Special Educational Needs
Advice from the experts
Special Educational Needs in Schools
Children who have special educational needs in schools ought to be identified and assessed as early as possible. All schools have a responsibility to ensure that children with SEN are appropriately supported due to s.317 Education Act 1996.
LEA’s act reactively rather than proactively on the issue of special Education needs. There are of course reasons for this, namely that an individual LEA may not have suitable Education establishments located within its area, and would therefore be required to pay for education within another area or at an independent school. It is often the case too, that there are simply too few places available within a given area and places are allocated to those with what are considered more severe learning disabilities. If your child requires special education, then you have the right in law to demand that your LEA provides suitable schooling to meet their needs, regardless of where you live or the resources available within that area.
There are a number of stages before a statement of SEN or a statutory assessment is necessary. Both Codes of Practice recommend a ‘graduated response’ which includes placing a child on School Action (SA) and then if that child is failing despite SA support the child is placed on School Action Plus (SA+). If the child thereafter struggles whilst on SA+ then it is necessary for a statutory assessment to be completed. In some exceptional circumstances a child with severe and complex difficulties should be given a statement of SEN as a matter of urgency and the graduated response is not needed. It should also be noted that the graduated response is only guidance. Each case should be considered on its merits.
The Local Authority is required to carry out a Statutory Assessment if it considers that a child has or probably has special educational needs, which require the LEA to determine special educational provision for that child. The LEA can make this decision themselves or the school can request that an assessment takes place. In addition parents have a specific right to ask for an assessement pursuant to s.329 Education Act 1996. We advise that parents should write to their LEA asking for an assessment to be completed. Where a local authority has served a notice informing a parent that it is considering whether to assess a child or when it has received a request for an assessment from a parent it must make a decision whether or not undertake an assessment within 6 weeks of the request.
If the Local Authority considers it unnecessary to assess the child it should notify the parent of it’s decision and equally if the Local Authority decides to carry out a Statutory Assessment the parents must be notified.
Where a child has failed to make progress, their case should be referred to their school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo), who will usually arrange the provision of further support. If, even with this support, a child has still failed to make adequate academic progress, a Statutory Assessment to determine the child’s special educational needs and the provision required to achieve progress (whether within the school’s resources or within a Statement of Special Educational needs) should then be considered.
Schools are required to have systems in place to measure a child’s progress and to determine its adequacy. If the child’s progress is deemed inadequate, a Statutory Assessment should take place, leading – in most cases – to an Education Health and Care Plan (which replaces the Statement). A parent or a representative of child’s school (acting on behalf of the head teacher) can make a request for a Statutory Assessment, to which the relevant local authority is legally obliged to respond.
The test local authorities should apply when deciding whether or not to undertake a Statutory Assessment is based on the special educational provision element of a prospective Plan, not on the social or healthcare elements. It has to be shown that it is probably required that the authority determine the special educational provision that the child or young person requires.