This was one of the first pages I wrote on this site, with some top tips of how to get yourself organised to apply for a statement application to meet your child's special educational needs.
I thought that after the system changed, I would have to redo it completely, but as I proceed in our own transition, I can see that really, nothing has changed. Even if you have an Independent Supporter assigned to you, they will not appear until you have registered your request for a statutory assessment, if you get one at all.
So you still need to assemble the evidence you will rely on to prove that all reasonable steps to help your child have been taken and still, he or she has not made the progress expected.
If you want to see the flow of the new system, take a look at our SNJ SEND Flow Charts that we co-produced with the Department for Education. These are free to use, download, print, laminate, anything. Why not let me know how you're using them?
If you think your child’s evident (to you) needs will ensure that they will get the help they need, think again. There is a lot of information available since the reforms but it can be confusing and those just coming into the system are unlikely to be aware of where to find it.
The new SEND Code of Practice (2014) emphasises that parents are central to the process of helping the child thrive and succeed at school. In other words, the parents/carers and the teachers are all on the same side and are creating a circle of support around the child. So, in theory, you should be in close contact about what is working and what could be tried.
In reality, this may be far from the truth. Contact may be sporadic, you may not feel welcome, you may feel judged or may even feel that the school is failing your child.
So, whatever your situation, here are some quick and dirty tips that will get you off to a good start:
1. Find out how the school thinks your child is doing.
First of all you should speak to your child’s head teacher or the Special Educational Needs Coordinator, or SENCo. Find out what level of support they are already on, such as School Action or School Action Plus or if they are already on SEN Support and for how long they have been on the SEN register.
Ask to be provided with a record of the educational and/or behavioural interventions used and comments have about how they have worked or not.
Find out who delivered the intervention if you don't already know, over what period, how it has been monitored for progress and whether your child has achieved their target. Get concrete evidence for whatever is said has been achieved. Ensure these outcomes have been achieved reliably and not just hit once on a lucky day! This should give you an idea of exactly what your child is achieving and you should be able to compare it with the average expected level for a child of their age. Gather together any reports or tests your child has ever had done.
This means all their school reports and exam results, any referrals they have had to Paediatricians, Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language Therapists, Educational Psychologists, etc. Make a file up if you haven’t already and put them in chronological order. You are building up a paper profile of your child because you will need to prove that they need the help you say they do.
If you have the facilities, scan all your letters in to your computer as pdfs so that you never lose them and you can print the ones you want off, when you need them - NEVER send originals. You can then organise them into folders on your computer so they documents are easy to find.
2. Find out what your child should be achieving.
The LA will argue that just because a child is achieving below average does not mean that they have special educational needs or that they need SEN Support or an Education, Health and Care Plan. Children in each class will have a broad spectrum of achievement according to their individual potential. Harsh as it seems, some children will never be top of the class but that doesn’t mean that they have SEN. So, how can you show that your child has a greater potential than their current achievements point to?
The obvious way is to secure an Educational Psychology assessment for them. Each LA has its own Ed Psychs although there is a shortage, of course! As the new SEND Code of Practice says that when an SEN is suspected, external experts should be called in at an early stage, it may be that you already have a useable Ed Psych assessment to use but if not, you should ask your SENCo to arrange one so that you can, as a team, get a good idea of the current picture. You may also need to consider a Speech and Language assessment or an Occupational Therapy assessment if this is indicated.
Try to build up and maintain a positive relationship with your school’s SENCo and class teacher if possible. If an Ed Psych assessment is not forthcoming, you could consider a private assessment, usually at great expense, although these are often regarded with suspicion by the LEA that the report is biased towards the parents views, even though it almost certainly isn’t.
3. If applicable, get a medical diagnosis for your child.
Some people don’t like labelling their child, which is fine unless you want to get the state to provide them with the help they need. If little Johnny is dyslexic, ASD, ADHD, dyscalculic or any other hidden disability, you need to be able to prove that this is not just your opinion, even if you are a doctor yourself.
Take your child to your GP and ask for a referral to a paediatrician or to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). A firm medical diagnosis is harder to ignore. If you can afford it, you can also see a paediatrician or child psychiatrist privately for a diagnosis.
If your child has an Undiagnosed condition, focus on the symptoms that they have. You may also be able to draw parallels with known conditions for some of their symptoms that already have useful information, for eg, posture, visual difficulties, medication needs, attention difficulties, sensory issues, accessibility requirements and so on.
4. Do Your Research.
Knowledge is power and in such a David v. Goliath match as the Local Authority vs the parent (despite the new system stressing co-production or working together), this is even more important. The internet means this is not as difficult as it seems. Find out what your LA’s SEN policies are but remember a local authority's policy DOES NOT TRUMP THE LAW.
You can find a lot of information on their websites - they should also be on the Local Offer websites for your area eventually. Read the SEND Code of Practice which you can download in pdf format There are easy read versions available and a Parents' Guide that SNJ had some input into but if you want the unedited facts (and you will if you want to quote from parts of the CoP) nothing beats the Code itself. This is the main page from where you can find the government publications on the 'latest' tab
If you want to understand it more easily, visit IPSEA's website which is packed with legally-backed information. This is the site where we get all our legal advice from and Jane McConnell, IPSEA's CEO and a Barrister, is our legal agony aunt. Make this a vital port of call whatever age or SEND stage your child is at.
5. Work out a strategy
Once you have the information you need, you need to know what to do with it. If your LA has a document outlining its policies, read and analyse it. Make it work for you. Use its own policies to show that your child isn’t getting what they should be. After all, if you can’t prove this, you case will be considerably weaker. When you send in your submission, don’t use their own form if you don’t want to. Write as much as you can that is relevant to your case and provide reports to back them up. Refer to the reports in your document. Approach it like you are writing a report at work or at college. This may take many redrafts and a lot of time. You may feel you need help and if so don’t be afraid to ask (see 8.) Remember this is not for you, it’s for your child.
6. Stay strong
There is no doubt that this process is stressful and often depressing and many parents give up along the way, which is what the LEA is hoping for. If your child has severe and visible needs, you are less likely to be reading this because those cases are self-evident and easier to prove, although this is not always true. It is where a child has a hidden disability that things get trickier. It is completely true that only the most determined will get what they want. You must look after your own physical and mental health in order to help your child. That means eating healthily, sleeping enough (not easy if your child is up a lot in the night), and just doing whatever works for you to keep you going. Remember you are your child’s greatest asset and best advocate. Don’t give up.
7. Get help
Not everyone is great at reading and analysing great tracts of text and complex documents. This is sometimes because the parents themselves have an ASD or are dyslexic; these conditions do, after all, have a genetic component. If this sounds like you, then ask a friend for support or approach some of the excellent charities that can help. We will be adding to the list of these elsewhere on the website in the coming months. If you know of any and would like to share them, please send the link to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to share your troubles, you can make a comment on this blog or there are other parenting sites with SEN sections.
When you apply for an EHCP assessment, you should be offered and assigned an Independent Supporter. You don't have to use one, but they're free and should support you through the process.
And although the law has changed, you may still find the tips for gathering your case together in our SNJ Statementing Guide Book handy, you can find details here