It’s common for children with autism to have a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC Plan or EHCP). These are official documents that record your child’s special needs and notes:
· what reasonable adjustments schools or colleges need to make
· what extra support or therapy your child is entitled to
· what kind of school or college can meet their needs.
The Children and Families Act of September 2014 mandates that children and young people are now given EHCPs instead of Statements of SEN. Anyone with an existing Statement of SEN must begin the ‘Transition’ to an EHCP and the duty is with the local authority to complete this process by 1st April 2018.
An EHCP can be applied for by someone’s school, their parents, or the young person him or herself if he/she is aged between 16 and 25. The 2014 SEND Code of Practice (PDF) states that schools should start the EHCP process, and wherever possible do it with the knowledge and agreement of the parent or young person concerned. (Paragraph 9.8.)
How do we get an EHCP?
Step 1. Making the request
If your child’s school is willing to cooperate, it can be a good idea to go through them; they’ve probably done it before and will be familiar with the system.
Things you may want to include with your letter:
- Copies of reports you’ve had from health professionals.
- Details of your child’s results in any national tests they’ve taken.
- School reports.
It’s not compulsory to include any of these, but they can help support your case.
Step 2. The local authority’s initial decision
Once they’ve received a request for an EHCP, the local authority has to decide whether or not to carry out an assessment. They have a maximum of six weeks to consult and get back to you with their decision.
The purpose of an assessment is to consider whether there’s evidence that a child or young person has special needs. If you already have a diagnosis, then that speeds the process along, but if you’re still at the stage where you suspect autism but haven’t got it confirmed, you don’t have to wait. The local authority’s guideline, as laid down by paragraph 9.14 of the SEND Code of Practice (PDF), is that they:
‘…should consider whether there is evidence that despite the early years provider, school or post-16 institution having taken relevant and purposeful action to identify, assess and meet the special educational needs of the child or young person, the child or young person has not made expected progress.’
In Chapter 1.17 of the Code of Practice it says: ‘A child’s parents, young people, schools and colleges have specific rights to request a needs assessment for an EHC plan and children and their parents and young people should feel able to tell their school or college if they believe they have or may have SEN.’
The Local Authority may well want evidence in addition to your views so ensure that you have copies of any reports that may have been undertaken on your child or young person; the diagnosis and any reports from the school. The special needs don’t need to be proved at this stage, as under S36(8) of the Children and Families Act 2014, it says the local authority must secure an EHC needs assessment for the child or young person if, after having regard to any views expressed and evidence submitted under subsection (7), the authority is of the opinion that:
- the child or young person has or may have special educational needs, and
- it may be necessary for special educational provision to be made for the child or young person in accordance with an EHC plan.
So make sure that you have gathered all the relevant information you have which you think will help.
If the local authority decide not to carry out an assessment you have the right to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.
If they do decide to carry out an assessment, the process moves on to the next step.
Step 3. Assessment
At this point the local authority gathers as much information as they can about your child or young persons situation and needs. You may have been allocated a dedicated caseworker from the local authority as your key point of contact. They may ask for information from:
- You and/or your child or young person.
- Your child or young person’s school, college or other educational setting.
- Health care professionals.
- An educational psychologist.
- Social services.
- Any person you ask them to contact, as long as they agree it’s a reasonable suggestion.
- Anyone else they think is necessary.
The deadline for replying to the local authority is within six weeks of being contacted.
Once they have all the information, your local authority then holds its first major meeting to decide whether they need to make provision for special educational needs in an EHCP. It is a good idea to consult your local authority SEND Local Offer website for information on how this process is managed in your area.
If they decide it’s not necessary, they must inform you within sixteen weeks of the original request for assessment. This should include telling you that you have the right to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal if you don’t agree with their decision.
If they do decide it’s necessary, the next stage is drafting the EHCP.
