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Key information about the education system
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Where to get further information
How can I get extra help at school if I think the child I am raising has special educational needs?
If you think that the child or young person you are raising is not making good progress, you should discuss this with them and the school. There can be a number of reasons for a child or young person not progressing. They may be unhappy at school, for example if they are being bullied. Children do make progress at different rates, and have different ways in which they can learn best. However it could also be a sign of your child or young person having special educational needs or a disability. This could be the case if they are finding it significantly harder to learn than most others of their age. It will be important to consider their development in a number of respects, such as their speech and language, their physical co-ordination, and how they relate to others.
If you suspect that the child or young person has SEN, you may wish to contact your local Information, Advice & Support (IAS) Service. IAS services provide information, advice and support to parents and carers of children and young people with SEN (see following section for more details). They are statutory services, which means there has to be one in every local authority.
Each local authority is also obliged to publish a Local Offer. This should set out, in one place, information about provision they expect to be available across all partner services, and how it can be accessed. It should be on the local authority's website, but they must make it available for those without internet access.
It can help to put the points you wish to make into a letter to the school, as this will ensure that they are clear about what your concerns are, and it will ensure that they are put on record. If you state in the letter that you would like to meet with the school to discuss your child's special educational needs, then the school has to arrange to meet with you. You can take a friend or adviser with you to this meeting.
If the school agrees that the child needs more or different support in order to learn, then they will probably start by offering this through SEN support. In the vast majority of cases, these will be tried before an assessment of whether the child needs an EHC plan is carried out.
If the school has tried SEN support, and the child still needs additional support, then whether or not the child you are raising gets extra help at school will be decided, at least initially, by the local authority carrying out an assessment.
An assessment is a detailed investigation of exactly what the child or young person's special educational needs are, and what additional or different sorts of help they would need in order to progress. You can ask for this assessment to be carried out or the school can also ask for this. If the local authority is considering carrying out an assessment, they should inform you and ask for your views, and you will have 15 days to respond – please note this is 15 days, not 15 working days. The local authority will consider evidence about the child or young person's progress so far, interventions that have been tried already, and the child or young person's physical, emotional and social development and health needs. The local authority should tell you within six weeks whether or not they are going to carry out the assessment.
Whatever they decide, they should write to you and the school, informing you of their reasons. They should also tell you about the processes and time limits for appealing against the decision.
How is an assessment of a child/young person's special educational needs and disability carried out?
The assessment will involve a number of professionals, depending on the child or young person's particular circumstances and level of need. This might include school staff, social workers, an educational psychologist and other health and education professionals. They will be asked to give their views to the person who is doing the assessment on behalf of the local authority. You have the right to be present at any interview, medical or other test of the child during the assessment, but not for a young person aged between 16 and 25, and sometimes the professionals may ask to see your child without you. You should be fully involved in the process.
The assessment should take a maximum of 10 weeks. Within that time, the local authority has to come to a decision about whether an EHC plan is needed.
If the decision is that the child does have special educational needs, then the local authority has to issue a draft EHC plan, and you will have 15 days to comment and express a preference for where you would like the child to be educated. The local authority should then consult the governing body of the school, and they have 15 calendar days to respond.
The whole process, from the date the initial request is received until the statement is produced, should last no longer than 20 weeks. However, if you decide to appeal against the local authority's decision the process will probably be longer.
If the decision is that the child does not have special educational needs, then the process will stop after the 10 weeks' assessment. The local authority should inform you why this decision was made, and provide you with information about arrangements for sorting out disagreements and appealing against decisions.
Coram Children's Legal Centre Special Educational Needs
ACE Education Special Educational Needs
The Information, Advice and Support Services Network (IASS Network)
SEND: Guide for parents and carers
Special SEND code of practice 0 to 25 years: Statutory guidance (2014)
Special Education Needs: Code of Practice (2001)