SEN reforms - finding the right support

Edward Duff
From September 2014, the way children with special educational needs (SEN) are supported has changed. This blog will explore what SEN is, the support that is available and how to access it. This blog has been kindly written by Edward Duff a solicitor from Boyes Turner.  You can find out more about the SEN reforms by following Edward on twitter @EdwardDuff

What are Special Educational Needs (SEN)?

A child or young person (CYP) has special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty or disability which requires special educational provision. A learning difficulty is anything which causes problems in accessing education. Disability is defined by the Equality Act. It is anything which would have a long-term and substantial impact on the ability to access education. Special Educational Provision is anything which is additional or different to that typically available. For children under two, it is any form of education. Case studies Samantha (not real name) has cerebral palsy. She is unable to speak and communicates through augmented communication software. She has special educational needs as she has a disability which requires special educational provision. Michael has a disability which manifest with violence. This leads to him needing additional support to catch up on work. Whilst unlikely to be disabled, he is likely to have a learning difficulty for which he is receiving special educational provision.

What Support is available for SEN?

Children and young people with the most significant and challenging needs should be provided with bespoke support via an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). This is likely to represent around 10% of children with SEN. For all other children with SEN, they will access support in school via Additional SEN Support. Additional SEN Support is run by the placement and follows the “Assess, Plan, Do and Review” approach. Assess - progress should be monitored closely and if specialist assessment is required, the placement should secure it. Plan - if additional support is needed, the child and parents should be involved in the planning stage and deciding what the outcomes of the support should be. Do - the placement will retain responsibility for implementing the support. This will normally be through your child’s key-person, such as a SENCO, at the placement. Review - review meetings should take place regularly. The date for the meeting will be agreed during the ‘Plan’ stage. Progress made and any appropriate changes to support will be discussed.
Child at school

What is an EHCP?

The EHCP is a legally binding document, as was the Statement of SEN. The EHCP is binding on schools, local authorities and local health services (Care Commissioning Groups). It is intended to give a comprehensive explanation of the education, health and social care needs that stem from a child’s SEN and the support and school placement that they require.

How do I obtain an EHCP?

To obtain an EHCP the local authority must agree to assess your child’s needs and, in light of that assessment, find that an EHCP is needed as Additional SEN Support is insufficient. The decision about whether or not to complete an assessment of a CYP’s needs will be based on a legal test. The local authority (LA) will only complete the assessment if it is convinced that the CYP has special educational needs and additional support through and EHCP might be needed. The process for assessment is relatively straightforward and is largely the responsibility of the local authority. Its purpose is to determine the needs that your child has and whether an EHCP is needed. Once the local authority has decided that it will complete an EHC needs assessment it will send out requests for information to various professionals involved in your child’s education, health and social care. The minimum is from parents, the child, school, medics, psychologists, social care and (if over 14) advice on transition into adulthood. From the date the request for an assessment is made, a decision should be communicated within six weeks. If the local authority does agree to complete the assessment, a decision about whether or not to issue an EHCP will be issued within 16 weeks of the original request.
Siblings at school
Case studies Samantha (from above) is likely to require the additional support of an EHCP. It is very unlikely that any mainstream or maintained special school could possibly support her without substantial additional advice and input from the local authority. Michael may qualify for an EHCP. It would depend on the severity of his difficulties and the extent to which they are impacting on his learning and what steps are required to cater for his needs.

How will a Statement change into an EHCP?

Before September 2014 children with complex needs were supported by a Statement of SEN. The Department for Education (DfE) has made it clear that it expects that all children with a Statement will receive an EHCP. The deadline for the change to an EHCP depends on whether your child /young person has a Statement of SEN or receives support following a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA). If your child has a Statement of SEN, the latest date by which that may be changed into an EHC Plan is 31 March 2018. If your child has support following an LDA, the latest date by which that may be changed into an EHC Plan is 31 August 2016. In addition, there are three categories of children / young people who must make the move to an EHC Plan before 31 May 2015:
  • Young People supported by an LDA who request an EHC Plan;
  • Children who were issued with an EHC Plan during the pilot scheme before the Children & Families Act 2014 was passed; and
  • Any young person moving into further education in September 2015 who is currently supported with a Statement of SEN.
The DfE has left it to LAs to decide when, before 31 March 2018, each child will make the move to an EHCP. This will be part of the LAs published material about the EHCPs, found on their websites. This should be the first port of call to work out when the transfer will happen.  You can find out more about Boyes Turner education solicitors on their website here.
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