Step 4. Drafting the EHCP
Once it’s agreed that an EHCP should be drafted, there will be a second meeting held to fill it in. At this meeting decisions should be made in partnership with you and your child or young person. This can be a major opportunity to influence things, so it’s a good idea to have researched providers and services in your local authority Local Offer beforehand. You may also want to talk things through with a charity like Information, Advice and Support Services Network (formerly called Parent Partnership) who may be able to send a representative to assist you during the meeting. If you want a representative it’s wise to ask them as far in advance as possible.
What's in an EHCP?
The exact contents of an EHCP are going to vary as there’s no set template however they have to be based on plans drawn up in chapter 9 of the SEND Code of Practice (PDF), which lays down some common features that all EHCPs have to include. You can, therefore, expect your child or young persons EHCP to have the following sections:
Section A: You and/or your child/young persons interests, aspirations, and basic view of the situation.
Section B: Your son or daughter’s special educational needs (SEN).
Section C: Any health needs that are related to his or her SEN.
Section D: His or her social care needs.
Section E: What outcomes you’re hoping to achieve, including your long-term hopes for his or her adult life.
Section F: What special educational provision he or she requires.
Sections G & F: What provision you need health or social care services to make.
Section I: The name of your child or young persons school or other placement, and what kind of institution it is.
Section J: This covers the Personal Budget. If you have one, Section J details how it will support particular outcomes, how it will be used, how flexible you can be in using it, and any arrangements made for direct payments for education, health and social care.
Section K: The advice and information that was gathered when the EHC needs were being assessed.
The EHCP has to include a discussion of what is officially described as ‘outcomes’. In practice, this is simply the formal way of describing where you want to be at the end of the process – what you hope your child can achieve, and how you want his or her education to support that.
These ambitions are broader than just passing exams: it’s the purpose of education to prepare a child for adulthood, and that applies to children with autism as well. The goals you should consider include:
- Education and/or training.
- Health care.
- Social care and support.
Ultimately, the EHCP should include a consideration of your son or daughter’s long-term prospects, including – if this is something they can achieve – the ability to live independently and engage in meaningful employment. For some young people this may seem like a more attainable goal than for others, but the EHCP is your opportunity to put it on the record.
Outcomes are about the effects of your child or young person’s education, not just the content. To use an example offered by the SEND Code of Practice: ‘The provision of three hours of speech and language therapy is not an outcome. In this case, the outcome is what it is intended that the speech and language therapy will help the individual to do that they cannot do now, and by when this will be achieved.’
The legal definition, as laid down by paragraph 9.66 of the SEND Code of Practice, is this: ‘an outcome can be defined as the benefit or difference made to an individual as the result of an intervention.’ The acronym they use is SMART: these goals have to be specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic and time bound. It’s useful to remember that the outcomes section is the standard you’re going to be measuring your child or young persons education against, so the stronger you can make that section, the better.
- A helpful eight-step guide to creating and recording outcomes, produced by Helen Sanderson Associations (a consultancy dedicated to ‘person centred change and social justice’.
- Information and suggestions (PDF) from the Autism Education Trust on working together with your child’s school.
Step 5. Agreeing the EHCP
After the meeting, the local authority will write up everything that was discussed into a first draft EHCP. Once it’s complete, they will then send it to you for comments. You have fifteen days to get back to them, though if circumstances make that difficult, you can apply for an extension.
If you have identified a particular school or college for your child or young person, this is the moment to bring forward your preference.
The first draft EHCP can’t include any references to preferred schools: the 15-day comment period is when you get to make the request. The local authority should mention this to you when they send you the draft EHCP. If they accept your preference, it will be named in the EHCP’s section 1.
If the local authority refuses to include your preference, once again the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal is the place to go to appeal. You will have to wait until after the final EHCP has been issued to make such an appeal.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal is also the place to go if you’re unhappy with the education section of the EHCP and can’t persuade the local authority to change it. (At the moment, the Tribunal can’t decide on the health or social care parts, just education.) It is to your advantage to wait until the final EHCP has been issued before you appeal, so that provisions it does make, such as classroom support, are in place right away, without the disputed matter holding things up.
