pay for it. Examples of reasons the school might give for this could be a high cost - for instance, for specific software - or an adjustment which might negatively impact upon the health and safety of other students. See ‘Good stuff from elsewhere’ (below) for further details.
If the school is not in a financial position to supply sufficient support, it may be worth applying for an EHCP.
What is an EHCP?
If your child does not already have one set up at their previous school (from which there will be a transfer process in place), the SEN(D)Co of your new school may, in exceptional circumstances, suggest applying for an EHCP (Education, Health, and Social Care Plan). This is a personalised plan for your child, created by you, your Local Education Authority, Health and Social Care, and your child’s school. The conversation will also involve your child if they are 16 or over.
You’ll need to request a needs assessment (EHCna) to find out if an EHCP is necessary, or if existing SEND support at the school is considered sufficient. Your school’s SEN(D)Co will usually help with this, but contact your Local Education Authority if they are not being proactive. You should expect a six-week wait to find out if an assessment has been approved.
After this, the local authority will collect details from all parties involved in your child’s care, including education professionals and doctors, and make the assessment. You can expect a further wait of up to 16 weeks for the result.
Unfortunately, there are stories of longer waits and a high incidence of parental requests for assessments being turned down. If you are disappointed, don’t hesitate to make an appeal. According to The Good Schools Guide, over 90% of families who make one win their case.
If your EHCP is granted, you may be entitled to a personal budget, whereby you’ll have a say in how money to support your child is spent. You can arrange to share responsibility for this with the school, your local authority, or to buy and manage services yourself – or a combination of all three options.
Good stuff from elsewhere
Adjustments for pupils with SEN: What is reasonable?
Detailed advice from The Good Schools Guide written with input from a solicitor. Other guides on the website include information on EHCPs, and how to choose the right school for children with SEND.
Unifrog Insights monthly email
Progression-related teaching materials, and insight from the Unifrog platform, emailed to you once a month.