SEN First Steps
SEN First Steps
Sandra Hutchinson (Editor, the Good Schools Guide: Special Educational Needs) gives expert video advice on: How do I know if my child has special educational needs?; What should I do if I think my child has special educational needs?; What is the 'postcode lottery' in regards to SEN? and more...
What are Special Educational Needs (SEN)?
Special Educational Needs are learning differences, difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for a child to learn than others within their peer group. This could be behavioral difficulties, emotional, social, intellectual, it may be sensory or physical; it can be whole range of things. It's thought that approximately 20% of children have some kind of special educational need at some point in their school career, with around 2% having more severe or complex needs.
What should I do if I think my child has special educational needs?
If it's a preschool child, then speak with either your health adviser or your family doctor, or any services that are involved with your child, such as the nursery. For school age children, usually the first port of call is the school, possibly the class teacher or the special educational needs coordinator. Alternatively, you may find it helpful to go to your GP or a pediatrician and get an opinion from them. The most important thing is to keep going until you have some answers to any difficulties that are presented.
What is 'School Action'?
School action is extra help given to an individual to support their learning, where it's felt that the learning in the class as a whole the child is not able to fully access. For example, they may work in small groups or they may work on additional worksheets or have extra support. It's an extra action put in by the school to help the child.
What is 'School Action Plus'?
Well, that's very similar to School Action where you have the additional help and support. But the plus part is involving somebody from outside, so that may be an educational psychologist, an occupational therapist, speech and language therapist, any number of the support services to help a child with a particular need.
What is a formal assessment of needs?
That's a detailed investigation into a child's learning needs. It's a detailed assessment carried out by the local educational authority to establish exactly what help and support a child may need. That usually follows if school actions are not working. Ordinarily, a school should meet all the child's needs from existing resources. Where they're not meeting those needs from resources, that's the time when a formal assessment may be requested.
Who will carry out the formal assessment?
It's carried out by the local authority, or what was known as the Local Educational Authority previously.
What does a formal assessment of needs entail?
A formal assessment of needs is a gathering of all the views and opinions about the child, so it will involve collecting your views, the child's views, what the school thinks, and if there are to be any assessments from external body such as psychology services or speech or language services. They will write detailed reports as part of that so it's a very full service which takes a detailed look at the child and the child's needs.
Who can request a formal assessment of needs?
A number of people can request formal assessment of needs. The request may come through social services or the health services, but usually it comes through either the parents or the school or early years providers.
What is a notice of proposal to assess?
This is a letter that will explain why the authority thinks an assessment is necessary based on the information that they have. Once you get the letter you must reply to it within 29 days.
My child's school has requested an assessment of needs, but I don't want it, what can I do?
Rest assured, an assessment will only ever take place with your consent. You must consent to it for the assessment to be carried out.
What happens once an assessment has taken place?
The local educational authority will look at all of the information and decide whether or not a statement of special education need should be issued. That decision is usually made by the panel. If the decision is that a statement should be made, then you'll be sent a draft statement, a proposal to which you can comment on before the statement becomes final.
What does a statement of needs consist of?
A statement of special education needs is a detailed document. It has six parts: The first part is all the basic details. The second part outlines the conditions of the child, the problems and difficulties that the child may be having. The third part looks at how those needs can be addressed. It's very important, for example, if a child needs speech language therapy, it's in that third part. Anything in the third part, the authority must provide it is deemed to be educational provision. It's possible also that they may try to put speech language therapy in the last part of the statement, which is other provisions. There is no guarantee that the authority will provide any therapies in part six, simply because they don't have to. Anything in part three must be provided, that's not the case with part six. Part four of the statement is also very important, because that's the part at which you can name a school that you think your child should attend, or a particular type of provision. The fifth part is any of the non-educational needs. And the sixth part, as we mentioned earlier, is provision of those non-educational needs.
What is a statement of needs?
A statement of special education needs is a detailed document that tells you exactly what the problems are with your child and the educational difficulties, and what the provision is going to be to enable those needs to be met.
What if the LA assess but do not decide to issue a statement?
They will have got the information, so what they will do is issue a note in lieu. This basically means that you have all the information and all the documents from the assessments that have taken place for your child and the school to use as appropriate.
What is the 'postcode lottery' in regards to SEN?
The "postcode lottery" centers around whether or not a school can meet all the child's needs from existing resources. In some areas, local authorities have put a lot of money into special needs, and they believe that the help can be given in schools and that can make getting a statement very difficult indeed. It may indeed be that the schools are meeting all those needs. In other areas where the provision isn't so good it may be seen to be easier to get a statement. Of course, the problem lies with those authorities that aren't issuing statements and also don't have very good provision, and that really does depend on where you live. You can live in one area that has very good provision and will still issue statements, and be right next door to another area that doesn't have good provision and is very reluctant to issue statements, which at the end of the day are very expensive.
I disagree with something in my child's statement of needs, what can I do?
You have two key options. The first is to go to a Special Needs Tribunal or Sendist and the second one is go to mediation and try to resolve it that way.
What is an Individual Education Plan (IEP)?
An Individual Education Plan is a detailed document that will help a child make progress. It usually consists of three or four clearly focused targets. For example, you wouldn't say to a child improve your hand writing, you would actually give them something much more specific that they can work towards. Also, it needn't be curriculum. It may be related to behavior, behavioral targets or social targets. If a child has problems in lunch time, you could have a target that helps them to really get through lunch without having any misdemeanors. The important things about the IEP are that they should be reviewed regularly, and any materials or additional provisions should actually be on the IEP as well. It should be very, very clear. If a child has a statement, then the targets on the IEP should relate to what's in the statement.
Are there any exam concessions available for children with SEN?
There are exam concessions available for children with SEN. The principle ones are extra time, rest break, use of a reader or a scribe or perhaps a laptop. The key things to remember are that there should be an established pattern of having the extra concessions, and for public examination such as GCSE and A level you need to have an educational psychologist report that's no more than two years old saying that these concessions should be made available to the child. The other thing that I must stress is to always check with QCA, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority of the current state of play with regard to the exam concessions, and tell schools in good time that you will be applying or you wish them to apply for the concessions.
How is my child's progress assessed?
Well, different schools obviously assess in very different ways. Special schools particularly tend to often minutely record every part of a child's progress, and maybe even report home to you on a daily basis. Schools also use individual education plans, and if your child has a statement of special educational needs, then there must be a review of at least once a year. There may be a review more often if it's deemed necessary.
Can the LEA choose not to maintain my child's statement of needs?
Yes, if they consider that all the scaffolding and everything else in place is no longer necessary, they may decide not to maintain the statement. That could actually be a very good thing, because it means the child has progressed. If you disagree with the LEA's decision, then you have 15 days in which to appeal against that decision.
I am not happy with the way my child's school is providing for his special needs, what can I do?
What you can't do when you're not happy with how the school is providing for the special needs is, you cannot complain to SENDIST. But in the first instance, always actually speak with the school and make sure that they're aware that you're unhappy. You also have recourse to the school governor, to the local authority, and all the complaints procedures that are in place. In exceptional circumstances, you may decide to take it to the Secretary of State, the local government congressman, or even, if things are so extreme, to seek legal action. Some parents do.