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Choosing a deaf-friendly school

Photo: Talk about school options with your child so you decide on one you’re both happy with

Choosing the right primary or secondary school for your child is very important as it will influence their educational, social and emotional development. Try to involve them as much as possible in the decision – how they feel about their school will have an effect on their learning. Gather all the information you can to help you feel confident in making a choice that both you and your child will be happy with.


What should I think about when choosing a school?

Choosing a deaf-friendly school for your child

Can I choose which school my child goes to?

For most deaf children, the local authority (or the Education Authority if in Northern Ireland) must set out their admissions policy, which will explain how you can choose a school and what to do if your first choice isn’t available.

However, if your child has a statement (England, Wales, Northern Ireland), Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan (England), Individual Development Plan (IDP) (Wales) or coordinated support plan (CSP) (Scotland), this document will set out which school is considered to be best able to meet the needs of your child. The local authority or the Education Authority must make sure your child is able to go to this school.

All children have a right to attend a mainstream school, unless their attendance at the school would ‘prevent the efficient education’ of other children there (e.g. because of significant behavioural issues or problems with space because of the number of children with one-to-one support staff or in wheelchairs in the class your child would join). In this case, the school would have to prove that it had considered all the reasonable adjustments which might have made it possible to include your child. Reasonable adjustments are required under disability and equality legislation throughout the UK (The Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales and The Special Educational Needs and Disability Order (SENDO) 2005 in Northern Ireland).

Reasonable adjustments are changes a school makes so that a disabled child can do something which they would not otherwise be able to do. For more information go to The Equality Act and your child's education


Note: A new system for supporting children and young people with additional learning needs in Wales is being implemented from 1 September 2021. In time, all current support plans (including Statements, IEPs and LSPs) will be replaced with Individual Development Plans (IDPs).

Find out more about the changes in Wales on our page Additional learning needs (ALN) in Wales. We will update the website with more information on the new system in Wales shortly, in the meantime see Written Statement: Additional Learning Needs and Educational Tribunal Act 2018 Implementation.

Watch our videos:

Starting your search

Find out about schools in your local area

  • Start your search early.
  • Search on the internet – look at each school’s website, order or download the prospectus, and contact the school for more information.
  • Read individual school inspection reports for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Ask other parents about schools in your area.
  • If your child is moving from primary to secondary, (or moving to a school in another area) ask their Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) and other teaching staff who know your child about local schools.

Types of school for deaf children

Read about different types of school for deaf children (below) to help you decide which school would suit your child best.

Visiting schools

Visit the schools you’re interested in. Many schools will have open days or evenings where parents can look around the school and ask questions. Visiting a school can give you a more complete picture of what the school is like and how it will suit your child. There are lots of things to look out for and ask when you visit prospective schools.

Download and print our Choosing a school for your deaf child checklist and take it with you when visiting a school to collect key information. The questions are for guidance only; you can adapt the checklist to include other questions you want to ask, but try and ask the same questions when you visit each school. This will help you to compare the schools.

You may also find it helpful to make an appointment to see the school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) or additional support for learning co-ordinator to discuss your child’s needs and how the school will be able to meet them.

There may be opportunities for your child to visit schools. Ask them what they think about the building, teachers, other children and the general feeling the school gives them.

Additional support at school for your child

It’s vital to check that a school can meet your child’s needs or, if they don’t yet have the right equipment and support for your child, that they would be willing to put it in place.

There are different ways of helping deaf children work to the best of their abilities at school. Schoolwork, for example, can be adapted to an individual child’s needs by adjusting the pace and length of a learning session, using visual cues to support teaching, creating opportunities for one-to-one and small group work and by checking a child’s level of understanding after a lesson.

Some examples of ways that deaf children can be supported at school include:

  • pre- and/or post-lesson tutoring
  • meeting their communication needs, for example, if your child uses British Sign Language (BSL) it’s important that staff are qualified in signing to interpret
  • providing equipment and technology, such as radio aids, flashing fire alarms and computer software
  • providing a good listening environment in the classroom for learning
  • making sure staff and pupils at the school are deaf aware
  • help with homework
  • adjustments to exams so that your child isn’t at a disadvantage
  • adjustments to help deaf children access specific subjects e.g. learning a foreign language.

All these types of adaptations are examples of ‘reasonable adjustments’, and as the list shows, they can vary from cheap or cost-free adaptations to more significant changes to the delivery of teaching or providing special equipment.

