Independent Parental Special Education Advice (known as IPSEA) is a registered charity (number 327691) operating in England. IPSEA offers free and independent legally based information, advice and support to help get the right education for children and young people with all kinds of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). We also provide training on the SEND legal framework to parents and carers, professionals and other organisations.
IPSEA offer amazing support and a great step-by-step guide regarding the EHCP Process, including timescales. I found them very helpful when I was applying for an EHCP. They also have information and advice regarding Annual Reviews, How to Complain and much more. So if you haven’t come across IPSEA, I would highly recommend you visit their website!
Please see below, their advice for the early stages:
Asking for an EHC needs assessment
When should a local authority carry out an EHC needs assessment?
If a local authority (“LA”) is requested to carry out an EHC needs assessment by a parent, young person, school or college, they must consider:
- whether the child or young person has or may have special educational needs (“SEN”); and
- whether they may need special educational provision to be made through an EHC plan.
If the answer to both of these questions is yes, they must carry out an EHC needs assessment.
This test is set out in the law (section 36(8) of the Children and Families Act 2014). This means these are the only questions the LA should be asking when considering whether or not to carry out an EHC needs assessment.
The SEN and Disability Code of Practice, which is statutory guidance issued by the government, contains further detail on what LAs should consider. At paragraph 9.14 the Code states that “the local authority should consider whether there is evidence that despite the early years provider, school or post-16 institution having taken relevant and purposeful action to identify, assess and meet the special educational needs of the child or young person, the child or young person has not made expected progress”. The LA should pay particular attention to:
- evidence of the child or young person’s academic attainment (or developmental milestones in younger children) and rate of progress;
- information about the nature, extent and context of the child or young person’s SEN;
- evidence of the action already taken by the school or other setting;
- evidence that where progress has been made, it has only been as the result of much additional intervention and support over and above that which is usually provided;
- evidence of the child or young person’s physical, emotional and social development and health needs, drawing on relevant evidence from clinicians and other health professionals and what has been done to meet these by other agencies
When should I request an education, health and care (“EHC”) needs assessment?
If a child or young person has a learning difficulty or a disability which is holding them back at school or college, and the parents of the child or the young person (or the young person themselves) believe that the school or college is not able to provide the help and support which is needed, then a request should be made to the Local Authority (“LA”) for an EHC needs assessment.
You can do this at any time.
You can only ask for an EHC needs assessment if the child or young person has, or may have, SEN – it does not apply where there are only health or social care needs. Remember that under the law, a child has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or a disability which calls for special educational provision. You can read more about the definition of SEN here.
For children under 16, the parent makes the request. This includes children from age 0 to 5, where parents should make a request if they believe that the child will need extra help at nursery or when they start school.
In the case of a young person (over 16 and up to 25), they can make the request themselves. If the young person is not able to understand, remember or communicate decisions about the educational support they need, their parent or carer can make the request on a young person’s behalf. There is more information about how the law applies to young people here.
Should I speak to the school or college first?
Yes – it will be helpful to speak to the school or college about your worries before writing to the LA. You should speak to the relevant class or subject teacher, the school SENCO or the person at the college responsible for SEN provision, and the head teacher or the principal.
What if the school or college offers to write on my behalf?
Anyone acting on behalf of a school or post-16 institution is able to write and request an EHC needs assessment. However, if you make the request yourself you can be sure that the request has definitely been made. If the school or college is willing, you could ask them to write a letter which supports your own application.
How should I make the request?
You should make a written request and keep a copy of your letter. Your letter should set out why you believe your child has or may have special educational needs, and why you believe they may need special educational provision to be made through an EHC Plan. You can use IPSEA’s model letter as a template for your request.
Who should I write to?
The LA’s website should set out clearly how a request can be made. If it is not clear, you should write to the most senior person at the LA, usually called the Director of Education or Head of Children’s Services. You can find out the name and contact details of the most senior officer on the LA’s website, by calling the LA or by asking at the school or college.
When should I hear back?
The LA must reply within six weeks (this is required by regulation 4(1) of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014). They should always reply to you as a parent or young person – even where the request was made by the school or college.
Make a note of the six week deadline for the LA’s reply. If they do not respond in time, you can use our model letter to complain to the LA.
What will the LA’s response say?
If the LA agrees to carry out an assessment, various people will need to be approached for advice. The page on what an EHC assessment involves has more information.
If the LA refuses to carry out an assessment, you have the right to appeal against this decision. The letter should explain that there is a right to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability), and should contain details of a mediation service for you to contact. You can find more information on how to appeal here.
What happens in an EHC needs assessment
An Education, Health and Care (“EHC”) needs assessment is an assessment of the education, health care and social care needs of the child or young person.
Who will carry out the assessment?
The local authority (“LA”) must seek information and advice on a child or young person’s needs, the provision required to meet those needs, and the outcomes expected to be achieved by the child or young person. This advice must come from a range of different people, described below.
The LA has the legal duty to carry out the assessment process. They cannot ask a school or college to carry out the assessment for them, and they cannot require the school or college to pay for any part of the assessment (such as the educational psychologist’s report).
