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‘You need an EHCP.’ If these words aren’t music to your ears when you have a child with special educational needs, you may need a rethink.

Education Health Care Plans – why they matter

‘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 Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), like the erstwhile Statement of Educational Needs, is a legal document which is drawn up between the Local Education Authority, Health and Social Care and a child’s family, or a young person between 16 and 25. The EHCP identifies a child or young person’s needs and sets out the additional support to meet those needs. An EHCP is often suggested to parents whose children are having any difficulties at school, but for some families, it’s not what they want to hear. They fear it is going to label their child, or prejudice schools against taking them. Fortunately, amendments to the process have now made the child, parent and young person’s wishes and views central in the EHCP process.

The purpose of an EHCP is a positive one. The idea is to provide clear structured support for any difficulties a child has, and identify what a school must put in place to help them, along with the outcomes necessary to achieve it. There will also be a clear timeframe drawn up, during which the outcomes should be achieved, and when they will be next reviewed. The fact that it’s legally binding means the local authority must fund any extra help identified as necessary.

Golden ticket to school admissions

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 many other applicants. It allows you to apply to schools for which 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. However, the school must agree to be able to support the admission when it is named. An exception is a selective school, for which the child would still have to pass entry criteria.

In fact, it is often necessary to have an EHCP for entry to a special school or college 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 and language provision, occupational therapy, or assistive resources.

The process

The process varies according to the local authority but has some defined requirements. Initially you will be asked to request an EHC needs assessment (EHCna), to see if your child’s needs can be met under the setting’s current SEN arrangements or whether an EHC plan is necessary. Not all EHC needs assessments will lead to EHC plans.

SENCos generally 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 needs assessment for your child, yourself. A young person 16-25 can request one via a form on their website, or parents can speak to the special educational needs department of their local authority.

Criteria

There are two criteria to meet to qualify for an EHCP needs assessment. First, you must supply evidence of your child’s academic attainment and rate of progress, secondly information about the nature, extent and context of their needs.

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. They will ask you to participate in information gathering about your child, including filling out a page called, ‘All About Me’. This is your chance to document your child’s strengths, difficulties and aspirations and it will inform the local authority of your perspective. In addition there is an opportunity to express your own views and hopes as parents. If an EHC plan is deemed necessary, these reports will form the first section.

Katie Clarke, who has been through the whole EHCP 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 school 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.'

The next steps

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 will also invite the family to a Support and Outcomes Plan session, to agree the provision before the final draft is published. Don’t forget to find out who is responsible for reviewing the EHCP and to set a review date. For younger children, it may need updating every few months, for most children it will be an annual review.

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.

In addition, you may be able to claim a personal budget for your child’s additional provision, either managed and paid to yourself or paid to the school, but with your management (called ‘notional arrangements’) towards their SEN support.

Allow plenty of time for the process – it should be completed within 20 weeks of the agreement to assess, but sometimes takes longer. And beware of red herrings. The Good Schools Guide recently heard about councils under pressure issuing informal plans which outline the pupil’s needs - sometimes called Notice in lieu of an EHCP, or ‘learning plans’. These have no legal basis or funding attached. If it’s not called an EHCP, then it isn’t one.

During the C-19 pandemic, the rules for EHCPs were temporarily relaxed, and timescales for issuing EHCPs were considered where ‘reasonably practical’ but delays could only occur for a reason relating to the incidence or transmission of coronavirus. This flexibility has since been withdrawn.

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].

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