Finding the right secondary school for your child (England)

A secondary school environment is very different to primary school and there are many additional demands on children. Schools are generally much larger, and unlike primary where they stay in a classroom and with their teachers, they will have multiple classrooms and teachers. There is an expectation that your child will become more independent in their learning and be responsible for managing their timetable and getting themselves around the school.

This is big change for any child, but can be particularly challenging for a child with hydrocephalus or spina bifida who may have difficulty with planning and organisational skills, or may tire easily when moving around a large school. Gaining the right support and forward planning is key to your child having a positive experience of secondary education.

Here are 10 tips to help you and your child make the right choice at this important time.

1. Talk to your child about what their ‘ideal’ school would be like

Make a list of what your child likes or really dislikes about their current school. This might include subjects on offer, class sizes, the layout of the school or concerns about transport to/from school. As a parent, you probably already know these things but it can be a good way to involve your child fully in the process. Some children who have difficulties expressing choices may prefer visuals, such as using pictures to sort into lists of likes and dislikes.

Person-centred planning has your child at its heart, focusing on what matters to each child or young person and their family, and is key to decision-making during the process of changing schools

2. Make a list of all suitable schools in your area and visit as many as possible

The Autumn Term is the time of year when secondary schools have Open Days or Evenings but you can often gain a better idea about a school by arranging a visit during normal school hours.

If there are no schools, which can meet your child’s needs, within your area look further afield. Many children whose SEND (special educational needs or disabilities) cannot be met within their local area are educated in another local authority.

See Shine’s guide to Getting Information about Schools.

3. Make a shortlist of schools to discuss with your child

If possible, talk to other parents of children with SEND who go to the schools. Make a list of questions with your child and ask for meetings with the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) so you can discuss your child’s special educational needs and ask your questions then.

See Shine’s guide to Getting Information about Schools.

4. Get to know your local Secondary School Admissions Process

As with the Primary Schools Admission Process you are not choosing a single school, instead you are listing the schools you would like you child to attend. If your child has SEN Support then your Local Authority Admissions Guide will explain how to apply and lists the admissions criteria for schools in your area.

If your child is one of 3% of children who have an Education Health and Care Plan then the admission process for secondary school will follow the EHCP route. The charity IPSEA has guidance on EHC Plans and parental preference of school.

5. Make sure you have lots of evidence about your child special educational, health and social care needs

Collect as many professional assessments as you can because the local authority and schools will rely on evidence in order to plan for your child’s needs. Also, document everything such as phone-calls, meetings, emails, notes and reports regarding your child’s education and health needs.

If you don’t have all of these you can request a full unedited copy of your child’s school file from their current school. You can also contact your local authority and ask how to request a copy of your child’s file from them.

Make sure your share relevant information so it is a three-way communication where the feeder school, the new school and you as a family can make contact.

6. Once you have chosen a school, discuss an appropriate Transition Plan with the school and your child

Good transition planning gives a clear handover to a new educational setting and their services so that your child and you will feel confident in who you are working with and where you need to go in need of help.

It may help your child to have a full map of the school, which details where toilets and classrooms are. If it will help your child, ask for a list of school staff, their roles, names and, if needed, their photos. Request a detailed timetable for your child to have before starting school, daily checklists, a list of the school rules and any other information your child might need to ease anxiety of the transition. It may be appropriate to have photos of the classrooms and other areas of the school to make your child as social story that they can refer to in order to reduce any anxiety.

See our guidance about Making a Smooth Transition for more information.

7. Request the maximum support possible at the start of a new school placement with a view to adapting or reducing the support if or when it is not required

Effective support can really assist your child in a new school, especially if they do not have an Education Health and Care Plan.

If your child has SEN Support rather than an EHC Plan, then see Shine’s SEN Support in England advice sheet for more information about how support may need to be enhanced at different times in your child’s school life.

8. Positive communication is key to keeping a good relationship with the school and that can only help your child

Ask the SENCO and class teacher for regular meetings to plan targets and to discuss what is working well or not so well. If your child has SEN Support then these meetings are usually every term.

If your child has an Education Health and Care Plan then meetings with your child’s SENCo may be more often to cover complex additional needs.

9. Help to make a ‘personal passport’ with your child for use in school

Many secondary schools make personalised ‘passports’ with brief descriptions about teaching and learning styles, health alerts or photos of something a child likes, dislikes or needs help with. Some passports contain Passes for visiting the toilet or for other additional needs.

Medical Alert cards are also useful in a big school environment where not all teachers and support staff will know your child or their additional needs.

10. Learn how children and young people can become more independent using self-advocacy training

At the end of Key Stage 2, your child is about to enter what is sometimes referred to as Early Stage Transition 12-14 years. This is seen by many parents and carers as a good time to introduce your child to self-advocacy, where a child or young person starts to take charge of describing their own condition, learning to speak up for themselves and making their own decisions about their own life.

This can be a worry for parents at first but, with support, many children and young people learn about their rights, responsibilities, who to turn to and how to take charge of their own needs during their self-advocacy training.


Preparation is key to finding the right secondary school for your child with hydrocephalus and/or spina bifida.

If you need help or advice during different stages of your child’s education, you can contact Shine or phone us on 01733 555988.

There’s also Contact for Families with disabled children’s SEND helpline, funded by the Department for Education, offering advice about education.

Schools may also need advice during Transition stages and further useful information can be found at Nasen, the National Association for Special Educational Needs.

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.

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