Who should be asked for advice?
The LA must seek advice from a range of people. The list is set out in Regulation 6(1) of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 (the “SEN Regs”):
- the child’s parent or the young person;
- educational advice (usually from the head teacher or principal);
- medical advice and information from a health care professional;
- psychological advice and information from an educational psychologist;
- advice and information in relation to social care;
- advice and information from any other person the local authority thinks appropriate;
- where the child or young person is in or beyond year 9, advice and information in relation to provision to assist the child or young person in preparation for adulthood and independent living; and
- advice and information from any person the child’s parent or young person reasonably requests that the local authority seek advice from
The LA is legally required to seek all of this information as a minimum.
If a child or young person is hearing impaired and/or visually impaired the educational advice must come from a suitably qualified person (SEN Reg 6(2)).
The LA should consider whether a social care assessment or health assessment is also needed. There is some debate as to whether health and care assessments are automatically triggered when a request for an EHC needs assessment is made. In practice, it is best to request social care and health assessments independently to ensure the request is received.
Can parents or young people ask for advice from a particular person?
Under point SEN Reg 6(1)(h), a parent or young person can ask the LA to seek advice from anyone within education, health or social care, as long as it is a reasonable request. This can include a speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist or someone from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).
A request would be considered reasonable where, for example, a child or young person has been identified as needing an assessment already and they are on a waiting list, or where the school, college or other professionals have said this advice may be needed.
It is best to request that a particular professional is approached in writing (either in a letter or an email), so that you have a record of your request. If the LA do not agree to your request, you can use our model letter to complain.
What if there are existing reports or advice about the child or young person?
The LA does not have to seek new advice where that type of advice has previously been provided for any purpose – for example, if there already was a recent educational psychologist’s report. This exception will only apply if the person providing that advice, the LA and the child’s parent or the young person are all satisfied that the existing advice is sufficient. Previous advice can only be sufficient for an EHC needs assessment if it is relatively up to date and accurately reflects the child or young person’s current needs. As a rough guide, an educational psychologist’s report which is over two years old will not usually be recent enough to be useful.
If a parent or young person already has their own advice and reports, these can be submitted as part of their own advice (which the LA must ask for under SEN Reg 6(1)(a)) to ensure that they form part of the assessment process. This evidence must then be considered when the LA makes its decision.
Copies of evidence submitted by the parent or the young person must be supplied to the other people from whom information is being sought (SEN Reg 6(3)).
What should the advice contain?
Their advice must be clear, accessible and specific (see paragraph 9.51 of the SEN and Disability Code of Practice). In particular, it should address the child or young person’s needs, the special educational provision required to meet those needs, and the outcomes which this provision will aim to achieve. LAs are not permitted to have policies preventing professionals from giving evidence on the provision required.
In relation to point (e) (advice and information in relation to social care), it is not uncommon for LAs to receive a response from social care stating “not known to this service”. The advice sought from the list of professionals contained in SEN Reg 6(1) must be in relation to the child’s needs, provision and outcomes. A response stating “not known to this service” is not going to fulfil the local authority’s duty to obtain the advice necessary for a full and accurate EHC needs assessment.
If any of the advice you receive does not address needs, provision and outcomes, you can use our model letter to complain. The LA should go back to the professional concerned and ask them for advice which complies with SEN Reg 6(1).
How should the LA involve the parents, child and/or young person?
As well as the duties relating to evidence, the LA must:
- Consult with the parent or young person, and where the case involves a child, they must also consult with the child. They must take into account their views, wishes and feelings;
- Engage the child and the child’s parent or the young person, ensuring that they are able to participate in decisions; and
- Minimise disruption for the child, the child’s parent, the young person and their family
SEN Reg 9 requires the LA to consider whether the child’s parent or the young person requires any information, advice and support in order for them to take part effectively in the EHC needs assessment, and if so this must be provided.
How long will this take?
Anyone who is asked for information and advice must respond within 6 weeks (SEN Reg 8(1)). The only exceptions to this are if exceptional circumstances affect the child, the child’s parent or the young person during that 6 week period; the child, the child’s parent or the young person are absent from the area of the authority for a continuous period of not less than 4 weeks during that 6 week period; or the child or young person fails to keep an appointment for an examination or a test made during that 6 week period.
This is a legal duty which must be complied with; it cannot be avoided because there is a long waiting list or because there are staffing shortages. If an LA is genuinely unable to obtain one of the necessary pieces of advice during the time frame, they would be expected to obtain an independent report in its place.
The LA must notify the parent or young person of their decision whether or not they will issue a plan within a maximum of 16 weeks from the request for assessment.
Following an EHC needs assessment, when does the LA have to issue an EHC plan?