Step 6. Finalising the EHCP
Once everything has been agreed, the local authority will send you the final plan. This should happen as soon as possible; technically you should receive it a maximum of 20 weeks after the first request for assessment.
EHCPs are subject to yearly reviews to make sure they’re up to date with your child’s needs, so you’ll need to keep on top of them, but once the initial one is established, the reviews are a lot easier to manage.
Once you have an EHCP it establishes your child or young person within the system and is the main authority to which you can refer when attempting to get his or her needs met. An EHCP makes life easier in several very important ways:
- If your child or young person is in mainstream education, it allows the school to apply for funding. This will make it possible for them to arrange a teaching assistant to support your child in class, visits from Speech and Language Therapists, extra equipment, or other things that they previously couldn’t access.
- If you want your child or young person to go to a special school or an autism resource based within a mainstream school, an EHCP makes it possible for you to apply for a place.
- If you’re applying for a place in a mainstream state-funded school, an EHCP often gives your child priority. Different local authorities arrange the priority order slightly differently, but along with having siblings already at the school, or living in foster care, having special educational needs is one of the basics and generally quite high on the list. The school will make the decision based on whether they can meet your child or young persons needs, but it does reduce some of the usual hassle over catchment areas.
- If your child or young person is moving from one school or college to another, being able to bring the EHCP with them saves a lot of explaining and gives a much better chance of consistency.
- Interestingly, many child-friendly places such as zoos and theme parks will allow one adult to go in free as a ‘carer’ if you can prove the child is disabled. (This is good two ways: either you save money you would otherwise have had to spend, or, if you have a season ticket that includes you as an adult, it gives you some flexibility about which adult companions you can bring along. Any adult is counted as a carer.) An EHCP is one of the documents they’ll accept as a proof of disability.
We have resources available to help prepare for an EHCP review. Please find below:
What happens when my son or daughter leaves school?
An EHCP shouldn’t be automatically ended just because a young person leaves school. One of the purposes of the EHCP is to support people who are trying to spend more time in education or training: it is part of preparing them for independent (or semi-independent) adulthood and can be very helpful for someone learning to stand on his or her own feet.
Between the ages of 19 and 25, the local authority may or may not decide that the EHCP is the best way to keep supporting someone. It’s not an automatic right; instead, a local authority should keep the EHCP going for people who:
- Want to remain in education or training so they can ‘complete and consolidate’ what they learned at school
- Still need special educational provisions
- Haven’t yet fully managed to achieve the education and training outcomes the EHCP set out
- Would be able to progress towards those outcomes if they stayed in education or training
That said, ‘education or training’ isn’t a catch-all. College counts as ‘further education’, and is covered, but university counts as ‘higher education’: a person in university will have their EHCP ended, as it’s considered that if he or she needs some support, it’s better provided through the Disabled Students Allowance.
How this transition will be managed depends on the individual. The basic guidelines are in the SEND Code of Practice (PDF), which cover education or employment as well as social care and health service support.
When does an EHCP come to an end?
A local authority can only end an EHCP under two circumstances:
- It decides that the child/young person no longer needs the support the EHCP laid out. However, they can’t decide that simply on the grounds of age: if the young person is 19 or older, the local authority has to consider how far the education and training objectives in the plan have been achieved. If the objectives are realistic but haven’t been fully achieved yet, the plan should continue.
- It’s no longer responsible for the child or young person. Reasons for this include:
- You’ve moved house and are now under a different local authority.
- The young person has gone into paid employment.
- The young person has gone into higher education, i.e. university. However, an EHCP can continue if he or she attends college, which is further education.
- The young person is at least eighteen and no longer wants to continue in education.
If the local authority wants to end your child or young persons plan and you disagree, you can appeal against their decision to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. As long as the appeal is ongoing, the authority can’t stop the support the current plan lays down.