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Special Educational Needs:  Getting your child the support they need

If your child is experiencing difficulties at school, whether they are not progressing in their school work or they are having problems interacting with other children, or if you have concerns about their behaviour, it may be that your child needs additional support at school. These examples are all referred to as special educational needs (SEN). It is a legal requirement for schools to take action to meet all special educational needs and schools must follow the SEN Code of Practice. It is important that an accurate diagnosis is made to ensure your child gets the right kind of support. Some children go through years of school, suffering in silence, because they have an undiagnosed condition. It is well documented that the earlier a diagnosis is made, the better the outcome for the child. This article aims to raise awareness of the current procedures for diagnosing your child and the support that they may be entitled to receive.

Getting the right help for your child

Depending on the nature and level of difficulty your child may be experiencing, there are two forms of help that could be given at school – one that involves ‘statementing’ (where a statutory assessment is required) and one that doesn’t - known as School Action.  

School Action and School Action Plus

The basic level of extra help available for children with special educational needs is arranged internally by your school and is called ‘School Action’. Your school should have a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) who will contact you to discuss your child’s needs. You will be given an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which will detail what extra help your child will receive, who from and how often. It should also give details of how you can help your child at home and how their progress will be monitored. If you don’t receive an IEP, you can request one or ask for more information about the help your child will receive. Examples of the type of help you can expect may include additional support from an adult and the use of different teaching methods or equipment. If your child doesn’t make enough progress under School Action, they can be given further help under ‘School Action Plus’. For example, they may need help from a specialist such as speech and language therapy. If, however, this is not enough and your child is still not progressing, they may then be referred for a ‘statutory assessment’ which will enable the school to bring in more external resources to support your child.

Statutory Assessment (SA) and Statementing

A Statutory Assessment can be requested by the parent, the school or another professional who has been supporting your child. If the school requests a statutory assessment, they must notify you of this and similarly if you decide you would like to apply for one, you should talk to the school. Applications for statutory assessments are made via your Local Authority (LA). It can take up to six weeks for a decision to be made by the LA as to whether or not an assessment will be carried out. 

If the LA decides against an assessment, you have a specified timeframe within which to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST). You will be informed of this timeframe when you receive the LA’s response. 

If the request for an assessment is accepted, the assessment process should take approximately 12 weeks, although some authorities can take as long as up to 26 weeks.  During this time the LA will seek information about your child from yourself, their school, your child’s GP, an educational psychologist and any other professionals involved in your child’s care.  You are allowed to attend any interview, medical or test during the assessment process and can put forward the names of any individuals or support groups whose views you wish to be considered.  Your school should inform you of each stage or meeting in the assessment process so that you can be involved if you so wish.

If the LA decide to statement your child, you will receive a draft statement which comprises six sections:

  •  general information and advice received about your child
  •  description of your child’s needs following the assessment
  •  special help to be given to support your child’s needs
  •  *the type and name of school your child should go to and details of any arrangements for out of school hours or off school premises
  •  any non-educational needs your child has
  •  how your child will get help to meet any non-educational needs

* If your child has not yet started school, this section will include a blank space which will be completed in the ‘final’ statement. If your child is already at school, this section will still remain blank as once the final assessment is made, it may be recommended that your child attends a different type of school.

Once you are happy with the draft statement (and you are within your rights to liaise with the authority regarding agreeing the details), the authority must make the final statement.  This must be made within 8 weeks of the draft statement, and comes into effect on the date on which it is made.  You do have the right to appeal if you are unhappy with your child’s statement, but it is very important that you act promptly as there are strict guidelines surrounding the allowed timeframes within which complaints will be accepted.

Once your child has been statemented, they will then be given the specialist support they need as identified in their assessment.

If the LA do not agree to statement your child after carrying out an assessment, they will write to you and explain the reasons why, but if you are unhappy with this outcome, you can appeal to SENDIST.

Diagnosing Children Under Five

If you suspect your child may have special educational needs, the earlier it is diagnosed, the better. If your child is under five and not at school, but you have concerns, you should talk to your child’s GP or nursery/pre-school.  Pre-schools and nurseries can offer extra support as part of ’Early Years Action’ and ‘Early Years Action Plus’ which provide similar levels of support to those in schools. If it is thought that further help is needed, it is also possible for you or your pre-school/nursery to apply to your local authority for a statutory assessment.  For children over the age of two, the procedure and appeal process is similar to that for school-age children as outlined above.  Children under two however, are very rarely statemented.

There are lots of support services available to help under fives with special needs and you can find out about these by contacting your local authority or your nearest Sure Start Children’s Centre. Some local authorities offer home visiting services and portage services where professionals such as teachers, speech or occupational health therapists and nursery nurses will visit you at your home to help you and your child. 

Help with the statementing process and other support services

If your child has or is being diagnosed as having special needs, there are many organisations that can help you.  Whether you need help completing the necessary paperwork required for a statutory assessment,  if you are unhappy with how your school is handling the situation with your child or you just need to talk to someone who understands special needs, in the first instance, you should contact Information, Advice and Support Services Network (IAS) and SENDirect. They will provide you with details of local support groups and organisations as well as give you access to a helpline. There are a whole host of organisations and charities who can give you help with specific special educational needs and you can find many of these listed on our links page.

Changes to special educational needs services

The current government have proposed radical changes to the system of educational and health support provided for children with special educational needs and disabilities. These include giving parents control of funding for the support their child needs and greater choice in what school their child goes to. They aim to introduce these changes in 2014 and are currently piloting them with families across the UK.

To read a summary of these proposed changes, click here.  We will keep you updated with any changes that might affect you once they are put in place.

Telegraph article: 1.7 million (1 in 5) school children diagnosed with special needs

If you have any information about special educational needs support which you would like to share with other parents, or if you would like to share your experiences, please post a comment below or get in touch via the ‘Contact Us’ button.



Louise M

17th July 2012 at 9:00 am

I have a child who has recently been diagnosed with special needs (dyslexic) and I wondered if I could find out more about what help he is entitled to. The school are ‘looking into it’ but have been very slow to recognise that there is a problem and I want to help him as much as I can.


21st July 2014 at 9:04 am

I have a child diagnosed with ASD and on statement with 25hrs support 1:1 support. This has helped him immensely and he has improved so well in a mainstream school that he sits well with others, speaks okay now, and accesses the curriculum as he is supposed to. However, the school now wants to take away his support worker of 1 year and rationalize his support by providing only 3 support workers for about 9 SEN children in 2 classes while he is moving to a new class. I have complained that this is not acceptable as my son will lose his targeted support as he would not have the amount of support that enables him carry on, that the timing is very wrong as he is moving to a new class with a whole new set of teachers, friends, environment, structure and demands and this change will absolutely offset him especially as his support worker is always his first source of reassurance and that the plan negates the purpose of the professional recommendation and support in his statement. The school claims it is to reduce dependency and over reliance which I have argued can be done using certain strategies like spending time with other staff and shuffling of TAs within the year which is already taking place with regards to my son. I also argued that you do not take away a child’s mother because you feel that child is becoming dependent on the mother. The school is adamant on doing this and this may soon be turning to a confrontation.

This is the second time this is happening to my son and the previous case was really bad and my son deteriorated and he was labelled even by the staff of the school. I am getting frustrated. Please how do I get to communicate with the board of governors and what else can I do if I exhaust all avenues with the school?

I solicit all I can help on this matter and thanks in advance for the help.


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