Inclusion and school placements

Inclusion and school placements

All children and young people have a right to the support they need to fully benefit from their education. This means making sure they are included and thriving as part of their class, school and wider community.

In this section we’ll look at:

  • the laws and guidance around presumption of mainstream
  • fully including children and young people in their education, and
  • supporting learners who may need to change nursery or school to get the support they need.

Inclusion in mainstream schools

Children and young people have a right to support based on their individual needs at whichever school they attend. There is a legal presumption that they should be educated in their local mainstream school, and receive support there as needed. This is often referred to as ‘the presumption of mainstreaming’.

As we’ve covered in other sections, there are lots of ways you can support learners with additional support needs to help them be fully included in their education.

However, attending a mainstream school or nursery does not always in and of itself mean that a child is being fully included, or that they feel included.

Scottish Government guidance says that children and young people are included when they are:


  • Fully engaging in their learning in an environment which suits their needs
  • Receiving a full-time education


  • Involved in the wider school community, including taking part in trips, events and other extra-curricular activities
  • Listened to and involved in decisions about their learning


  • Doing their best and developing their personalities, talents, and abilities
  • Accessing a varied curriculum that meets their individual needs


  • Receiving help to overcome barriers to learning and do the best they can.

Scottish Government guidance – Presumption to provide education in a mainstream setting

What to consider first

Before considering an alternative placement, first reflect on whether there is more or different support that could be arranged to help a child or young person thrive within a mainstream setting.

It might be helpful to discuss any concerns with your colleague with lead responsibility for additional support for learning in your school or nursery.

You can then arrange a chat with the child or young person and their family to review:

  • how they are getting on
  • what barriers there are to their learning
  • options for trying to support them
  • where that support can best be provided.

This may include starting a learning support plan, reviewing an existing plan, seeking input or advice from other services like educational psychology, or talking through alternative school options if that’s what you agree may still be best.

If this conversation is happening in advance of a change in schools – like a child due to start primary school or move up to high school, you can arrange a transition planning meeting to talk through their options.

When everyone agrees that a child should move to an alternative placement

If, after meeting with the child, their family and other professionals, everyone agrees the child may be better supported in an alternative placement, there are steps professionals supporting the child should take. This would normally be arranged by the person with lead responsibility for additional support for learning in the nursery or school. In some areas, it can be arranged by others – like educational psychologists.

Each local authority has an internal process for professionals to apply for an alternative school placement for one of their learners. The application should include the views of the child and their parents and carers. You may be asked to contribute to the application if you support the learner or know them well.

This is a general application for the child to be offered a place within specialist provision. It does not normally name a specific school or nursery, although it can do. A panel of people within the local authority will make a decision. There is no set legal timescale to do so.

If a child or young person is offered a new school placement in this way, and it is further than statutory walking distance, the local authority need to help with transport to and from school.

If the application is refused, you should be informed whether your local authority offer an internal process for challenging their decision. However, they do not legally need to offer an appeals process. If a parent or carer wants to appeal a placement decision, they may need to first make a formal placing request (see below).

When there is disagreement about whether a child should attend an alternative placement

It can be tricky when not everyone agrees where a child will be best supported with their learning. For example:

  • A child receives a diagnosis while in nursery, and their family assume this means they need to go to a special primary school to get support.
  • A parent is worried that their child is struggling in their local school, so they want them to move to a different school.
  • A child wants to move up to the catchment high school so they stay with their friends. As a professional, you’re worried that school won’t be the best learning environment for their individual needs.  

Whatever the situation is, communication is key. You can arrange a meeting with the child, their family and the professionals supporting them to discuss their concerns and options. You can review your learner’s needs and talk through ways you can and can’t support them in their current or proposed placement. This may reassure worried families and help you agree next steps together.

If after meeting you’re still unable to agree on the best placement for a child, there are still options:

  • As a professional you can still apply to the local authority for an alternative placement. However, the child and their family’s views must be taken into account in the application and decision process.
  • If the parents or carers still want their child to attend a different placement, you should let them know about their right to make a placing request.   

Placing requests

Parents and carers who don’t feel that the catchment school (or another school that has been offered) is the right school for their child have the right to make a ‘placing request’. This is a formal process where they apply for a place at a specific named school. They have a legal right to appeal placing request decisions. They can learn more by looking at our information for parents..

Dealing with uncertainty

Sometimes it can be difficult to know how best to plan for, or support, a learner if it’s unclear where they are going to be educated. For example, you may work in a school where a child has been offered a place, but their parents are waiting for a placing request appeal to another school.

There isn’t always an easy answer to these situations, so it is just about keeping communication open and trying to plan and support the child or young person as best you can in the meantime. This may include arranging a meeting with the child and their family to review how you can try to help them in the short term. You can also explain to families that you want to discuss contingency arrangements in case they don’t get the outcome they are hoping for, as you want to make sure you’re ready to welcome and support their child, if they do end up attending your school.

Quick Tips

More like this

Scottish Government statutory guidance on the ASL Act, Chapter 4: School Attendance: Rights, Responsibilities and Placing Requests