EHCPs and why they can be a golden ticket to school admissions
‘You need an EHCP.’ If these words aren’t music to your ears when you have a child with special educational needs, Bernadette John explains why they should be.
‘I was really angry when my son’s speech therapist recommended an EHCP,’ recalls Clare Donnelly, whose son Kieran has speech and language difficulties. ‘It was only some time after that I realised I ought to be grateful to her, because it led the way to getting more help and the right school place.’
An EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) is often suggested to parents whose children are having any difficulties at school. But for many families, it’s not what they want to hear. They fear it is going to label their child, or prejudice schools against taking them.
But having an EHCP doesn’t suggest your child is a no-hoper academically. A child can have a sky high IQ and still require an EHCP, perhaps owing to mental health problems or autism related difficulties which interfere with his or her school work.
And the purpose of an EHCP is a positive one. The idea is to detail any difficulties a child has, and what a school must put in place to help them. The fact that it’s legally binding means the local authority must fund any extra help identified as necessary.
Perhaps most importantly, an EHCP can be a golden ticket when it comes to school admissions. In the bunfight of applications for reception and year 7, a child with an EHCP gets a priority place ahead of all other applicants. It allows you to apply to schools where you are out of catchment or otherwise don’t meet the admissions criteria, if you can show that this school has provision for your child’s needs which your local schools lack. The one exception is selective schools, for which the child would still have to pass entry exams.
In fact, it is vital to have an EHCP – which can be given at any point from birth to 25 - for entry to any specialist schools or colleges unless you are privately funding the place. And even if you plan to stay put at the current school, an EHCP can be the means to getting extra help for your child such as speech or occupational therapy, or one-to-one support.
Schools can start off the process for you. But if your school is not being proactive, or is contesting your view that your child needs extra help, you can request an EHCP assessment yourself from the local authority. Some have a form on their website, otherwise parents can speak to the special educational needs department.
There are only two criteria to meet to qualify for an EHCP assessment, and they set a low bar. First, that you suspect the child has special needs. Second, that you suspect that the child needs extra support in school.
The local authority must respond to a request for an assessment within six weeks, so keep a note of the date you submit it. LAs routinely turn people away at this point. The same old reasons are often trotted out – typically, that they will only assess children once they have an educational psychologist’s report, or a diagnosis; or when they are so many years behind other children; or after the school has completed so many cycles of interventions known as plan, do, review. But none of these stand up in law.
Katie Clarke, who has been through the process, advises parents to stick to their guns, and move straight to an appeal, which – despite the name – is only a paper exercise, and more than 90 per cent of families who appeal win their case.
'I was being called in on a near-daily basis by my son's mainstream around problems they were having with his autistic behaviours, yet when we applied for an EHCP, we were turned down,' she says. 'I thought that was the end of the line, but luckily we got some advice and appealed, and this time they accepted it.'
Once they agree to assess, the local authority gathers information from parents and all education professionals, therapists and doctors involved in the child’s care. They produce a draft EHCP, which you can comment on and request amendments to.
Parents can be upset by the bleak picture an EHCP presents of their child. ‘You have to grit your teeth. It’s horrible to read a number of professional reports describing your child in negative terms, but it’s necessary in order to get the right help,’ says Donnelly.
Don’t be tempted to rewrite it to show your child in a better light, though. It must reflect her needs on her worst day, or the provision will be insufficient. And frankly, if the EHCP puts a school off taking your child, then it was not the right school for her.
Allow plenty of time for the process – it should be completed within 20 weeks of the agreement to assess, but is routinely taking longer. And beware fake ones. The Good Schools Guide recently heard about councils under pressure issuing informal plans which outline the pupil’s needs - sometimes called ‘my plans’ or ‘learning plans’. These have no legal basis or funding attached – councils can take them away at a moment’s notice, and they are not enforceable. If it’s not called an EHCP, then it isn’t one.
Getting help with an EHCP: The Good Schools Guide’s SEN consultants can talk you through the process of obtaining an EHCP, and direct you to solicitors and charities specialising in SEN law. Contact us at [email protected].
Do you have any experiences to share about getting an ECHP for your child? Share your views on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #chalkandchat