What is an EHCP?
EHCP stands for Education, Health and Care Plan. It outlines any special educational needs a child has, and the provision a local authority must put in place to help them.
Why should I get an EHCP?
An EHCP enables a child to take priority for admission to a mainstream school over other applicants, and it allows that child to be considered for schools where you are out of catchment or even in another borough. It can provide for additional funding from the local authority to support the child’s needs, beyond that which a school must supply out of its own budget. It is usually vital to have an EHCP to gain entry to a special school.
It is a legally binding document which protects the support your child needs. If it states that a child needs one-to-one support in the classroom, then that must to be provided. It covers a child up to the age of 25, so can also ensure support or a specialist placement at further education colleges (but it does not cover universities).
How do I get an EHCP?
If your school is supportive and knowledgeable about special needs, they may start off the process for you. But you can request one yourself, simply by contacting your local authority’s special educational needs department and requesting an assessment for an EHCP (some have a form to complete on their website). If your school is dragging its feet, or contesting your view that the child needs extra help, you will always be better to drive the process yourself.
What should I expect in the EHCP process?
After you have applied to the local authority (LA) for an assessment, they must reply with a decision within six weeks. We are hearing of a lot of families turned away at this point, but do not be discouraged. You should move straight to an appeal. This is a paper exercise, and more than 90% of families who appeal win their case.
Local authorities have been giving families spurious reasons why they are rejecting an assessment, such as that they will only assess children when they are X number of years behind other children; once they have a diagnosis; once they have an educational psychologist’s report; once the school has completed so many cycles of plan, do, review; and so on. These ‘policies’ do not stand up in law. The only criteria you have to meet for an EHCP assessment is (i) that you suspect the child has special needs, and (ii) that you suspect that the child needs extra support in school.
Following an agreement to assess, the local authority must then gather information from parents, education professionals, therapists and doctors involved in the child’s care. They should then produce a draft EHCP. You will have an opportunity to comment on and request amendments to the draft.
What if I am not happy with the proposed EHC Plan?
It is vitally important to ensure that your EHCP covers all aspects of your child’s needs, and makes clear provision for it. LAs often sneak in wording such as that a child ‘would benefit from’ speech therapy. Such a vague statement is hard to enforce. It must be clear and quantified, for example, saying the child must have speech therapy in one group session of 30 minutes and one individual session of 30 minutes per week.
It is also important that it reflects the child’s needs on his or her worst day. It can make bleak reading to parents, who are sometimes upset by the way their child has been presented by professionals. But education and therapy staff know that painting the rosiest picture will only mean the child does not have sufficient support on the rougher days.
If you have commissioned any private reports, the local authority is obliged to consider these. They may try to reject them (for example, your private speech therapist may say that the child needs one hour of one-to-one therapy with a qualified speech and language therapist per week, and the LA may try to argue that programmes devised by a speech therapist but delivered by a teaching assistant will be sufficient). If you reach an impasse on these type of points, you will need to go to the SEND Tribunal for a decision.
The SEND Tribunal will judge on disputes between you and the local authority on the contents of an EHCP, and/or the school named in the EHCP as the placement for your child.
Naming a school in an EHCP
Parents can express a preference for a particular school in an EHCP, and the LA must comply with this unless it would be ‘unsuitable for the age, ability, or aptitude of the child’, or ‘the child’s attendance there would be incompatible with the efficient education of others, or the efficient use of resources’. It is this last point which usually causes contention – the LA will be looking for the cheapest option, so if you are naming a special school, particularly an independent special school which will be costlier, you should expect a battle.
The EHCP must be reviewed at least once per year. This is usually done as part of an annual review at your child’s school or college. The review should consider whether the placement remains appropriate – so if you are not happy with the current school, this is the prime time to raise this. It will also look at whether provision remains adequate, or needs to be revised in any way following progress or changes in the child’s needs.
Getting help with an EHCP
The Good Schools Guide’s SEN consultants can talk you through the general process of obtaining an EHCP. At times it is necessary to seek legal advice, and we can recommend solicitors specialising in SEN law. Contact us at [email protected].
The charity IPSEA www.ipsea.org.uk has training days for parents and a legal advice helpline.
What should a good EHCP look like? www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk/special-educational-needs/legal/education-health-and-care-plans
Refused an assessment for an EHCP? www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk/special-educational-needs/legal/refusal-to-assess-for-an-ehcp