Read more about the additional support at school your child could get.

Other things to consider

  • Location of the school – how far will your child have to travel?
  • What extra-curricular activities are on offer? And is the school prepared to make adjustments so that your child can participate fully?
  • Language – if your family speak Welsh, for example, you may only want to consider Welsh-speaking schools.
  • Are there any other deaf children currently studying at the school?
  • If you’re considering a school with a specialist resource provision, check the qualifications of staff in the resource provision. In most cases, your child will need a statement (England, Wales or Northern Ireland) or an EHC plan (England) if you would like them to attend a special school or a school with a specialist resource provision. This isn’t the case in Scotland.

Applying for a place

Once you and your child have decided which school is right for them, you’ll need to apply for a place through your authority.

Remember, each local authority or school will have its own admissions criteria and arrangements for applying, so check with them before you apply. School admission arrangements are different for children if they have a statement, Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan or coordinated support plan (CSP). If this applies to your child, it’ll be very important to gather evidence to show why a school would or would not be best for your child.

Find out what to do next if your child hasn’t got into your choice of school:

Different types of school for deaf children

There are lots of different types of school for deaf children, but they broadly fit into three categories:

  • mainstream
  • special
  • residential.

Mainstream schools cater for children of all abilities. Some state-funded mainstream schools have specialist units or bases for deaf children (known as resource provision). This can mean that one or more of the classrooms may have been adapted especially for teaching deaf children. In some schools, deaf children will take part in mainstream classes, with or without support from a communication support worker (CSW), teaching assistant or learning support assistant. In other schools, deaf children are taught in the unit for some or all lessons. Attending a school with a specialist unit counts as attending a mainstream school.

All children have a right to attend a mainstream school unless placing them there would ‘prevent the efficient education of the other children in the school’. It’s unlawful for a mainstream state school to refuse a place to a child on the grounds that it’s unable to meet the child’s special educational needs. (See: England – Children and Families Act 2014, Wales – Education Act 1996, Northern Ireland – Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2005, Scotland – Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000.)

Quality Standards: Resource provisions for deaf children and young people in mainstream schools 

Quality Standards: Resource provisions for deaf children and young people in mainstream schools (Welsh) 

Special schools specialise in teaching children with special educational needs or disabilities. Some schools only cover one area, such as deafness or autism while other schools may support children with a range of additional needs, including deafness. These schools will have specialist equipment, staff, support and teaching strategies to help meet the needs of the children.

Your child will normally need a statement of special educational needs (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) , Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan (England) or a coordinated support plan (CSP) (Scotland) to attend a special school. There are over 20 schools for deaf children in the UK. If you think you would like your child to go to a special school for deaf children, have a look at our list to start researching which special school might be right for them.

Watch our video: Supporting deaf children in special schools

Residential schools are where children can stay overnight, and, in some schools, over the weekend as well. Some special schools are also residential schools.

Schools can also either be state-funded or they can be private schools (sometimes known as independent schools). It’s important to be aware that children at private schools aren’t normally eligible for support from the local authority specialist education service for deaf children or Teachers of the Deaf (ToDs), unless the school purchases this support from the local authority. Private schools, however, must still follow the Equality Act or, if in Northern Ireland, the Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2005.

For general information on all the different types of schools in the UK (private, academy, voluntary-aided etc.), visit www.gov.uk/types-of-school.

Are all schools covered by the Equality Act?

The Equality Act 2010 requires all schools in England, Scotland and Wales to make reasonable adjustments for disabled children (a change the school makes so that a deaf child can do something which they would not otherwise be able to do). This includes a duty to provide additional aids and services, for example, radio aids. State-funded schools must also comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED).

For more information go to The Equality Act and your child's education

The Equality Act doesn’t apply in Northern Ireland but schools there are also required to make reasonable adjustments to support disabled children under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Order 2005 (SENDO) and the Disability Discrimination Order 2006. To find out more information on disability legislation in Northern Ireland call the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on 028 90 890 890 or visit www.equalityni.org.

Find out more about what additional support your child could get at school.

My child didn’t get into our choice of school – what now?

If you’re not happy with the school placement your child has been given, you have the right to appeal – it doesn’t matter if they have a statement of special educational needs (SEN), an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, an Individual Development Plan (IDP), a coordinated support plan (CSP), or not, but how you go about appealing is different.