The LA must decide whether it will issue an EHC plan for the child or young person based on the evidence it has gathered as part of the EHC needs assessment. The legal test which the LA must apply is found in section 37(1) of the Children and Families Act 2014 which says:
“(1) Where, in the light of an EHC needs assessment, it is necessary for special educational provision to be made for a child or young person in accordance with an EHC plan –
(a) the local authority must secure that an EHC plan is prepared for the child or young person, and
(b) once an EHC plan has been prepared, it must maintain the plan.”
Therefore the LA must decide, on the basis of the evidence from the EHC needs assessment, whether it is necessary for the child or young person to have an EHC plan.
What will happen when the LA makes a decision?
If the LA decides not to issue an EHC plan, it must tell the parent or young person within 16 weeks of the date the request for an assessment was made. The parent or young person can appeal this decision to the SEND Tribunal.
If the LA decides to issue an EHC plan, it will first send out a draft plan for the parent or young person to review and comment on. It should then send the final EHC plan to the parent or young person within 20 weeks from the date the assessment was requested. In order to meet this deadline they would need to send out the draft plan a maximum of 14 weeks from the date the assessment was requested.
What to do when you receive your draft EHC plan
What to do when you receive your draft EHC plan Following an EHC needs assessment, if the LA decides to issue an EHC plan, the first step is for the LA to send the parent or young person a draft version.
The plan will include information on the child or young person’s special educational needs (“SEN”), health and care needs, the provision required to meet each of those needs, and the outcomes that should be achieved. It will also record the child or young person’s aspirations, views and feelings.
This is an opportunity for you to check whether the draft EHC plan contains everything it should. Read our page on what an EHC plan should contain, and in particular our EHC plan checklist, to see whether the draft EHC plan complies with the law.
A draft EHC plan must not include the name of a particular school, college or other educational placement, or what type of placement the child or young person will attend. This is because the EHC plan must reflect the individual’s needs and the provision to meet those needs, not the resources which can be offered in a particular placement. This means that the name and/or type of placement will appear only in the final EHC plan, not the draft plan.
Along with the draft EHC plan, the LA must give notice to the parent or young person that they have 15 days in which to:
- make comments – ‘representations’ – about the draft EHC plan;
- request a meeting with the LA to discuss the draft;
- request that a particular school or other institution is named in the final EHC plan
The LA are legally required to do this (under section 38 of the Children and Families Act 2014). If you are not happy with any aspect of the draft EHC plan, or the reports attached to it, you can suggest amendments you would like made.
You can also ask for a meeting with the LA to discuss your concerns. If you want a meeting, the LA is legally required to agree to meet you. You should consider taking someone along with you for support. You should also consider writing down the exact points you want to make and the questions you want to ask, so that you can be sure that you don’t miss out anything you want to say at the meeting. You can leave a copy of your points with the LA officer as a reminder to them.
When you make a request for a particular school, college or other institution, the LA must consult with that institution about whether it should be named in the final EHC plan (unless your request is for a wholly independent school). For more information on your rights to request a particular school or other institution, see our page on choosing a school or other setting.
You can use our model letter as a starting point to respond to anything you’re not happy with in the draft EHC plan, to request a meeting, and to request a particular school or other institution is named.
In order to comply with the overall timescale of 20 weeks from the request for assessment to the final EHC plan, the draft EHC plan should be issued within 14 weeks from the request for an EHC needs assessment. If the LA do not send you the draft EHC plan within this time frame, you can use our model letter to complain.
What to do when you receive your final EHC plan
What to do when you receive your final EHC plan Once a final Education, Health and Care (“EHC”) plan has been produced, the child or young person is legally entitled to the special educational provision set out in that plan.
The LA must first have issued a draft EHC plan and consulted with the parent or the young person about its contents. If the parent or young person requested that a particular school, college or other institution was named in the EHC plan, the LA should have consulted with that institution (unless the request was for a wholly independent setting – if you’re not sure, check the section about different types of school).
The final EHC plan must be issued within a maximum of 20 weeks from the request for an EHC needs assessment. If the LA do not send you the final EHC plan within this time frame, you can use our model letter to complain.
A final EHC plan will name the type of school, college or other institution the child or young person will attend, and it will normally also have the name of a particular school or college. If a school, college or other institution is named in an EHC plan, it must admit the child or young person and put the educational provision in the EHC plan into place. This is true even if the school or college argued at the stage the draft EHC plan was issued that the child or young person should not be placed with them.
When a final EHC plan is issued the parent or young person has a right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) (the “SEND Tribunal”) if they are unhappy about any of the following:
- the description of a child or young person’s special educational needs;
- the special educational provision specified in the EHC plan; and/or
- the name/type of school or college in the EHC plan or the fact that no school/college is named
All of these elements can be appealed either together or on their own.
Parents and young people can also pursue mediation as a way of resolving disagreements about any of the sections of the EHC plan (not just those listed above).
From April 2018, parents or young people will also be able to appeal the sections of the EHC plan which deal with health and social care. Changes can also be agreed to the health or social care parts of the EHC plan through mediation. You can read more about how to challenge the health and social care parts of an EHC plan in the guidance issued by the SEND Tribunal.
Go to the section of the site about appealing the SEND Tribunal for more information.