How can I back up my wish for a particular school for my child with special needs?

My son is in year five primary in a mainstream school. He has his transition review/ annual review. He has Down syndrome and is currently on the waiting list to be assessed for possible ADHD and or ASD. He has a SEN Statement. He will be having his transfer from Statement to EHCP starting in October 2016.

I have viewed three possible secondary school placements for him for September 2017. Two schools out of borough and one school in borough. I am still waiting to be contacted by one school in borough. My gut feeling and from viewing these three schools I do have a preference but it is out of borough, but how do I convince my LA that this will be the best place for my son?

They were the only school to give me any literature on the setting, they are using Wiki's, my son has a Wiki. My son is a twin and his twin sister will go to mainstream secondary. Whilst I did like the other schools I have visited; I felt that the one in borough was geared up for children with more physical difficulties and the one outside of borough just had a feel of a more residential setting than a school.

The school I like will offer my son everything he needs from his education, health and social care, the curriculum is balanced to his needs and there seems a greater enthusiasm to challenge my son's development. The other school, in-borough, who have not replied to me, has had tribunals and appeals stating that it is not the best suited school for children with Down's syndrome, although children with DS attend, I just know that my LA are going to suggest that my son stays in borough.

I am looking for a set of questions that I can use to help evidence my concerns and build a strong case as to why my son should attend an out-of-borough school. I want to be prepared when I have to fight the LA, as I know from many other parents, that is what they have had to do. Thank you for listening.

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Julie replies

Firstly, it is important that you keep an eye out for the formal transition notification the local authority (LA) must send you in order to formally start the process to transition from the statement to the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC Plan) as this triggers the time limits in law by which the process must be completed.

As your son will be transferring to secondary education September 2017, the LA is under a legal duty to finalise his transition to a EHC Plan by the 15th February 2017. As the transition process in law can take up to 20 weeks this means you should be receiving your formal notification no later than mid September 2016.

In law, a transition is a EHC needs assessment. Once this is complete the LA will issue a draft EHC Plan if they consider a EHC Plan is needed. At the draft stage you have a right in law to state a preference for a particular school to be named so long as it is a ‘type’ referred to in section 38(3) of the Children and Families Act 2014 (C&F Act 2014). The ‘types’ a parent or young person can state a preference for are maintained schools (both special and mainstream), academy schools (both special and mainstream), non-maintained special schools and independent schools who are approved under section 41 C&F Act 2014.

If the school you want is one of the ‘types’ above the LA must name it unless they can prove one of the reasons listed in section 39(4) C&F Act 2014 applies. These are: the school is unsuitable; the attendance of the child or young person will result in the inefficient education of others or the inefficient use of resources, i.e. it will cost much more. These are the only reasons they can use to say no.

They cannot say no just because the school you want is out of borough. You mentioned that the school you want is using ‘Wiki’s’ and that your son is currently using this. It will be additionally important to ensure that Section B of the EHC Plan accurately describes each and every one of your son’s SEN and that Section F properly specifies and quantifies all of the special educational provision your son requires, including the Wiki.

If the LA fail to name the school you want in the final EHC plan the decision is appealable to the SEND Tribunal, as well as appealing Sections B and F.

You are early on in the process and it is important to seek advice as and when you need according to how your situation develops.