School places

Q I am a local education authority officer. The family of a child with special needs, who has been served with a proposed statement of special educational needs, has told me they want him to attend a local mainstream school. The school they have asked for is completely full. However, I have been told that section 316 of the Education Act 1996 provides that we must allow this child to go to a mainstream school if his parents want it, unless his attendance there would compromise the efficient education of other children. Is this right?

A In January 2002, the law was changed to amend section 316 - the legal provisions that deal with rights to attend a mainstream school for a child with a statement.

However, separate parts of the act contained in schedule 27 that deal with which particular school a child should attend, were not amended. This caused considerable confusion.

In June, these issues were considered by the Court of Appeal. It decided that, where a parent asks for a specific mainstream school, the approach the local education authority (and, subsequently, any special educational needs and disability tribunal) should take is as follows.

If a parent asks for a specific mainstream school, the local education authority must name that school unless the child's attendance there would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for other children, the efficient use of resources, or if the child's needs cannot be met.

If, however, one of these provisos applies so as to permit the authority to refuse a particular school, the authority must usually still agree a mainstream school (albeit not necessarily the one sought by the parent). It can only refuse every mainstream school if the child's presence at every mainstream school would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for other children. Even then, before reaching such a conclusion, the authority must decide whether there are any reasonable steps it could take to overcome such a difficulty.

There are likely to be very few cases where a local education authority could refuse places at all mainstream schools for a child with a statement whose parents want a mainstream school.

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