Particularly at the start of a new school year, far too many children with SEND are without a school to attend. This is an extremely worrying situation to be in and we are very concerned that some of our most vulnerable learners are left in limbo, whilst their peers without additional needs are preparing for the return to school.

We’ve produced this guidance to help parents and carers who are in this situation:

Step one – complain

Write to your Director of Children’s Services to notify them of the situation. Make clear that this is a matter that needs to be dealt with urgently and quicker than their usual complaints process. 

Step two – remind them of the law

If a child of compulsory school age isn’t able to attend school then the local authority (LA) must ensure that suitable, full-time alternative education is in place (section 19 Education Act 1996). Ask the LA to confirm its proposals for this as soon as possible.

In addition, if a child has an EHC plan then the LA must secure the provision in that plan (section 42 Children & Families Act 2014). You can remind the LA of this duty and complain if the LA isn’t doing so.

If there is a maintained school, Academy, post-16 institution or maintained nursery named in Section I of an EHC plan then that school must admit the child (section 43 Children & Families Act 2014).

If your LA hasn’t amended an EHC plan ready for when your child or young person moves to a new phase of their education (so that it names a setting your child or young person can’t attend any more), then the LA is in breach of its duties relating to phase transfers and you should ask that the LA amends the plan in accordance with the legal process as soon as possible.

Remember, when making decisions about schools for children and young people with EHC plans, LAs have to comply with the rules in the Children & Families Act 2014.  Decisions can’t be delayed because schools haven’t responded to consultations and reasons such as “the school is full” or “the school doesn’t think it can meet need” aren’t reasons in law to refuse to name a particular school or college. Detailed information on your rights to request a particular school can be found here.

Where a LA has a shortage of places then it is always within its power, in fulfilling its obligations under Part 3 of the Children & Families Act 2014, to consider naming schools outside its area or indeed in the private sector. Ask the LA if they have considered this – provide names of schools if you know of suitable ones.

Step three – escalate the complaint

If contacting the LA doesn’t lead to a satisfactory response escalate the complaint – ultimately it can be taken to the LGSCO.

If the issue in your area is that there are no school places then escalate the complaint to your local MP and/or the Department for Education.

And remember – if you get stuck, take advice

IPSEA has lots of resources online or you can book an appointment to speak with us. Your local IASS service should also be able to advise and assist you.