Section 19 of the Children and Families Act 2014 makes clear that local authorities, in carrying out their functions under the Act in relation to disabled children and young people and those with special educational needs (SEN), must have regard to:

  • the views, wishes and feelings of the child or young person, and the child’s parents 
  • the importance of the child or young person, and the child’s parents, participating as fully as possible in decisions, and being provided with the information and support necessary to enable participation in those decisions
  • the need to support the child or young person, and the child’s parents, in order to facilitate the development of the child or young person and to help them achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes, preparing them effectively for adulthood

Parent Carers are at the heart of the SEND Code of Practice 2015. A guide for parents and carers can be found on the DfE website:

If a parent carer thinks their child has SEN, they should talk to their child’s early education setting, school, college or other provider. They will discuss any concerns you have, tell you what they think and explain to you what will happen next. There are other sources of information, advice and support you can access – check out your Local Authority’s Local Offer for the services that are available in your local area.

Parents should have a real say in decisions that affect their children, should have access to impartial information, advice and support and know how to challenge decisions they disagree with.

Local authorities must also involve children, their parents and young people in developing local provision and services for children with special educational needs and disabilities. This includes developing their Local Offer.

Information, advice and support

All local authorities, by law, have to provide children and young people with SEN or disabilities, and their parents, with information and advice. There is an information, advice and support service in every local authority area. This service will be able to provide information, advice and support for you, and your children, about SEN, disability, health and social care. These services provide factual, impartial and confidential information, advice and support. They will be able to offer this face to face, by telephone and online.

You may also be able to get help from an Independent Supporter – this is a person recruited by a voluntary or community sector organisation to help families going through an EHC needs assessment and the process of developing an EHC plan. This person is independent of the local authority and will receive training, including legal training, to enable him or her to provide this support.

The Local Offer

Every local authority must identify education, health and social care services in their local area provided for children, young people and families who have SEN or disabilities and include them in an information directory called the Local Offer. This will also help local authorities as they can use it to see where the gaps in provision are. The Local Offer also needs to include information about services provided outside your local area that local people are likely to use.

Local services should reflect what local people need. Your local authority must ask children, parents and young people what they think the Local Offer should include, and how they think people should be able to access it.

This Local Offer needs to be kept up to date, and so your local authority will need to seek feedback from children, young people and parents as part of that process.

SEN Support

If your child has SEN, they will be able to access help – called SEN support – from their early years settings, schools and further education institutions such as colleges and 16-19 academies.

SEN support is part of what is known as the ‘graduated approach’ – a cycle pf support – assess, plan, do and review. If the school has concerns about your child they will contact you. They cannot add your child to the SEN Register or offer SEN Support without your approval. You can approach your child’s school or other setting if you think your child might have SEN and the school has not identified this.

You will be involved and your views will be needed throughout the process, and you will be kept up to date with the progress made.

Education, Health and Care needs assessments and plans

Your child’s school or other setting will often be able to meet the needs of children through SEN Support. But sometimes a child or young person needs a more intensive level of specialist help that cannot be met from the resources available to schools and other settings to provide SEN support. In these circumstances, you or your child’s school or other setting could consider asking your local authority for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment for your child. This assessment could lead to your child getting an EHC plan. Some children and young people will have needs that clearly require an EHC needs assessment and plan and once the local authority is aware of them it should start this process without delay. 

An EHC plan brings your child’s education, health and social care needs into a single, legal document.

You can ask your local authority for an EHC needs assessment if you think your child needs one. Anyone at your child’s school can also ask for an assessment to be carried out. Others who work with your child can also tell the local authority if they think an assessment is needed.

Once your local authority identifies that your child has SEN or receives a request for an assessment, they have up to six weeks to decide whether to carry one out. During that time, they will ask you and others – such as your child’s school or other setting – for information to help them make that decision

You may wish to gather together all the reports and letters from your child’s school or other setting, doctors’ and any other assessments that have been produced about your child. You may also want to write about your child’s needs and how long they have had them.

If your local authority decides not to carry out an assessment, they need to let you know their decision within six weeks of receiving a request for an assessment. Your local authority is expected to help you find other ways that your child can be supported in their school or other setting. You are able to appeal this decision.

If the local authority  agree to carry out an assessment then they need to make sure that you and your child are fully involved in the EHC needs assessment. They need to provide you with impartial information, advice and support to help you understand the process and make sure you are properly involved in decisions that affect your child. This may include help from an Independent Supporter.

The assessment includes talking to you and your child and finding out from you what support you think your child needs, and what aspirations you and your child have for his or her future. The assessment also includes seeking information and views from people who work with your child, such as class teachers, doctors and educational psychologists.

After your local authority has made its assessment, having involved you and your child fully in the process, it will then decide whether or not an EHC plan is necessary. If they decide that an EHC plan is not needed, they must tell you within 16 weeks of the date they received a request for an assessment.

