Chapter 8: Choosing where your child will be educated

Choice of provision

Education can be and is provided in a number of settings. This chapter outlines these settings and what you can expect each to provide.


All local authorities must provide education to all children in mainstream schools and pre-school centres unless particular circumstances apply. This was made law by the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc Act 2000. The law says the exceptions to this are:

  • where a mainstream school would not be suited to the ability or aptitude of the child
  • where provision of education to the child in a mainstream school would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education to those with whom the child would be educated
  • where the placing of the child in a mainstream school would result in unreasonable public expenditure being incurred that would not ordinarily be incurred.

Most children with additional support needs will be educated in their local mainstream pre-school centres or schools, which are able to cater for an increasingly wide range of needs. Generally, the school will be in the ‘catchment area’ set by your local authority.

If your child’s needs are more complex, one of the options listed below may be more suitable.

Special school

These schools provide for children with particular needs such as physical or sensory disabilities, behaviour problems or learning difficulties. Specialist support services and facilities are often located in special schools and teachers may have a specialist qualification or experience in teaching children with particular complex needs. Class sizes also tend to be smaller than in mainstream schools. A number of special schools are independent or grant-aided.

If your child does attend a special school, it may be outside their local area. To help get them involved with their local community, the school may arrange for them to have some lessons in their local mainstream school, referred to as a dual or split placement.

Special unit or learning base attached to a mainstream school

These offer some of the services of special schools, but in a mainstream setting (see above). Children may be taught full-time in the unit, for part of the day within the unit, or support may be provided in a classroom by staff from the base.

Residential school

Residential schools will generally provide for children who have complex educational needs and extensive care needs that could not be met in a mainstream environment. Residential schools offer a range of services that provide for all of the child’s needs. Children may be placed in a residential school setting for a number of reasons including geographical access to a very specialised provision, complex medical difficulties or the effect on the child’s family of meeting complex needs.

Home- or hospital-based education

If your child is unable to attend school due to ill-health because of an accident, trauma, a mental health issue or medical condition,  your local authority must make alternative arrangements to ensure their education and additional support needs are met. This may mean being educated out of school, at home, in a hospice or in hospital if they have been admitted for a period of time. See Factsheet 17: When a child can’t go to school for more information.

Home schooling

As a parent, you have a legal right to choose to educate your child at home. The law says you must make sure your child receives efficient education suitable for their age, ability and aptitude.

If your child is enrolled in a local authority school and you decide to home-educate your child, you must seek the consent of your local authority to withdraw him or her. Write to your local Director of Education, enclosing an outline of how you intend to provide an efficient education for your child.

If your child has never been enrolled in a local authority school, then you do not have to inform your local authority of your intention to home-educate.

For more about home education, contact Schoolhouse at

Approximately one year before your child reaches school age, your local authority may discuss the options open to you. If your child’s needs could be met at the local mainstream primary school, they will be offered a place there. If not, the local authority will discuss all possible alternatives with you.

If you do not get a letter or see an advertisement by the end of the February before the start of the next academic year, you should contact your local authority.

A similar procedure will happen when it comes to your child moving from primary to secondary school.

You should be involved in helping to decide what school your child is to attend. It is important that you feel confident your child will attend a school that can meet their needs and, most important, where your child will be happy.

Your local authority could arrange for you to visit possible schools or you could speak to staff at the school and other relevant professionals.

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Placing requests

If your child has additional support needs and you decide you do not want to send them to the local catchment area school or the particular school that the local authority is recommending, then you can make a placing request for your child to attend a different school.

You can make a request for your child to attend:

  • a school or pre-school centre in Scotland that is run by a local authority
  • an independent nursery in Scotland that is working in partnership with a local authority
  • an independent special school or a grant-aided special school in Scotland
  • a school in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or outwith the UK that provides support wholly or mainly for children with additional support needs.

You cannot request a place in any independent or grant-aided school that is not a special school.

Your right to request a place in a school applies at any time until your child reaches school-leaving age. A request can be made if you want your child to change schools, as well as when they are moving from nursery to primary, or primary to secondary.

Apart from when your request is to a school outside the UK, the local authority has a duty to comply with your request except in certain circumstances. If your chosen school is outside the UK, it can agree to the request, but it is not legally obliged to.

Making a placing request can and will affect the availability of transport to school. If your child is educated in any school managed by another local authority as a result of a placing request, the home authority no longer has a duty to transport them to school. It still retains a discretionary power to make transport available but is not legally obliged to do so. It is vital that you consider this when making a placing request and check your own local authority’s transport policy as these vary. Further information about transport issues are covered by Enquire Factsheet 6: Transport to school.

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Louise’s story

Louise - picture posed by model


(picture posed by model)

Now in primary 7, Louise has shown a particular aptitude in music and her parents feel strongly that she is gifted in this area. The primary school has been providing music in line with the curriculum and Louise’s parents have been paying for private tuition. Louise wants to go to a school that will let her develop in music and her parents feel strongly that she should be able to do this.

Louise’s tutor has recommended a school in a neighbouring local authority that specialises in music. Louise and her parents visit the school and, after discussion with the school, Louise decides that she wants to audition. Part of this choice is also to make a placing request to attend the school as it is outside her local area. Louise is successful in her audition and Louise’s parents make the placing request identifying Louise’s additional support needs resulting from her ability in music.

Louise’s placing request is approved although the home local authority does make her parents aware that they, as parents, will be responsible for Louise’s transport to school.

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How to make a placing request

Placing request to a pre-school centre or school run by a local authority

If your chosen school is a local authority-run school in Scotland, you make a written request to the local authority that runs your chosen school.

