EHC assessments and SEN Tribunal

All schools are expected and funded to cater for the majority of special educational needs (SEN). Where a child or young person has needs which are especially complex or severe, then an Education, Health and Care assessment may be needed. This has replaced the previous system of statutory assessment (often referred to as ‘statementing’). The purpose of both sorts of  assessment is to get a clear and detailed picture of your child’s needs, together with an equally detailed picture of the priority targets and provision required to meet your child’s needs. In most Local Authorities, the majority of children and young people with ASD have had a statement of SEN, although this may not be necessary if there are good resources and relevant experience and know-how in your child’s school. Many Local Authorities are trying to reduce the level of such assessments by delegating money to schools to help them address special needs without the need to go through the process of assessment.

If an EHC plan is issued as the result of an assessment, it has legal status and is an important tool for ensuring that your child’s needs are addressed. It places obligations on the school and the Local Authority and gives you rights which you would not have otherwise.For some children this may involve placement in specialist provision (though only with your agreement). For many others, appropriate provision may consist of enhanced support in their local mainstream school and access to specialist input from outside the school. the EHC plan will be the route by which the school is provided with additional resources.

Schools can initiate the EHC assessment process, but can sometimes be reluctant because of the paperwork involved, or because they do not recognize the nature or complexity of  your child’s needs. However, the law also allows parents to request that such an assessment is undertaken–and doing this is relatively simple. This  link takes you to a page on the the website of the Advisory Centre for Education where you can download a template letter for requesting an assessment.

If the Local Authority decides not to carry out an assessment, you have a legal right, using the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SEND) to appeal against this decision. This sounds much scarier than it actually is, and the process is free. You can find out more (and download the relevant form) from http://www.justice.gov.uk/tribunals/send/appeals . In cases where the Local Authority is refusing to assess your child, you will usually find that the Local Authority changes its mind, when you make clear your intention to appeal or when  SEND notifies the Local Authority of the appeal.

The actual process of carrying out a full EHC assessment is still quite lengthy and complex, despite efforts to simplify and shorten it. Many parents find it off-putting. However, it is important not to lose sight of 3 things:

  • You have a legal right to submit your views and any reports that you decide to commission from independent professionals. This information has be taken into account when the plan is being written. I am able to carry out assessments for this purpose and also to offer comments on the reports provided by Local Authority professionals.
  • The plan cannot be finalised unless you are happy with all of it: the description of your child’s difficulties; the priorities identified; the provision needed to meet your child’s needs (including the school and all forms of additional support). Again, I can offer advice about the wording of proposed statements and what to do if you are unhappy with the first draft of the statement.
  • If you cannot reach a satisfactory agreement with the Local Authority, you have a right of appeal to SEND. You can commission independent reports for this purpose (or submit those already available). You have a right to take independent witnesses to the Tribunal to help you make your case (though this is not a requirement). Again, I can provide assessments and advice for this purpose and have appeared in a significant number of Tribunals.

For obvious reasons, the prospect of taking a Local Authority to the Tribunal is quite intimidating. However, as mentioned previously, you do not need legal representation–and you definitely don’t need legal expertise. The Tribunals are set up and run in a way that’s as parent-friendly as possible. Part of the responsibility of the 3 panel members is to ensure that parents have their say and are not intimidated–by the process or by Local Authority representatives. There’s lots of guidance on the Department of Justice website and on independent websites such as that provided by ACE. Many of the on-line forums for parents of youngsters with ASD also provide advice and support (with lots of sharing of experience as well).

 

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