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Choosing a deaf-friendly school in Scotland

In Scotland, your council is your local education authority and decides where your child will go to school based on your catchment area (an area around a single school). Find out about your catchment area 

You have a right to request a place at a school outside of your catchment area. Education authorities must grant your request unless there are no places available or there are other special circumstances. 

Most schools fit into one of these categories. 

  • Mainstream school: These schools cater to children of all abilities.  
  • Mainstream with a specialist unit or base for deaf children (often called a resource provision). This may mean that one or more classrooms have been adapted for teaching deaf children. 
  • Special school: These schools teach children with additional support needs (ASN). Most special schools can support children with a range of additional needs, including deafness.  
  • Special school for deaf children: These are special schools which only, or mainly, support deaf children. There are three special schools for deaf children in Scotland, based in Hamilton, Aberdeen and Falkirk. Find out about other special schools for deaf children in the UK 
  • Residential school: These are schools where children can stay overnight and, in some schools, over the weekend as well. Some special schools are also residential schools.  

Enquire, the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning (ASL), have a helpful factsheet about school placements in Scotland. 

Pamela is mum to Jasmine and Daya (5) who both have additional needs. Jasmine is profoundly deaf. 

“My main piece of advice for others looking at schools is not to worry if a school is mainstream or deaf specialist. Find the school that’s right for your specific child.” 

Requesting a place at a different school 

To request a place at a school outside your catchment area, you must submit a written request to the local council that manages that school. 

You must give a reason for your choice of school. Education authorities may give priority to requests based on specific grounds. For example, if you explain that you’ve chosen a school outside your catchment area for reasons related to your child’s deafness, they may take this into account when giving out places at the school.  

If you want to apply for a place at more than one school, you should make sure that your first choice is the ‘first named’ when you submit your request. The education authority only has to consider your ‘first named’ school.  

See the Scottish Government’s guide for parents on choosing a school 

Starting school 

If your child is due to start primary or secondary school in August, your council will send you information on how to request a particular school the previous December, January or February. You should submit your request by writing (usually through an application form provided by the council) by 15 March of that same year. The council must give you a written answer by 30 April. If they do not, your request is treated as if the council had turned it down, and you can appeal. 

If you miss the 15 March deadline, your request will still be considered, but the council will have two months to respond to your request. This can lead to it being decided later than other people’s requests, which can be a disadvantage as you may miss out on a school placement. 

Moving schools 

If your child is already attending school, you can ask for a place at a different school at any time by writing to the council (you don’t have to wait until the beginning of the next school year). The council has two months to give you a written answer. If they do not, your request is treated as if the council has turned it down, and you can appeal the decision.

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. 
  • Ask other parents about schools in your area. 
  • Ask your Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) and other teaching staff who know your child about local schools.

Visiting schools

Ask to visit the schools you’re interested in. Many schools 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 checklist about choosing a school for your deaf child and take it with you when visiting a school to collect key information. You can adapt the checklist to include other questions you want to ask. Try and ask the same questions when you visit each school. This will help you compare schools. 

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. 

Pamela says, 

“I’d ask about how many days a week they worked, what the acoustics and lighting were like, if anyone signs, how set up they were for a child with balance issues, what the playground was like. I also asked about their approach to challenges, which was quite revealing. The answers were all very interesting, but I was mostly asking to get a feel for their attitude.”

Additional support

Whether or not you choose to apply for a school outside your catchment area, it will still be useful to see whoever is responsible for additional support at that school. Depending on the size of the school, this might be a deputy headteacher, a teacher with specific responsibilities, or just the headteacher themselves in a very small school. Make an appointment to discuss your child’s needs and how the school will be able to meet them. Your child’s named person can support with this. 

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. 

Included below are some examples of ways that deaf children can be supported at school.  

  • Adapting to an individual child’s needs by adjusting the page and length of a learning session. 
  • Using visual cues to support teaching. 
  • Creating opportunities for one-to-one and small group work. 
  • Checking a child’s level of understanding after a lesson. 
  • Tutoring before or after a lesson. 
  • Providing equipment and technology, such as radio aids or flashing fire alarms.  
  • Providing a good listening environment in the classroom for learning. 
  • Making sure staff and pupils at the school are deaf aware. 
  • Writing down homework rather than giving it verbally. 
  • Making adjustments to help deaf children access specific subjects, like learning a foreign language or music lessons. 
  • Meeting their communication needs. For example, if your child uses British Sign Language (BSL), they may require qualified BSL interpreters to access the curriculum. 

If your child has a CSP or other educational plan, the reasonable adjustments they’ll need should be set out in the plan. If they don’t have an educational plan, speak to whoever is responsible for additional support at the school about what your child will need. Your child’s named person should make sure their reasonable adjustments are in place.

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? Is the school prepared to make adjustments so that your child can participate fully? 
  • 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. 
  • How will this choice impact your family? For example, if you have older, hearing siblings at one primary school, will choosing a different school for your deaf child make the morning drop-off more difficult? Will they need to become more independent, learning to travel to and from school by themselves?

Michelle is mum to Liam and Oscar (6) who are moderately and profoundly deaf and have additional needs. 

“I realised that while everyone was focusing on Liam’s additional needs (mobility and vision), it was their hearing that was key. Once Liam was sat in a classroom he’d be fine, he had no learning difficulties – but if they couldn’t hear, how could they learn?

Are all schools covered by the Equality Act?

The Equality Act 2010 requires all schools in Scotland 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). The Equality and Human Rights Commission have more information about the PSED.

We have more information about the Equality Act and your child's education.

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 coordinated support plan (CSP) or not, but how you go about appealing is different.

Find out how to appeal a school placement in Scotland.