By law, Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) should be reviewed at least once a year in an annual review. However, parents often have no idea how important the annual review is, or how to manage it.
It is an opportunity to get parents and carers and all professionals involved with the child around the table to discuss the past year and take a look at the year ahead. It’s a chance for families to highlight what they believe is or isn’t working well. And it is the time to air any concerns, push for further support, or request alternative schools.
By law you and your child's views, wishes and feelings have to be considered so it’s worth taking the time to plan and prepare.
Before an annual review
- Read all paperwork thoroughly
Study all recent reports from therapists, school, educational psychologists and consider whether your child has met their targets. Key professionals should either attend in person or produce a written report for the annual review and you should be sent these in good time – if you haven’t received them a week or two before the meeting, ask school for them; you will be on the back foot if your first sight of them is at the meeting. And look over your child’s EHCP, noting anything that is no longer relevant, needs updating, or needs adding to. Buckton told us, ‘Although it is time consuming and can feel overwhelming, it is important that this document reflects your child accurately.’ A key section to reflect on is outcomes, he says. ‘The majority of the meeting will be focusing on the outcomes for your child so look through these and evaluate how you think your child is progressing with them.’
- Take time over your submission
Before the annual review you will be sent a form to complete to comment on your child's progress at the school. One parent told us, ‘It's important to take time over this, and make sure you note anything that isn't working, and any additional help you think your child needs, because this goes into the official record, and it means it will have to be discussed at the meeting.’ Sending this in advance of the meeting also gives the school time to ensure that the correct professionals are around the table to support you.
- Look ahead
Jot down ideas about where you would like to see your child’s next steps in learning. ‘Think about all areas to include - communication, behaviour management, occupational based skills, vocational type learning (especially for the older students), community based learning, exercise programmes and self-help based work,’ suggests Piper. And when you complete the forms, don’t forget to include your aspirations for your child. ‘Make them big, don’t be afraid to suggest things like world of work or community based activities.’
- Highlight inaccuracies
A key purpose of the annual review is to check that the EHCP remains relevant and accurate, and participants at the review, including parents, can suggest revisions. Buckton told us, ‘The school should send over to the LA any amendments needed to the EHCP, however the parent voice is louder than the schools, so ensure that you communicate your concerns if paperwork is not accurate.’
One parent explained, ‘The chair will ask whether all parts of the EHCP are still appropriate, so if you have been given a dodgy or rushed EHCP, you can suggest amendments, and a proposed rewritten version will be sent to the local authority. They may still try to challenge it, but with luck you will have the backing of all the professionals who were at the annual review.’
- Gather evidence
Make notes on concerns to cover and, particularly if you would like to discuss an alternative school, put together a document outlining why the current provision is not working. For example, is your child sliding backwards academically or not making any progress? Are there issues with the peer group? Is your child clearly unhappy? Include evidence along with dates and details of issues, and take this to your meeting.
- Prepare questions
Write these down in advance. There can be a dozen or more people present at the meeting, and it can be intense, so you are likely to forget what you wanted to ask otherwise.
At the annual review
Each professional around the table will summarise their views on your child's progress, and areas to address in the coming year. Some chairs ask the parents to go first, others will work around the table. When it comes to your turn:
- Highlight your concerns
The review meeting is a reflection of the year gone by so this is the key moment to highlight anything that isn't being done and to get it documented for action. One parent explained, ‘If, for example, the speech therapy provision outlined in your child's EHCP isn't taking place as fully as it should be, say so; or if they are trying one intervention and it isn't working, now is the time to say that you want to see another approach tried.’
- Don't be intimidated
You must speak up if things are not being done properly. Parents admit, ‘It can be difficult to criticise a school or the therapy/learning that is taking place when the staff are all sitting around the table in front of you, but you have to grit your teeth and do it for the sake of your child. Be as polite as you can and try to put the points in a factual and unemotional way which avoids criticism of individuals.’
- Discuss transitions
If you think your child is in the wrong school and you want to move him or her, the annual review can start the ball rolling with the LA. As part of the review the chair will ask whether you feel that the placement is still appropriate. Now is the time to put your case.
- Take notes
‘Ensure your wishes are discussed and minuted,’ advises Piper. If possible, take a friend who can make notes for you. You will be sent minutes of the meeting afterwards, and you should check these are accurate and have included everything you raised, as these go on your child’s file. Hold on to the minutes as there should be a clear indication of who is going to action any points raised; you will then know who to chase if nothing happens in a reasonable time.
Who can parents turn to for help?
- First port of call should be your child’s school. Alternatively, the local authority can support parents through the process, via the impartial, free and confidential advice service, SENDIASS.
- Find out if your council has a local supportive group. For example, in South Gloucestershire, South Glos Supportive Parents provide free training and 1:1 support for parents in the annual review process.
- The charities IPSEA (www.ipsea.org.uk) and SOS!SEN (www.sossen.org.uk) can offer advice.
- The Good Schools Guide SEN consultants can provide telephone advice. Call 0203 286 6824 or email [email protected].