If your local authority decides to proceed with an EHC plan, they should work closely with you and your child to make sure the plan takes full account of your views, wishes and feelings. Once the plan has been written, a draft will be sent to you which must not contain the name of the school or other setting your child will attend. You will be given 15 days to comment on the draft and you can ask for a meeting to discuss it if you want one.

At that point you will also be able to request a specific school, or other setting, you want your child to attend. This could be a mainstream school or special school. Your local authority has 20 weeks from the request for the EHC needs assessment to issue the final plan to you.

Once an EHC plan has been finalised, your local authority has to ensure that the special educational support in section F of the plan is provided, and the health service has to ensure the health support in section G is provided. This should help to enable your child to meet the outcomes that you have jointly identified and agreed. Your local authority has to review your child’s EHC plan at least every 12 months. That review has to include working with you and your child and asking you what you think and what you want to happen, and a meeting which you must be invited to.  

Personal Budgets

You are entitled to request a Personal Budget if your child has an EHC plan or has been assessed as needing a plan. A Personal Budget is an amount of money your local authority has identified to meet some of the needs in your child’s EHC plan, if you want to be involved in choosing and arranging a part of the provision to meet your child’s needs. You will need to agree this with your local authority. A Personal Budget can only be used for agreed provision in the EHC plan.

Support for children of school age

Most children of school age who have SEN or disabilities will attend a mainstream school . Mainstream schools include all state-funded schools, including academies and free schools.

 If your child has a disability, whether or not they have SEN, their school must make reasonable adjustments, including the provision of auxiliary aids and services to prevent them being put at a substantial disadvantage. Schools also have wider duties to prevent discrimination, to promote equality of opportunity and to foster good relations. 

If your child has SEN, your school needs to use its best endeavours – that means to do its very best – to give your child the support they need. That could include getting advice and support from specialists outside the school (such as an educational psychologist, a speech and language therapist or a specialist teaching and advisory service). Children with SEN will be provided with SEN support.

Your child’s school must provide you with an annual report on your child’s progress. They should talk to you regularly about your child’s progress, (at least three times a year), set clear outcomes and produce a report of these as well as the action taken and support agreed, and you may want to ask for this to be outside of the regular parents’ evening. It’s important that the views of your child are included in these discussions.

Your child’s school must publish an SEN Information Report on their website, and keep the report up to date. The report needs to include things like:

  • the kinds of SEN support the school provides
  • their approach to teaching children and young people with SEN
  • what arrangements they have for consulting parents and involving them in their child’s education (and also for engaging young people directly)

Your child’s school also needs to set out what arrangements they have for admitting children with disabilities, what steps they are taking to make sure children with disabilities are treated fairly and not discriminated against, what facilities are provided for disabled children and what plans they have for improving access in the future.

Many children with an EHC plan will be taught in mainstream schools, but some may be taught in special schools. Special schools only provide education for children and young people with special educational needs. In the same way that mainstream schools do, special schools should regularly discuss with you your child’s education and the support they offer, and keep you up to date with their progress.

If your child has an EHC plan, you can make a request for a non-maintained special school, or for an independent school or independent specialist college (where approved for this purpose by the Secretary of State and published in a list available to all parents and young people). The local authority must comply with your preference and name the school or college in the EHC plan unless provision there is considered to not meet their needs, not represent good value for money or would impact negatively on the education of others.

Challenging or disagreeing with decisions

You may not always agree with a decision your child’s  school has made about your child’s support. You should first raise this with them and try to reach agreement. If you can’t reach agreement, they can advise you on their procedures for making complaints. You could also approach your local authority’s Information, advice and support service for help.

Your local authority must make arrangements for both disagreement resolution and mediation services to be available. These services are independent of your local authority and can provide you with a quick and informal way of resolving disagreements.

Appealing to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunal

Before you can appeal to the SEND Tribunal, you must have contacted a mediation adviser (unless your appeal is only about the school your local authority has named in your child’s plan or if they have not named a school in it). You will need a certificate from the mediation adviser to register an appeal with the SEND Tribunal. You have one month from receiving the certificate or two months from the original decision (whichever is the later date) to register an appeal with the Tribunal.

The SEND Tribunal is a legal body. It hears appeals against decisions made by local authorities about EHC needs assessments and EHC plans. You can appeal to the Tribunal if your local authority decides:

  • not to carry out an EHC needs assessment or re-assessment for your child
  • not to draw up an EHC plan for your child, once they have done an assessment
  • not to amend your child’s EHC plan after the annual review or re-assessment
  • to cease to maintain your child’s EHC plan

You can also appeal if you disagree with what your local authority includes in your child’s EHC plan such as:

  • how they describe your child’s SEN
  • what SEN provision is included for your child
  • the school (or other educational establishment) your local authority says your child should attend, or if they don’t include a school
  • if they change any of these details without your agreement

The SEND Tribunal also hears disability discrimination claims against schools (and against local authorities if the local authority is responsible for the school).

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