Exploring parents' experiences in their choices of primary school placement for their child with special educational needs and planning the transition to school for their child.

  • Katie Baldwin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Educational Psychology (DEdPsy)


The transition to primary school is the first significant transition in children's lives (Dunlop, 2018). For families with children who have special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), this experience brings additional challenges, and many parents report feeling apprehensive and conflicted (Podvey et al., 2010). Parental choice is crucial to promoting positive outcomes for children with SEND (McGrew et al., 2016) and key to legislation and policy (Department for Education, 2015). However, research exploring parents' experiences with children with SEND about selecting primary school placements and planning for transitions to school is limited within the UK literature.

This study explored the experiences of 8 families with children with SEND starting primary school in a South-West Local Authority. One of the children transitioned to a special school, and seven transitioned to mainstream schools. A qualitative approach was adopted using semi-structured interviews to capture the parents’ voices regarding selecting an appropriate school and planning for the transition. Thematic analysis was applied to the data (Braun & Clarke, 2019).

The findings indicate parents feel apprehensive about the process and rely on their knowledge to inform their decisions. Parents felt that inclusive attitudes, staff knowledge of SEND and social inclusion were important. Parents also highlighted that understanding their child's individual needs was crucial to choosing a suitable school. Parents sought support from family and professionals in Early Years services. Parents expressed empathy towards others navigating SEND systems. Some parents encountered non-inclusive attitudes in mainstream schools, which led them to request specialist provisions, although stigma remained around the behaviours of children attending special schools. Several parents who requested specialist provisions had been unsuccessful in securing a place.

Consequences of the coronavirus pandemic had a significant impact on transition planning and the research process, with interviews conducted remotely. Parents deemed early transition planning with multiple transition activities, developing positive relationships with staff and gradual exposure to the school environment for their child beneficial for a successful transition to school.

This study makes recommendations for policy and practice in supporting parents through the process of requesting a primary school for their child with SEND and encourages best practices for transition arrangements.
Date of Award2 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorSandra F Dowling (Supervisor) & Rob Green (Supervisor)

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