My 12-year-old son has just completed his first year of high school, having been diagnosed with ASD in the summer holiday between primary and secondary. His stress levels have rocketed during Y7, and at home, he has become distressed, angry, aggressive and socially withdrawn. At school, despite having a very low processing speed and significant difficulties with executive function, he still manages to achieve within what they would consider the average range. He is very focused on avoiding negative attention and is very adept at masking his difficulties. Consequently, he comes across as quiet, sometimes withdrawn, but always well-behaved,
Despite many emails and a meeting with the SENDCO and Pastoral Year Manager to discuss his needs, few of his classroom teachers have made any meaningful classroom accommodations. This means that he is left struggling to process huge chunks of verbal information that he cannot cope with and to manage tasks that are beyond his executive function abilities. His self-esteem, ability to engage with friends and willingness to attend school have all fallen dramatically. I can't put him through another four years of this (I think he is close to school refusal anyway)and am wondering whether a specialist unit attached to a mainstream school might be able to support him more effectively. Obtaining a place at any of these would require an EHCP.
What leverage do I have to use to ensure that the classroom accommodations and support that he needs (as detailed in his diagnostic report and again in a document that I produced for school) are put in place by his current school?
What evidence should I be collecting to support an application for an EHCP? Should I be asking for a CAMHS referral from GP? Logging his mental health needs with the GP? At the moment, we have ongoing contact with the Clinical Psychologist / SALT who diagnosed him privately. Should I involve other agencies as a way of building up evidence?
In order to obtain an EHCP, you would need to apply for an EHC needs assessment. This is the only type of assessment that can lead to an EHCP being issued. You can apply for an EHC needs assessment via your local authority (“LA”). Once you have applied, the LA has a maximum of six weeks to decide whether to carry out the assessment or not, and to inform you of their decision.
The legal test for an EHC needs assessment sets a relatively low bar as per s36(8) Children and Families Act 2014 (“CAFA”):
The local authority must secure an EHC needs assessment for the child or young person if… the authority is of the opinion that —
(a) the child or young person has or may have special educational needs, and
(b) it may be necessary for special educational provision to be made for the child or young person in accordance with an EHC plan.
When requesting an EHC needs assessment, it helps to provide as much evidence as you can that your child meets this legal test. There is no need to prove at this point that your child definitely does have SEN or that an EHCP will definitely be required, just that this may be the case. You could therefore send professional reports or assessments, school reports and diagnosis letters, as well as anything else you have to show your child’s needs and the difficulties they are facing in school.
To provide further detail to the legal test, the definition of SEN and special educational provision are also detailed in the CAFA, as below:
(1) A child or young person has special educational needs if he or she has a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.
(2) A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she—
(a) has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or
(b) has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions.
(1) “Special educational provision”, for a child aged two or more or a young person, means educational or training provision that is additional to, or different from, that made generally for others of the same age in—
(a) mainstream schools in England,
(b) maintained nursery schools in England,
(c) mainstream post-16 institutions in England, or
(d) places in England at which relevant early years education is provided.
You may note that this does not require a child to be failing academically for them to be considered to have SEN or to require additional support. Other needs in addition to learning must also be considered, including social issues and mental health. The SEND Code of Practice 2015 sets out four broad areas of need, which you may like to refer to in setting out your son’s needs in your application. The four broad areas of need are:
- Cognition and learning
- Social, emotional and mental health
- Communication and interaction
- Sensory and/or physical
It is not essential that your son’s needs fit into these categories, but they can be helpful prompts and a useful reminder that SEN encompasses more than academic concerns.
Your LA may have an online hub or a set form that it requests is completed in order to apply for an assessment. However, the LA must accept a request in any form. IPSEA would always advise that you apply in writing/via email so that you have a paper trail. There is a model letter that you can use on the IPSEA website as a guide:
In the meantime, your son’s school has duties to support him. They should have already put SEN Support in place and be providing special educational provision via the school’s own SEN budget. SEN Support follows a cycle of action, which consists of assess, plan, do, review. The school carries out an assessment of the child’s needs, compiles a plan of how to meet those needs, carries out the plan and then reviews it. Reviews must be carried out at least three times a year, and an annual report drafted. This process is explained in chapter 6 of the SEND Code of Practice 2015. The school must also use its ‘best endeavours’ (s66 CAFA) to support pupils with SEN. This means doing everything they can to ensure that the required special educational provision is secured. You can find more information about schools’ duties on the IPSEA website:
As the school appears to be unwilling to put in place suitable support, this can be evidence in itself that an EHC needs assessment is required. A case in 2014 (Manchester CC v JW  ELR 304) determined that where a school can’t, or won’t, use its best endeavours and put sufficient support in place, then it may be necessary for the LA to assess or issue a plan. You can therefore include in your application if the school is currently unable or unwilling to provide appropriate support.