SEND in England: Support in schools for children aged 5-15

This page covers support for children aged 5-15 with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in school.

It covers mainstream and specialist schools, admissions procedures for both, including at primary school level and when moving to secondary school.

It also covers getting extra help for your child, SEND support plans, special educational needs coordinators (SENCos), and preparing for and attending meetings to discuss your child’s SEND support in mainstream schools.

During 2022, the government are reviewing the SEND system. Changes are likely to come into effect in 2023.

On this page

When to start planning and things to bear in mind

Like all parents, you will need to make choices about which school you think will be best for your child’s education and development.

It’s worth starting to think about it as early as possible, especially if your child has special educational needs and disabilities, or you think they may have.

Usually, children start primary school at the start of the term after their fifth birthday. 

You can ask for your child to go to school part time until then. 

If you don’t think they’re ready to start school, you can also ask the school if your child can start later in the school year.

Talk to the schools you’re interested in about your child’s needs and find out what help the school can offer.

Mainstream schools

Can my child go to a mainstream primary school if they have SEND?

Yes, many children with SEND go to a mainstream school through the normal admissions procedure.

What’s the admissions procedure for primary schools in my area?

In the year before your child is due to start school, your local authority will send you details of all local mainstream primary schools with information on how to apply.

You can also find this information in the education section of your local council’s website 

The national deadline for primary school applications is 15 January.

Can my child be refused a place in a mainstream school?

You have a general right in law to send your child to a mainstream school. 

If you can’t get a place in your mainstream school of choice, your local authority needs to look at other mainstream schools in the area.

The local authority can only insist your child goes to a special school against your wishes if:

  • Admitting your child to a mainstream school would badly affect other children’s education.
  • There are no steps that the mainstream school or local authority can take to make it possible to admit your child without it affecting other children’s education.

Find out more about challenging decisions, appeals and tribunals.

Can my child get extra help in a mainstream school?

By law, schools must do everything they can to make sure children with SEND get the extra support they need to achieve as well as they can.

This extra support comes from school staff and staff from outside the school, including educational psychologists, behaviour support staff and speech and language therapists. 

The SEND Code of Practice says schools should use the four-stage Assess, Plan, Do and Review approach to support your child.

1. Assess

The early years setting, together with the special educational needs coordinator (SENCo) and parents, work to explore the cause of any learning difficulties or delays.

2. Plan

Staff should talk to you about your child and any extra support you think they need. If necessary, they’ll ask for more information. 

For example, if your child has multi-sensory impairments, they may ask a MSI specialist teacher to visit and advise them on how to support your child. 

There should be a written plan setting out this support.

3. Do

Depending on your child’s needs, they may receive extra support, to learn communication and language skills, for example, from an adult or in a small group. 

Sometimes, a specialist may work with your child directly or set up a programme and train staff to follow it.

4. Review
The school should agree with you when your child’s progress will be reviewed. 

The review is a chance to look at your child’s progress, see if the support is working and if your child needs more of the same support or support of a different kind.

What is the SEND support plan?

If your child is receiving support because they have SEND, the school should draw up a SEND support plan.

This should focus on what your child needs and wants to achieve, and say how the school will help them to achieve these goals.

The school should give you clear information about the extra support your child is getting. 

The school should also meet with you at least three times a year to review how your child is progressing and decide on next steps. 

These meetings should be on top of regular parents’ evening meetings. 

The school should provide a report on your child’s progress at least once a year.

How can I make sure my child gets extra help?

If you think your child needs extra support in the classroom, ask to have a meeting with your child’s teacher, the special educational needs coordinator (SENCo) and any other staff who should attend.

Every mainstream school has a SENCo who is responsible for organising extra support for pupils with SEND. 

The SENCo works with the class teachers and subject teachers to plan the support each child needs. 

How should I prepare for a school meeting? 

Every school must publish a SEND Information Report. You should be able to find it on their website.

Look at the school’s policies on SEND, equality and behaviour to see how the school supports pupils with SEND. 

Gather your own evidence to show the difficulties your child is having. This can include:

  • Examples of schoolwork, homework, school reports and test results.
  • Individual education plans, SEND support plans and behaviour support plans.
  • Letters you’ve written to the school and home- or schoolbook entries.
  • Any relevant professional reports.
  • Information about any support your child may have had in a previous school.

Write a list of your concerns, covering:

  • Progress, schoolwork, concentration levels, physical skills and relationships.
  • Behaviour at school.
  • Behaviour and mood at home.
  • How your child feels about school.
  • Other issues such as bullying and whether any action has been taken so far.

What questions should I ask in the meeting?

During the meeting, you could ask:

  • Is my child getting SEND support?
  • Can I see my child’s SEND support plan?
  • What assessments have you done to find out about my child’s needs? 
  • Does my child get extra support from a teacher or another adult? 
  • What do they get support with? 
  • Is the extra support given in a group or individually? 
  • Is the extra support given every day? 
  • How long does the extra support last each day?
  • How do you measure my child’s progress? 
  • Is my child making progress you’d expect?
  • Have you referred my child to specialist services, e.g. an educational psychologist, behaviour support staff or a speech and language therapist?
  • What can I do at home to support my child?
  • What are the next steps be if my child needs more support?
  • Should my child have an EHC needs assessment?

At the end of the meeting, you, the SENCo, the teacher and anyone else attending should agree what will happen next and fix a date for another meeting.

Ask for this to be put in writing. 

What’s the procedure for moving from a mainstream primary school to a mainstream secondary school?

Your local authority handles applications for mainstream secondary school places.

You will need to fill in a single form and state the schools you’d like in order of preference.  You can apply for schools outside your local authority, but you still use your local authority’s form.

The form is then passed to the schools to decide whether they can offer your child a place.

The national deadline for secondary school applications is 31 October.

Specialist schools

If your child has complex needs, a specialist school with specially trained teachers, therapists and equipment may be best for them.

How can I send my child to a specialist school?

Nearly all children who go to specialist schools will have an what’s called an education, health and care plan (EHCP).

Children with an EHC plan do not go through the usual admissions system.

Instead, as part of the EHC plan, you can say if you want your child to go to a specialist school and name a school.

You can say which school you want your child to go to when you first you first get the EHC plan or when your child moves to a different phase of education, for example, from primary to secondary.

You can also ask for a change of school at an annual review. 

Can my child be refused a place at a specialist school?

Yes, in some situations, your local authority can refuse the school of your choice. 

If you are turned down, ask for detailed reasons. This will help you decide whether you want to appeal. 

Read more about challenging decisions, appeals and tribunals.

What’s the procedure for moving from a specialist primary school to a specialist secondary school?

If your child has an EHC plan, you will be asked which secondary school you would like your child to go to.

You will probably discuss options at the annual review before transfer.

By law, the local authority must name the secondary school by 15 February, for entry in September.

You will need to think about which school you want well before this date. It’s good to start planning when your child is in Year 5 (ages nine to ten) and arrange to visit the schools that you’re interested in.

This content was last reviewed in April 2022. We’ll review it again next year.