Finding the Right Primary School

Here are some suggestions about what to look out for when the time comes to choose a primary school for your child with hydrocephalus or spina bifida.

If you need help in your area then you can contact your local Independent Advice and Support Service or IASS to advise you.

Getting information about schools

You can gather information about schools in many ways. You may wish to send your child to your nearest local school that is the same as the rest of their family or friends. If this is the case, then you can begin by talking with parents you may already know with children who have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities or SEND already attending the school.

Alternatively, you may want to research other schools in the area that could meet your child’s Special Educational Needs.

Here are some ways to help you make an informed decision.

  • Look at the school’s website
  • Read the school’s Ofsted report
  • Listen to the recommendations of other parents and carers
  • Visit the school

What to look for on a school’s website

  • SEN information report with SEND provision easy to find and outlined clearly
  • SEN Support explained simply
  • Specialist services offered
  • Staff trained in a range of SEND support services
  • Access arrangements and Accessibility policy
  • Inclusion policy
  • Medical Needs policy
  • Behaviour policy
  • Ofsted report
  • Information and reports are regularly updated

What to look for in a school’s Ofsted Report

  • Schools receive overall ratings in Ofsted inspections, which are Outstanding, Good, Satisfactory or Inadequate. That judgment broken down into: Achievement, Quality of Teaching, Leadership, Behaviour and Safety.
  • You may think that some issues are more important than others. The Quality of Teaching or Behaviour in school may be what you are looking for to support your child’s needs.

See also The School Run link for general information about reading Ofsted reports of schools.

Listening to other parents

  • Talk to parents you may already know.
  • See Parents’ Views on the school’s Ofsted report.
  • See your Local Offer to find out about support groups and schools in your area.
  • Contact your local Parent Carer Forum to discover their opinions, good or bad, of the schools you are planning to visit.

Using Your Local Offer to find educational services in your area

The Local Offer for your area will be on your Local Authority website and will show all the SEND provision in your area.

See Shine’s Local Offer Guide and visit the Family and Childcare Trust website for more information.

Visiting a school

  • Choose a time during normal school hours to visit. You can take your partner, a relative or a trusted professional with you who knows your child well.
  • You will need to prepare for the visit, so get your questions ready.
  • Get to know the school’s SENCo (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) and find out what their areas of expertise are. If the SENCo has little knowledge of hydrocephalus or spina bifida then let them know that Shine can provide information, advice and training for school staff.
  • You may wish to use Shine’s School Visit Checklist and add any further questions specific to your child’s needs.

Asking Questions about your child’s Additional Needs

If your child has hydrocephalus then you may wish to ask about teaching strategies staff will use to keep the possible effects of the condition on your child’s learning to a minimum. You may be interested in classroom management strategies to help your child remain focused in class.

Medical provision, in case of seizures or being alert to the effects of a shunt malfunction, may be your concern so ask questions about staff training for pupils with epilepsy and the protocol used.

Balance and spatial awareness can have an effect on the mobility of a child with hydrocephalus, causing issues with moving up and down the stairs or on slopes. Children with hydrocephalus can also find it difficult moving around in groups or through large crowds so Accessibility may need to be discussed.

If your child has spina bifida and has mobility needs then you may want to know about the Accessibility Policy of the school. The physical environment of the school, including toilet access, is likely to be of importance so pay attention to room sizes, corridor width, door thresholds, ramps and all other issues, which can make your child’s movement around school easier and as inclusive as possible. You may wish to invite your child’s physiotherapist to visit the school with you in order to provide expert advice that you trust.

Continence management may be a particular concern so ask questions about staff training, respectful privacy and personal care.

You may want your child to have an Individual Health Plan (IHP) to cover your child’s health needs, so that you can have specific health support for your child’s needs. Shine has examples of IHPs for reference.

See the government publication on supporting pupils in school with medical conditions for further information.

Other Facilities in School

When you have a child with a neurological condition, the focus is usually on their additional needs. Remember also to look at general school facilities that your child enjoys, such as the school library, sports facilities, clubs and activities, outside space, music, ICT or academic achievement.

Your choice of school

You may find that a school or even a few schools that will offer a ‘Best Fit’ rather than be ‘perfect’ for your child. You may have to compromise on a less important feature in order to gain from the particular expertise of the staff, the positive atmosphere of the school or the learning programme which best meets your child’s needs.

Get to know your local School Admissions Process

Unfortunately, during the Admissions Process you are not choosing a single school; instead you are listing the schools you would like your child to attend.

Expressing your preference

You can list up to six choices of schools in order of preference. You can list fewer than six schools if you prefer.

Your Local Authority Admissions Guide explains how to apply and lists the admissions criteria for schools in your area. You’ll be able to see information about schools which are over-subscribed, how places were allocated or how far away children live from the school they were allocated.

You can compare school performances by using the government website.

Admission to School Guidance is also available from Contact for Families.


The Good Schools Guide has a Checklist for Choosing a full-time Primary Education Setting for your child and further advice.

Appealing against a decision

Appealing a decision is difficult because your concerns about having a long journey to school or having siblings at a different school are not seen as sufficient grounds for appeal.

Government policy on appeals is outlined here.

Downloadable resources

When visiting a school you may wish to use Shine’s School Visit Checklist and add any further questions specific to your child’s needs.

Support team

Shine’s support team are also here to talk through anything with you:
Call us on 01733 555988 or click here to email us. 

Our office hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
We aim to respond to all enquiries as quickly as possible!

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