If you feel that your child is not developing/learning as they should, and strategies put in place to help by your child’s teacher/SENCo/nursery worker are not making a difference, the next step may be an educational psychologist’s (EP’s) assessment.
Assessments can be organised by the school. This may not happen immediately, depending on the school’s arrangement with the educational psychologist, and there can be a long wait for an appointment owing to a shortage of local authority EPs. If you can afford it, it's worth commissioning an EP privately for a much quicker assessment.
The EP will probably come to school, discuss your child with you and his/her teachers, and observe the child in class and perhaps at play. They will also look at classwork, chat to your child and give them some tests to check on skills and intellectual development. EPs are well trained to put the children at ease and relate to them during these sessions, and most children find the session a positive experience with an element of challenge or fun involved somewhere in the procedure.
Feedback from an educational psychologist's assessment
The EP will produce a report giving an overview of your child's strengths and weaknesses. This can also give recommendations for teaching strategies or additional materials to be used with your child, or advice on suitable school types for your child.
The EP may also recommend a referral to other professionals such as a speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, optometrist or a paediatrician, as well as sources of help such as the child and family consultation services. Don't be unduly alarmed if this happens - the more information available, the better the help that can be obtained.
Parents sometimes shy away from an assessment, fearing their child will be somehow branded by it. But your child will still be the same child, and identification of difficulties will just mean he/she will be better supported to reach his or her potential, and will probably have a happier experience at school as a result.
And you should always share the findings with a prospective school. Parents sometimes avoid this fearing it means their child will be refused a place. But schools have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for any additional needs a child has, and will only refuse the child if his or her needs go beyond their capability - and in that case, the school is not the right place for your child.
Uses for an EP report
This assessment and the report will play a key role in obtaining an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) which can compel a local authority to provide the necessary support, and it will be crucial should you need to mount a legal challenge regarding a school place or the provision being made in your school. For older children, the assessment will enable them to receive extra time/help in examinations if appropriate. It is therefore an important document and you should ensure you have a copy and keep it in a safe place. You should also give a copy to a new school or college as your child moves on.
Starting the ball rolling
What do you do if you suspect a difficulty with learning but the teachers don't seem concerned or maintain that your child will catch up given time, or is just average? Do follow up on your hunch.
The key thing to remember is that the sooner your child's difficulties are isolated, identified and dealt with, the less their education will suffer, the more successfully they will learn and the less their self-esteem and self-confidence will be affected.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of self-esteem in the classroom, and the more this can be protected, the better for your child.
You know your child better than the professionals. If the school refuses to recognise that there is a problem, you can contact your local authority yourself, and they must consider your request – but may not agree to it. In times of straitened budgets, we are hearing that local authorities frequently refuse to assess when first approached. Do not take no for an answer - our SEN team can point you to legal firms and charitable organisations who can help you to put pressure on the local authority.
Commissioning your own educational psychologist's report
If you decide to employ your own educational psychologist, we advise 'phoning several for a chat before making your choice. Fees will vary enormously, and travel time and costs will add to the bill, so you need to get a quote from each. If you find one you like further afield, you can shave costs by taking your child to their practice, rather than the EP travelling to you. It's important also to find one you gel with, as it can be an emotional process to have your fears confirmed, or to receive a shock diagnosis. You can also have a chat with them about how they would go about assessing your child, and discuss any worries you have about this. Speak to our SEN team if you need help finding an EP.