Placing request to an independent or grant-aided special school

If your chosen school is an independent or grant-aided special school, you must first make sure that the managers are willing to offer your child a place there. Then you make your request, in writing, to your own local authority — the one to which your child belongs. This procedure is the same regardless of whether the school is in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland (or outwith the UK).

What to include

Most local authorities will have a standard form for you to use.

If you do not use a standard form you should include your name and address, your child’s name and age, the name of their present school (if any) and the name of the school you have chosen. If your child has additional support needs, you should also say why you are making the request.

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Reasons a placing request can be refused

It is not always possible to get your child placed in the school of your choice, especially if it is out of the area, is full, is considered unsuitable, or is not run by your local authority. Your placing request for a particular school may be refused if:

  • placing your child there would cause the local authority to breach its duty to provide mainstream education
  • your request is for an independent or grant-aided special school not managed by your local authority when your local authority has offered your child a place in one of its own schools that is willing and able to provide additional support
  • it would mean an additional teacher has to be employed, now or in the future
  • it would mean an additional class has to be created
  • it would be seriously detrimental to the continuity of your child’s education
  • it is likely to be seriously detrimental to the educational wellbeing of other pupils in the school, or to discipline in the school
  • the education provided is not considered suitable for the age, ability or aptitude of your child
  • in cases where a single-sex school has been chosen, your son or daughter is not of the sex admitted there
  • accepting your placing request would prevent the local authority reserving a place at the school for a child likely to move into the school’s catchment area
  • your child does not have the additional support needs that require the education or facilities normally provided there
  • the local authority has already required your child to stop attending the school of your choice
  • it would result in significant cost to extend or change the accommodation or facilities there. But a local authority must consider its legal obligation under the Equality Act 2010 to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to school buildings to ensure that physical access is possible for children with disabilities.

The local authority must inform you in writing of its decision on a placing request. If it refuses your request, it must also give you the reasons for its decision. However, a local authority will be regarded as having refused a placing request if it has not informed you of its decision in writing by 30 April on a request made before 15 March, or if it has not informed you of its decision in writing within two months.

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Appealing against a refusal

You can appeal against a local authority’s decision to refuse your placing request. You can appeal to the education appeal committee unless:

  • the placing request was to a Scottish special school
  • the placing request was to a school in England, Wales or Northern Ireland that makes provision mainly or wholly for children with additional support needs
  • your child has a co-ordinated support plan
  • the local authority has decided your child needs a co-ordinated support plan but one has not yet been prepared
  • the local authority has told you they will see whether a CSP is needed
  • you are appealing against the local authority’s refusal to prepare a co-ordinated support plan.

If any of these apply, then you make your appeal to the Additional Support Needs Tribunal (see the section on the Additional Support Needs Tribunal).

Education appeal committee

This committee will confirm or refuse to confirm the local authority’s decision over your placing request. Members of the education appeal committee include local councillors and lay members.

If it refuses to confirm the decision, the local authority must honour your placing request. If it confirms the local authority’s decision, you have the right to appeal to a sheriff (see below). An appeal committee is assumed to have confirmed the local authority’s decision when:

  • it has failed to hold a hearing within two months of the appeal being made
  • it has failed, following the adjournment of a hearing, to fix a date for a resumed hearing
  • it has failed to notify you and the education authority within 14 days immediately after the hearing ends.

Appeal to a Sheriff from an education appeal committee

Your application to appeal to a Sheriff must be lodged within 28 days after you receive the education appeal committee’s decision. The Sheriff might accept a late application if you can show good reasons for the delay but this is generally in exceptional circumstances only.

Like the education appeal committee, a Sheriff will confirm or refuse to confirm the local authority’s decision over your placing request.

If the Sheriff refuses to confirm the decision, the local authority must honour your placing request.

The decision by a Sheriff on an appeal is final.

Additional Support Needs Tribunal

See the section on the Additional Support Needs Tribunal

You can get more information on appeals in Enquire Factsheet 4: Resolving disagreements.

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Schools should focus on preventing exclusion. They should do this by identifying a child’s additional support needs as early as possible, and then plan and provide support that meets their individual needs. Exclusion from school should not be used as a way to cope with a child’s additional support needs. If a child with additional support needs is at risk of being excluded, the school should take all reasonable steps to make sure appropriate support is put in place.

A school can only exclude a pupil for the following reasons:

  • The school thinks that order and discipline in the school and the education of the other pupils will be badly affected if your child continues to attend there.
  • The school thinks that you, the parents or carers, have not followed the school’s rules and have allowed your child to break the school rules.

Schools must always state one of these as the reason for the exclusion.

All exclusions must be recorded as a formal exclusion. Children must not be sent home on an informal exclusion or to “cool off”. In some cases, it may be suggested that a pupil would benefit from attending school part-time. This should only happen with the agreement of the parent or carer and should only be for a limited time. Schools must record and monitor what they do. You can appeal against an exclusion if you wish. You can find out more about exclusions, including how to appeal, in Enquire Factsheet 11: Exclusion from school.

Children with a disability, as defined under the Equality Act 2010, have an extra right to appeal against exclusions. Under this legislation, a child’s exclusion may be considered unlawful if it resulted from behaviour relating to their disability. (If you want more information about exclusion, please contact the Enquire helpline.)

Even when a child is excluded they have a right to school education. They must continue to receive education in another school or by alternative means.

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At a glance: Choosing where your child will be educated

You have the right to:

  • make a placing request to a special school if your child has additional support needs
  • appeal against the local authority’s decision to refuse your placing request. The appeal would either go to an education appeal committee or to an Additional Support Needs Tribunal depending on the situation
  • appeal your child’s exclusion from school.

Your child has the right to:

  • receive school education
  • appeal an exclusion from school.

If your child is aged 16 or over, they have the same rights as you, listed above.

Local authorities must:

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