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What is an ECHP? 

An ECHP (Education, Health and Care Plan) is a legal document 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, over and above the normal SEND budget. In England, the forerunner to EHCPs was called a Statement of Educational Needs. Statements are still in use in Wales and Northern Ireland while in Scotland the closest equivalent is called a ‘co-ordinated support plan’.  

Who is an EHCP for? 

An EHCP is often suggested to parents whose children are having difficulties at school, but the qualifying criteria are not always clear. Some families do not want to hear that their child may require an EHCP as they fear the labels that may come with it, or that it will 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 process. 

‘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.’ 

Benefits for child with EHCP 

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, during which the outcomes should be achieved, and when they will be reviewed. The fact that it’s legally binding means the local authority must fund any extra help identified as necessary.

EHCP School admissions 

When it comes to school admissions, a parent may name their preferred school in the EHCP and in doing so, automatically gives their child priority over other children for that school. Read more on School admissions and EHCPs

How to apply for an EHCP 

The process varies according to the local authority, but has some set 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 EHC needs assessment for your child, yourself, or a young person 16-25 can, via a form on the local education authority website. Alternatively, parents can speak to the SEND department of their local authority. 

EHCP Criteria 

There are certain criteria to meet to qualify for an EHC needs assessment. You must supply evidence of your child’s academic attainment and rate of progress, as well as information about the nature, extent and context of their needs, and what intervention has been put in place to support the child. Evidence of the child’s physical, emotional and social needs is also required. 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. 

Within sixteen weeks, you will receive notice whether the request for an EHC needs assessment has been approved; so keep a note of the date you submit it. Local authorities 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. You have the right to appeal at this point and your appeal will be dealt with by the SEND tribunal. 

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 95 per cent of families who appeal have, in part, a positive outcome. 

'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.' 

What is involved in an EHC assessment?  

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. The information-gathering process can take up to 20 weeks and involves inviting 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’).  

Allow plenty of time for the process – it should be completed within 20 weeks of the agreement to assess. 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 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. 

What should a good EHCP one look like? 

A good EHC Plan should be clear, concise, understandable and accessible to education providers and practitioners as well as to the parents and child or young person.  

It must be accurate and detailed. You should ensure that it covers aspects relating to the child’s communication and interaction; cognition and learning; sensory and physical needs, as well as health and social care requirements. 

’Unfortunately, the provision in Section F of EHC Plans is often not specific or detailed enough’, Samantha Hale of Maxwell Gillott solicitors tells us, It should be clear exactly what is being provided, and, where appropriate, by whom and how often, to meet all the needs identified. 

For example, it should not just say a child will have access to a speech and language programme, but should say if it includes direct speech and language therapy, and if so how often/how long for, as well as who will be reviewing and implementing the programme, and anything else the provision should include. 

If the child does not receive the provision detailed, a good EHC Plan will assist in a legal challenge against this. 

Name a suitable school  

EHCPs should also include the type and name of the school that is suitable to meet the child/young person’s needs. An EHCP will, of course, only be considered to be good if the parents and young person are satisfied that the school named is in fact suitable. 

We recommend that parents seek legal advice when they receive an EHCP, so that they can get specific advice and assistance with any appeal. 

Samantha Hale is a solicitor specialising in Education, Community Care and Public Law at Maxwell Gillott 

How often should an EHCP be reviewed? 

By law, Education, Health and Care Plans should be reviewed at least once a year. 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 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, push for further support, or request alternative schools. A review can be requested at any time, but the EHCP must be reviewed at least annually. 

Before an annual review 

  • Read all paperwork thoroughly. Study all recent reports from therapists, teachers, 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. Someone from the local authority may also attend, particularly for pupils year nine and above Look over your child’s EHCP, noting anything that is no longer relevant or needs updating. Although it is time consuming, it is important that this document reflects your child accurately, in particular the outcomes.  
  • 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 Sue Piper, Head of Prior’s Court. 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. Within ten days, the school must send the LA any amendments in the form of a report. 
  • Alternative school ideas. 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?  
  • 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 meant to ask. 

At the Annual Review meeting 

Each professional around the table will summarise their views on your child's progress, and areas to address in the coming year. 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.’ 
  • 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. 

The Annual Review Report. Ensure your wishes are discussed and minuted, as these will form the basis of the report from the meeting. The Chair will send all attendees at the meeting a copy of the report, to check for accuracy, which must be returned to the local authority within ten days. Check it covers the important issues you raised, if not, raise them again. 

How long can an EHCP last? 

A young adult can have all the benefits of an EHCP potentially up to the end of the academic year in which they reach 25 years of age, if they remain in education or training, and the local authority considers it necessary to maintain the Plan. 

What are the grounds to maintain an EHCP Plan? 

When considering whether to maintain a Plan post-19, the local authority (LA) should consider the educational and training outcomes that are stated in the Plan and whether or not they have been achieved. So when the Plan is written it's a good idea to ensure that the outcomes will stretch the pupil and are not too readily achievable. 

The LA should also consider whether staying in education or training would help the young person to progress and to achieve those outcomes. It should also consider whether the young person wants to remain in education or training, as they must be involved in the process as adults. 

If the outcomes have not been achieved, and it is hoped that they will be if the pupil remains in education or training, and the young person wants to remain in education or training, then the Plan should continue to be maintained, and the relevant funding provided for this. 

If the LA decides it is no longer necessary for them to maintain the Plan, they can cease it. If they do, the young person will have a right of appeal against this to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability). 

What is an IEP? 

The revised SEND code of practice does not mention the term Individual Education Plan (IEP) which was recommended, but not required use, under the 2001 code. However, you may sometimes hear the term as some schools continue to use it as a method of planning SEN provision, under the Assess, Plan, Do, Review structure. 

The term IEP is used in America to refer to an Individualized Education Program, which is a legal document under United States law that is developed for each public school child in the US who needs special education; it is a similar thing to the UK’s EHCP. 

Where can parents get help with EHCPs? 

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. 

The charities IPSEA and SOS!SEN can offer advice. 

The Good Schools Guide SEN consultants can provide telephone advice. Call 0203 286 6824 or email [email protected]

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