How to apply

How you apply is different depending on whether your children has a statement or not. The section below in blue describes the application process for parents whose children have special educational needs but no statement; the section below that in white describes the application process for parents of children who either have a statement or will have a statement following a recent statutory assessment.

If your child does not have a statement...

If your child does not have a statement and is not being assessed for one, you apply for a school in exactly the same way as other parents. This includes parents of children who have been assessed but who are turned down for a statement and given a note-in-lieu instead.

Except for grammar schools, all state maintained schools that have enough places must offer a place to every child who has applied for one, without condition. This applies to faith schools and schools that use partial selection or banding.

Who gets a place if the school has more applications than places?

Places are given out according to the admission rules of that particular school, so those children that fit the rules best have a better chance of gaining a place.

Every state school including academies must have admission rules. These are published by the local authority in the composite prospectus. The rules – sometimes called the oversubscription rules or admission criteria – must be fair. They must not take account of reports from previous schools about children’s past behaviour, attendance, attitude or achievement. They cannot discriminate against children with special educational needs or disabilities.

They must not ask you about your child’s SEN or disabilities or any medical needs unless they plan to take positive action. For example, schools may give higher priority to children or families where there is a social or medical need. An example of this is where one or both parents of the child has a disability that may make travel to a school further away more difficult. If you think your child would be given priority under this rule, it will strengthen your case to provide evidence (for example, a letter from your social worker or GP to say why it is important that your child is given a place at a particular school). The school admission form should make it clear where proof is needed.

The rules generally give top priority to children in care and many give priority to children with siblings at the school or those who live nearest. Faith schools give priority to children who belong to their faith. Selective schools give places only to children who pass their academic test.

Don’t waste your choices by putting down a school whose rules mean your child has almost no chance of getting a place, but don’t play so safe that you rule your child out of a good school. If you’re not sure, get advice from national helplines which advise on school admissions (see p.x).

Filling out the form

Your local authority co-ordinates all applications for local state schools, including academies. You can fill in the application form on your council’s website, use the one in the composite prospectus, or ask for a paper copy from their admissions department. Local authorities must include details in their prospectuses and online of how to complete and submit these forms including local deadlines.

Starting Secondary school

If your child is moving on to secondary school, you have the right to apply for at least three schools on a single application form, even if one or more of the schools is in another local authority area. You will be asked to rank the schools in the order you prefer. The schools will not know if they were your first choice or not. If more than one school has space for your child, you will get the school you preferred.

Starting Primary school

If your child is about to start primary school, you can apply for any number of local schools on your local authority’s common application form. If you want a place in a different local authority area from where you live, you will have to ask that local authority for its common application form.

Middle or upper schools

Applications to middle schools with an entry age of before 11 are treated in the same way as primary schools; applications to high or upper schools (which take pupils from 13 to 14 years) are treated in the same way as secondary schools.

Giving reasons

There will be a space on the form for you to give reasons for your choice. If you believe your child fits the rules for being given priority, explain this here. In some cases you may need to provide evidence to back up your reasons. For example, if your child has health needs which means one school is more appropriate than another, a letter from your GP or a consultant is vital.
If the school does not give priority to children with particular needs, you do not have to provide information about your child’s SEN or any other difficulties. If you think the school needs to know about your child before they start, you can always give the school information after your child has been offered a place.

Sending in the form

Make sure it gets there:

  • If you deliver it by hand, ask for a receipt
  • If you mail it, send it by registered post
  • If you send your application via your local authority website, make sure you log on to check it has arrived safely and follow its progress.

When the local authority replies

You will be offered a single school place once your local authority has co-ordinated all the applications.
Your application may be turned down if:

  • the school is full i.e. other children fit the admission rules better than your child
  • the infant classes have reached their legal limit of 30.
  • your child did not pass the test (for a selective school).
  • in some rare circumstances, because of your child’s challenging behaviour.

You can appeal to an independent appeal panel in all the situations above. However, you cannot appeal if your child is turned down for a place because they have been permanently excluded twice, and the last exclusion was in the previous two years. (This does not apply if your child has a statement, or if they were under compulsory school age when excluded, or if they were reinstated on appeal.) See 'If you are unhappy …' (p x) for more information about how to appeal.

If your child has a disability (see 'What counts as a disability on p.x), schools must make reasonable adjustments to enable them to attend. They must not turn your child down, ignore your application or set conditions on giving them a place because your child has a disability. If your child is refused admission to a school because of their disability, you can complain about discrimination at the same time as you appeal.

If your child has a statement (or is being assessed for one)...

If your child is being assessed for a statement or already has one, you will be sent a list of mainstream, special and approved independent schools by your local authority with a letter telling you of your right to state a preference for a state maintained school and the deadline for this. The letter will also tell you that you have the right to suggest a non-maintained special school or independent school.

If you disagree with the school the local authority names in the statement, you have a right of appeal to a specialist tribunal. At the Tribunal, you can put your case for your preferred school and/or challenge other parts of the statement. See 'If you are unhappy …' (p x) for more help.

What are my rights?

A) for a mainstream school
Your local authority must offer a mainstream place if you want this, unless it can show that your child’s attendance at the school would badly affect other children’s education and no reasonable steps could be taken to avoid this.

It is important to remember that the right to a mainstream place is not a right to a place in a particular school. However, the local authority must name your preferred school unless it can show:

  • that the school cannot meet your child’s needs or
  • your child’s attendance would badly affect the education of other children at the school or would be a poor use of resources.
    An example of a poor use of resources would be sending your child to a school that needed expensive adaptations for your child to attend, when there was another school that already had the resources they needed.

B) for a special school
If you request a state maintained special school, then the local authority must name the school unless it can show:

  • that the school is unable to meet your child’s needs
  • your child’s attendance would badly affect the education of other children at the school or would be a poor use of resources.

C) for a non-maintained special school or independent school

If you want an independent school or non-maintained special school, your local authority must take account of your views but it will begin by deciding whether any local state schools can meet your child’s needs.

Non-maintained special schools are generally run by charities and may be non-profit making but, like independent schools, charge fees. Their fees are usually ¬– though not always – more expensive than the cost of a state school place, so in many cases the local authority (LA) will name a state school.

You may appeal to the specialist SEND Tribunal if the LA does this. Organisations which can provide advice on Tribunal appeals are listed in'Where to get help and more information'.

If the local authority agrees to name a non-maintained or independent school or if the Tribunal orders it to do so, the local authority will pay your child’s fees. Parents are, of course, free to pay themselves although such fees can be very expensive.

D) for a residential special school
Choosing a residential school is a big step for any parent, and generally only taken if a child’s needs are not being met in local schools. Sometimes bringing up a disabled child can place great strains on family life and a residential school may be considered for social as well as educational reasons. In these cases, funding for a residential place may be divided between education and social care services. If a child has medical needs, the health service may help with costs of the place. This can create complications because parents cannot take social services or health services to the Tribunal if they refuse to pay. The Tribunal only has power to decide education appeals, so it can only order the local authority to name a residential school if there are enough educational reasons for your child to need 24 hour care. Organisations which can provide advice on residential care and Tribunal appeals are listed in 'Where to get help and more information'.

Sending in the form

Your form goes to the local authority’s SEN Department. You may have been in discussions with them about the right school for your child but it is important that you put your request in writing. Check they have received it. Speak to your Named Officer at the local authority or your Parent Partnership Service if you are unsure about anything on the form.

The local authority will consult the school you put down but (except for academies and other independent schools) the decision is made by the authority, not the school.

September 2010

Share this content Email, print or share via social media