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Choosing a deaf-friendly school in Northern Ireland

Can I choose which school my child goes to? 

For most deaf children, the Education Authority 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, this document will set out which school is considered to be best able to meet the needs of your child. 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. This can be 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. In Northern Ireland, this includes The Special Educational Needs and Disability Order (SENDO) 2005 in Northern Ireland.

Starting your search

  • 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 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.

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 to 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) 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 

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, like learning a foreign language or music lessons. 

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 Irish, for example, you may only want to consider Irish-medium 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 or an EHC plan if you would like them to attend a special school or a school with a specialist resource provision.

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 Education Authority.

Remember, each Education 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. 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.

Equality in education

Schools in Northern Ireland are 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

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), or not, but how you go about appealing is different.

Find out how to appeal a school placement in Northern Ireland.