Steps to follow
If your child has learning difficulties or disabilities which affects their behaviour and makes it harder for them to learn or communicate than most children of the same age they may be classified as having 'special educational needs' (SEN).
If you feel your child has SEN you can get help from inside and outside the mainstream education system to help them improve their behaviour and ability to make friends; schoolwork; comprehension; communication and organisational skills.
If you feel your child has SEN, efforts will be made at first to provide the help s/he needs within the mainstream education system. You should approach your child’s class teacher, the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) or the head teacher.
If your child's school agrees that s/he has SEN they will adopt a step-by-step approach to meeting these needs using the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice as a guide. This outlines how those involved in early education should identify, assess and help children with SEN.
The step-by-step approach generally starts with a basic level of extra help known as School Action which could involve a different way of teaching; additional help from an adult; or extra equipment like a computer or special desk. The action being taken to help your child may be written up in an individual education plan which includes targets for your child, progress check dates and what you can do at home to help.
If the School Action doesn’t work, School Action Plus - extra help from outside the school (eg a specialist teacher or speech therapist) - could be required.
If your child’s school still can’t cater for your child’s needs, you or the school can ask your local authority for a statutory assessment – an investigation to find out what your child's SENs are and what help they need. The local authority should tell you within 6 weeks if they will carry out an assessment.
If the assessment goes ahead, views on your child will be sought from you; your child's school; an educational psychologist; a doctor; social services (if they know your child); anyone else considered relevant. You can attend any interview, medical or other test during the assessment.
Once the assessment is finished, SEN officers will decide whether to write down the information they’ve amassed in a statement of SEN. This will set out your child's needs and the help they should have. It is reviewed annually to ensure your child's needs are being properly met.
If a statement is required, a draft will be drawn up and you will have the opportunity to comment.
If the local authority opts not to write a statement, it will explain why, and tell you how it feels your child's needs should be met in school or in other ways.
What to watch out for
If your child has a statement of SEN you have a right to say which state school you want them to go to, either mainstream or special. Your local authority must abide by your wishes provided that the school you’ve picked is suitable for your child's age, ability, skills and SEN; your child meets any academic selection criteria the school has; your child's presence won’t negatively affect the education of other pupils; placing your child there will be an efficient use of the local authority's resources.
Solicitor’s top tip
If the local authority decides not to assess your child, it must write and tell you and why and outline what else it will do to help your child. If you disagree, try and sort out the dispute informally but if this doesn’t work out, you can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. If the tribunal upholds your appeal it can order the local authority to make a statutory assessment but it can’t make it draw up a statement or order a school to provide extra help for your child if it decides a statutory assessment isn’t needed. You have two months from the local authority’s decision letter to appeal – make sure you appeal within the time limit as the tribunal probably won’t hear your appeal if you’re late. You can also appeal to this tribunal if you disagree with parts of the statement.
Contact a Family
National Parent Partnership Network
Parents for Inclusion
SEN: a guide for parents and carers
Appeals against local authority decisions
Independent Panel for Special Education Advice
Find your local authority
Advisory Centre for Education
Applying for an assessment of special educational needs
Appealing to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal
Welcoming a child
Rights of carers
Do I need a lawyer? (personal)
What to consider when selecting a lawyer
Checklist for selecting a lawyer