Many children have special educational needs (SEN) at some stage during their education. In most cases, schools working together with parents and carers can put in extra help and support to overcome these difficulties.
The term SEN covers a wide range of difficulties a child may experience at school, such as problems with reading and writing, understanding information, being able to communicate, behaviour issues and physical disabilities.
Most children with SEN are able to attend a mainstream school, with extra support from outside agencies (such as speech and language therapists). Under the current system, children with a SEN can be supported in school at different levels depending on their needs. These systems of support are called ‘School Action’ and ‘School Action Plus’.
For a small number of children, the local authority will need to make a more detailed investigation of a child’s needs using specialist advice. If this assessment decides that the child needs more assistance than the school can provide, then the local authority will go through something known as the ‘statutory assessment process’. They will prepare a statement of special educational needs - which is often simply referred to as a ‘statement’.
A statement is a formal contract between the local authority, yourself and the child’s school and describes your child’s needs, targets for achievement and exactly what support the school and the local authority need to provide together.
Only a few children will need a statutory assessment - usually this will be requested by your child’s school, but parents have a legal right to request a statutory assessment if they feel their child’s school is unable to provide the right level of support.
If the local authority decides not to carry out a statutory assessment you have a right to appeal against this decision. Your local authority should tell you about this, how to appeal and the time limits. If the local authority does carry out an assessment there are timescales for this, and the overall process should not take more than 26 weeks.
Your local Parent Partnership service can offer more advice on this. One of the most important things to remember is that you have an essential part to play in the process and your views are very important. The local authority will contact you asking for your views and it is worth getting help and support with this from one of the charities listed below in the ‘Extra Information’ section.
If you are a parent or carer of a child with SEN, the system can appear to be very confusing and many parents find it difficult to understand what support their child is receiving and how to find out if this is at the right level. The important thing to remember is that you are not on your own - most parents and carers find the system difficult.
There are several agencies whose role is to support parents and carers through this process. All local authorities have a duty to provide a Parent Partnership Service to offer impartial advice and support. To find details of your local service, contact the National Parent Partnership Network.
There are several national agencies which offer help and advice relating to SEN. They include IPSEA (Independent Parental Special Education Advice) and ACE (The Advisory Centre for Education).
Many parents find it really useful to talk to other parents who have a child with SEN. Talking to someone who has already been through the process or is in the same situation can really help. Your Family Information Service or Parent Partnership Service will have details of local parent support groups. You can also get in touch with the national organisation ‘Contact a Family’. Their website address - and the web addresses of other organisations mentioned above - can be found on the right of this page.
Don’t forget you can always talk to your child’s class teacher or another person in the school. Communication with your school is really important and will make sure your child’s needs are being met in the best way possible.
How to make a magic moment
One way of making sure there is regular communication between home and school is to create a home-school book with your child. You can then record anything relevant at home and your child’s teacher can make sure you are updated about progress in school. This is especially useful if your child has communication difficulties.
Creating the book could be a fun activity that you and your child could do together. Why not cover an exercise book in plain paper and decorate it together? Help your child to communicate in the book using drawings, photographs or anything that has significance to them. Spend time after school looking through the book. You could use it to build a scrapbook or storybook.