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What Is A Phase Transfer?

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

Phase Transfers refer to the times at which a child or young person moves between phases of education[1]. There are six in total, beginning with YR to Y1 and ending with Post 16 education and they broadly coincide with moves between Key Stages (KS). This post will focus on the phase transfer for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities ("SEND") from primary to secondary education, which occurs between KS2 and KS3. As with education in general, this is far and away the most challenging phase transfer and the one which generates the most stress and confusion.

How a child with SEND experiences the secondary phase transfer depends on whether or not that child has an Education and Health Care Plan (“EHC Plan”). For children who do not have an EHC Plan the ordinary admissions process will apply. This is the statutory process, administered by local authorities, whereby secondary school placements are allocated. Although much is made of parent choice in education, the reality is that school placements are determined - with a few exceptions such as faith schools - by catchment area. A truth that parents (and estate agents) know only too well. And whilst it is possible to appeal school placement allocation and to refer to a child’s SEND as part of the appeal, it is entirely at the discretion of the admissions appeal panel (subject to the proper application of appeal criteria) whether or not to overturn the decision of the local authority and offer a place.

By contrast, where a child has an EHC Plan the ordinary admissions process does not apply, and parents/carers are not obliged to complete a local authority’s admissions form naming their preferred schools by the 31st October deadline or indeed at all. Rather, the obligation is on the local authority to hold an annual review such that they are able to issue an amended Final EHC Plan naming a secondary school on or before 15th February of the year the child is due to start secondary school. Working backwards, this requires a local authority to conduct an annual review meeting no later than the middle of November of the preceding year to ensure that the maximum 12 weeks allowed for between the meeting and the issuing of the Final EHC Plan do not extend beyond the phase transfer deadline (see R (L, M, and P), v Devon County Council [2022] EWHC 493 (Admin).

In practice it is not unusual for local authorities to ask parents/carers to complete the ordinary admissions process forms, but it is worth remembering that you are not required to do this, and if you do complete a form the local authority can only refuse your first preference on one of the statutory grounds set out at section 38(3) of the Children and Families Act 2014 (“CAFA”) applies. See this blog post for more detail on how those grounds operate. It is also the case that a preference expressed via the ordinary admissions process is not binding and parents/carers who do express preferences prior to the annual review can subsequently change their mind and request a different school during the annual review process. Ultimately, if you are unhappy with the school named in the EHC Plan you can appeal the placement to the SEND Tribunal.

SEND Advocacy can advise on placement issues and support you to obtain the right setting for your child or young person. If you need someone in your corner to help you secure the education your child or young person deserves, contact us today.

[1] The definition of a phase transfer is found in regulation 2 of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 (the “SEND Regs 2014”)


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