Finding a school

Most children and young people with special educational needs or a disability (SEND) go to a local mainstream school. If you're thinking about a special school or resource provision, your child will need an EHC plan.

Read about the Bristol Special Schools and Specialist Provision.

We have a list of sixth form colleges and further education colleges in our Post 16 Directory

Read more about education options for school leavers with SEND in our 16-25 section.

Things to think about when choosing a school

Getting the right school for your child is an important decision. Your child is likely to need extra support, so you'll want to know how the schools you look meet the needs of pupils with SEND.  

You can tell the council which school you'd prefer for your child, including academies, Voluntary Aided and Foundation Schools when you apply. 

You're likely to be looking for a school that:

  • can meet your child's special educational needs or disabilities
  • offers ways for your child to be involved in the same activities as other children

All council-run schools, academies and free schools must publish a SEN Information Report on their website. This tells you:

  • how they support children or young people with special educational needs and disabilities
  • how they identify children's special educational needs 
  • who to contact about your child's specific needs.

Most schools will also have open days for children and their families to visit the school. Contact the schools you're considering to see what they offer.

Before you visit, think about the questions you'd like to ask the school and who you'd like to meet, for example the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO).

Types of specialist settings

Your child can only go to a specialist setting if they have a an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. The EHC plan assessment process will help identify if being educated in special setting is best for you child.

Getting a place at a specialist setting

If your child hasn't started school yet but has an EHC plan, decisions about which type of setting will best meet your child's needs will be discussed during the annual review.  

If your child doesn't have an EHC plan, you can talk to their current setting's SENCO or inclusion manager about whether your child might need an assessment for one. Assessment of SEND means gathering information from you, your child, teachers and other professional involved with you and your family.

You can talk to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS) if you're unsure and want some independent information, advice or support. 

Changing to a specialist setting

If your child is already at school, and has an EHC plan that names a school it can only be changed following an annual review. You might be able to get an early review if:

  • your child's education, health or social care needs have changed significantly and are no longer accurately described in the EHC plan
  • or the education, health or social care provision in the EHC plan is no longer meeting your child's needs

Following an annual review, where evidence is presented and discussed, including your views and your child's, an EHC Plan coordinator will consider if the current provision is sufficient.

If your child is being assessed for an EHC plan, you'll be able to discuss it with your key worker and professionals working with your child.

You can talk to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS) if you're unsure and want some independent information, advice or support. 

Types of special school places  

Mainstream schools with special units or resource bases

Some children may need extra or different help from that given to other children in a mainstream school. In special units sometimes children are:

  • taught separately for part of the day
  • or they might stay in the same classes as other children, but have support from specialist staff in the school 

Special schools

There are three different types of special school:

  • local authority maintained or community
  • non-maintained schools managed by charitable organisations
  • independent schools run privately

Special schools with pupils aged 11 and older can specialise in 1 of the 4 areas of special educational needs:

  • communication and interaction
  • cognition and learning
  • social, emotional and mental health
  • sensory and physical needs

Schools can further specialise within these categories to reflect the special needs they help with, such as autism, visual impairment, or speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

Alternative provision

Alternative Learning Provision is where young people are educated away from school because of illness or because they've been excluded. Read our policy for education outside schools and use the schools finder to find alternative provision.

Independent Specialist provision schools

These are specialist schools that are independent and usually involved a fee to attend.

Specialist provision in Bristol

More information about Education outside mainstream schools.

Find specialist provision in Bristol

Find a special school in Bristol on the GOV.UK website.

Special schools in other local authority areas

Some children and young people may need to go to a special school in another local authority area to get support from specialist staff and facilities. Each council's Local Offer website has more information about what schools are available in their local authority area:

Applying for a school place

You'll need to apply for a school place in the same way as other parents if your child:

  • doesn't have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan
  • has a SEND support plan
  • is being assessed for EHC Plan

Apply for a new reception primary school place

Apply for a new year 7 secondary school place

You can use the school finder to get information about your nearest secondary school.

If your child is going through an EHC assessment

You should tell your assessment coordinator your school preference as soon as you decide. This will save some time in the process later on.

When we send you a draft EHC plan you have 15 days to review it and recommend any changes we need to make. This is also your last opportunity to tell us which school or setting you'd like us to name in the final EHC plan.

The named setting is reviewed at each annual review.

If your child has an Education, health and care plan

The school your child attends or will attend is written in your child's Education, Health and Care Plan. Every time the plan is reviewed the named school is also reviewed.   

If your child has an EHC plan, the school named in their plan or statement must offer them a place, unless they can demonstrate that the placement is unsuitable. Your SENCO or Inclusion Manager will ask you to state which schools you'd prefer your child to go to and let the SEN Team know.

If you want to change your child's placement you must contact the SENCO at the current placement to arrange an annual review meeting.

During this process you can also contact your SEND caseworker to let them know about the planned changes.

Planning for your child's move to a new school

Planning for your child's move to a new school

Your child's current education setting (their nursery, preschool or primary school) helps plan and prepare their move to a new school. This includes sharing with the school:

  • information about your child's special educational needs 
  • the support they currently give

They should talk to you about this to agree what information to share.

All schools, including special schools, have a visiting programme for new pupils. This helps them find out where things are, such as toilets and cloakrooms, and about school life.

You might need to organise a separate visit for your child instead of, or as well as, a general class visit.  

Specialist equipment or adaptations

Your child's current education setting should tell the school what equipment or adaptations your child needs. If your child has specialist equipment in their education setting, this should go with them to their new school, if it's appropriate. 

Top up funding

If your child's current education setting has had additional funding for them:

  • they should tell the school how they've used it
  • the allocated money should follow your child to their new school

Find out more about funding for schools.