An EHCP is described as a last resort for children with additional needs, as it expected that the majority of reasonable adjustment requirements that the notional SEN budget can meet a child needs within a mainstream education setting.
Certainly, within Northamptonshire, there is also an unwritten push towards only issuing plans for children who need specialist provision. Limiting the support you can access for your child with special schools and designated special provision is only accessible with an EHCP.
An EHCP does the following:
-Identify the needs of the child or young person and the provision that is required to meet them
-Names the education setting the child or young person will be attending
-Details any funding that is attached to the plan to ensure that the higher level of support is provided, that can't be financially through the notional SEN budget
-The plan also places a legal duty on the Local Authority to meet the provisions stated
An assessment request can be made by the education setting, the parents or the young person if they are over 16 years old.
Parents, Guardians and Carers can write to the Local Authority to request a statutory assessment. The letter should have the reasons you believe your child has or may have special educational needs and why they need the provisions to be made through an EHC Plan. A reply from the Local Authority must happen within six weeks as stated in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 (Regulation 4(1)), if the Local Authority deny the request, you can appeal through an SEN tribunal.
Once the request is made, the Local Authority must consider:
-If the child or young person has or may have special educational needs; and
-If special education provision may need to be made through an EHC plan
If the answer to both of these questions is yes, an EHC needs assessment must happen. The assessment test is part of the Children and Families Act 2014 (Section 36(8)), meaning these are the only questions the Local Authority should be asking in deciding whether or not to carry out an EHC needs assessment.
Despite this legal test Northamptonshire Local Authority tends to apply their own policies and thresholds, appeal processes allow you to challenge this should your request for an assessment be denied.
The needs assessment, assess the education, health care and social care of the child or young person. The Local Authority has to obtain advice from a range of people. Stated in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 (Regulation 6(1)) is the list of people the Local Authority must seek advice from, this information is the legal minimum the Local Authority has to do:
-The child's parent and the young person
-Educational advice - usually from the headteacher or SENCO
-Medical advice- usually from a health care professional
-Psychological advice - from an educational psychologist
-Advice and information concerning social care
-Advice and information from any other person the local authority thinks appropriate
-Where the child or young person attends or will attend beyond year 9
-Advice and information concerning provision to assist the child or young person in preparation for adulthood and independent living
-Advice and information from whoever the child's parents or young person request the Local Authority contact
During this process, some parents get reports from private specialists such as Occupational therapists (OT), to support the needs assessment. All information provided needs to be specific and quantified in terms of the provision suggested, and this includes advice from NHS and private professionals.
The ongoing battle is that the amount of resources restricts the NHS professionals; the restrictions tend to be reflected in their recommendations. In contrast, the Local Authority considers the private professionals are writing the recommendations in the hope of more work. However, the Local Authority is legally obliged to take account of all the reports submitted. If, for example, a recommendation made for a service not provided by the NHS (such a sensory regulation), then the Local Authority may then fund a second opinion.
Advice must be clear, specific and accessible (SEN and Disability Code of Practice, Paragraph 9.51). Guidance should particularly address the child or young person's needs, the provisions required to meet those needs and the outcomes the provisions aim to achieve.
Your views as a parent, guardian or carer are important, but the process can be overwhelming. The everyday challenges and the adaptations you make become almost 'normal' and so it can be tough thinking about all the needs and adjustments your child or young person needs.
The SEND Code of Practice 2015 states that "special educational needs can be experienced in just one or across all four "areas of need."
These four areas of need are in the plan, so it is vital to prepare your thoughts for expressing your views on the ones you deem relevant to your child or young person.
IPESA has a list of prompts for what you may need to consider for the areas of need:
-Use of language
-Lack of self-advocacy (being able to ask for help/toilet)
-Difficulties with transitions/task initiation and using non-verbal behaviour to communicate difficulties
-Mind-blindness, central coherence and executive function difficulties
-Specific Learning Difficulties (dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia)
-Reduced availability for learning due to dysregulation caused by transitions, sensory differences and changes to routine
-Feeding or eating disorders
-Anxiety, OCD and stress
-Bad or hyperactive behaviour in a school setting and/or at home
-Fine or gross motor problems
-Sensory integration difficulties
-Personal space issues
-Feeding or toileting
After agreeing to assess the Local Authority have 16 weeks to inform you if they are not going to be issuing a plan, a further 10 weeks from this date, they have to inform you if they will be conducting an assessment. If they are issuing a plan, the draft should be with you, within 14 weeks so the following deadlines of the process can be met.
EHCP's tend to be large documents split into lettered sections. Key sections you need to be aware of are B (child's SEN), F (required SEN provision) and I (name of the school and type of school or institution); these are the sections that are enforceable by the law via an SEN tribunal.
The only relevant issue is whether the provision is required to meet the child's needs, not whether resources or services are locally available. Once you have received the draft plan, you can name your school and make any comments or request any alterations you feel are needed. There is a two-week deadline for the process, and then the Local Authority will consult with the school, and issue the final plan. There are usually aspects to challenge or issues with school placement.
The EHCP process is a legal one, and you have rights and access to the SEN Tribunal at various points throughout the process if the Local Authority:
-Refuses to carry out a needs assessment
-Refuses to issue an EHCP-
-To access better supportIssues or amends an EHC Plan but you disagree with any or all of Section B (special educational needs), Section F (special educational provision) or Section I (placement)
-Decides not to amend an EHC Plan after an annual review
-Decides to cease to maintain the EHC Plan at any point
Before the tribunal, you have the right to free independent mediation which enables you to meet with the Local Authority and challenge their decision in a meeting. Some people argue this is just a delay tactic and doesn't get results, so it is best to go straight to tribunal.
If you opt for that, you need to request a mediation certificate to confirm the offer, but you have declined, there is not a bad judgement from the judge for refusal of mediation.
If you do decide to give mediation a go and feel you have a reasonably clear and well-evidenced case, request that a decision-maker be present from the Local Authority, so an outcome is reached on the day.
The appeal process is daunting, as it is a formal legal process. However, there is help and support available, and at the time of writing (December 2020), the current success rate for parents taking Northamptonshire Local Authority to SEN tribunal is 96%.
An EHCP is not for every child with ASC; some individuals will be able to manage fine in school with support through reasonable adjustments and the notional budget funding. However, some do need significantly more help, and even different environments to enable them to access their education. Remember, it is not just about academic ability; it is about removing the barriers to learning, giving children an equal opportunity to learn as their peers so that they can reach their full individual potential.
We are not claiming to be experts in the EHCP process and so have identified the prominent support organisations for you to access throughout this journey below.