An Educational Healthcare Plan (EHCP or EHC) is a legal document that sets out the education, healthcare and social needs of a child or a young person who requires extra support in school beyond what the school can provide. Previously this was known as a "Statement of Special Educational Needs".
Children with an EHCP will usually be entitled to extra one-to-one support in school (though not necessarily full-time). These children will have outside agencies involved in their support, such as SEN teachers, behavioural experts or physiotherapists.
An EHCP is for any child or young person with significant and complex Special Educational Needs or Disability (SEND). An EHCP is required when a child's needs cannot be met by the usual support available to them in their school or setting.
Many children with special needs receive support directly from their school without an EHCP. This support is general SEN support that comes from resources already available in the school. However, some children or young people's needs may be deemed significant and complex and require an EHCP assessment by the Local Authority (LA).
An EHCP is drawn up between the LA, Health and Social Care and the child’s family (or directly with the young person, if aged between 16 and 25). The purpose of an EHCP is to provide clear, structured support for any difficulties that the child or young person has. The EHCP will identify what a school must put in place to help the child or young person and the outcomes necessary to achieve it. The EHCP will also set a clear timeframe drawn up, during which the outcomes should be achieved, and when they will be next reviewed. As it is legally binding, this means the LA must fund any extra help identified as necessary.
An EHCP can be a golden ticket when it comes to school admissions. In the bunfight of applications for reception and year 7, a child with an EHCP gets a priority place ahead of many other applicants. It even allows a parent to apply to schools for which they are out of catchment or otherwise don’t meet the admissions criteria if the parent can show that this school has provision for their child’s needs which their local schools lack.
The new SEND Code of Practice (2014) emphasises that parents are central to the process of helping their child to thrive and to succeed at school. The parents and the teachers are all on the same side, and they work together to support the child.
So, in theory, a parent should be in close contact about what is working, what is not working and what else could be tried. In reality, this is often far from the truth. Communication between school and parents may be sporadic; you may not feel welcome, you may feel judged, or you may even consider that your school is failing your child.
The process for applying for an EHCP varies according to the LA but has some general requirements:
The LA must respond to your request for an assessment within six weeks, so please keep a note of the date you submit your request.
LAs routinely turn families away at this stage, often stating that they will only assess children once they have a report from an educational psychologist or a diagnosis. They may ask you to participate in information-gathering about your child. This is your chance to collate evidence and document your child’s difficulties, strengths and aspirations. There is an opportunity for parents also to present their views and hopes.
A mum who has recently been through the whole EHCP application advises families to “stick to their guns and, if necessary, move straight to an appeal.” An appeal, despite the name, is only a paper exercise, and more than 90% of families who go on to appeal will go on to win their case. “I was being called by my son's mainstream school, on a near-daily basis, about problems they were having with his autistic behaviours, yet we were turned down when we applied for an EHCP,” she says. “I thought that was the end of the line, but luckily we got some advice and appealed, and this time they accepted it.”
Once the LA has agreed to an EHC assessment, they will begin to gather information from parents and all education professionals, doctors, and therapists involved in the child’s care. Before a final draft of the EHCP is agreed the family will be invited to a Support and Outcomes Plan session.
Ensure that a review date is set for the EHCP and find out who is responsible for reviewing it. For young children, the EHCP may need updating every few months; for older children most EHCPS will require a review annually.
Parents can be upset by the sometimes depressing picture that an EHCP presents of their child. “You sometimes have to grit your teeth. It can be horrible to read several professional reports describing your child in negative terms. Still, it sometimes is necessary to get the right help for them.” says a father.
From the initial agreement to assess through to the final draft of the EHCP can take 20 weeks, though sometimes a little longer.
Whatever your situation, here are some guidelines that will help you get you off to a good start:
First of all, you should speak to your child's headteacher and the school SENCO. Ask them what level of support the school is already providing, if any, e.g. School Action or School Action Plus. Ask if your child is on the school SEN register.
Ask the school to provide you with a record of the educational and behavioural interventions they have used and comments have about how they have worked or not. Find out who has delivered the intervention, if you don't already know, over what period, how the intervention has been monitored for progress and whether your child has achieved their target. Get concrete evidence that whatever has been planned has been completed. Ensure these outcomes have been achieved reliably and not just hit once on a lucky day. This will give you a better understanding of what your child is currently achieving, and you should be able to compare it with the average expected level for a child of their age.
Collect together any reports or tests your child has ever had, including exam results, school reports, referrals to Paediatricians, Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language Therapists, Educational Psychologists, etc.
Create a file and organise all of this in chronological order. You are building up the evidence and a profile of your child because you will need to prove that they need the help you say they do.
Scan all your letters into your computer so that you never lose them and you can e-mail or print them whenever you need them. Never send original documents to anyone.
Your Local Authority (LA) will likely argue that just because your child is achieving below the average does not mean that they have any SEN or that they require an EHCP.
Children in each school class have a broad spectrum of abilities and achievements according to their potential. Many children will never be top of their class, but that doesn't mean they have SEN.
So, how do you show that your child has a more significant potential than their current achievements? The obvious way is to secure an Educational Psychology assessment for them. Each LA has its register of Educational Psychologists. The new SEND Code of Practice says that external experts should be called in at an early stage when an SEN is suspected. 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.
If possible, it is essential to build and maintain a positive relationship with your school SENCO and class teacher. If an Ed Psych assessment is not forthcoming, you could consider a private assessment, usually at great expense. However, these can be regarded with suspicion by the LA, who may feel the report is biased towards the paying parent's views.
Parents often don't like labelling their child, but a diagnosis is important if you are looking for LA support. If your son or daughter has dyslexia, dyscalculia, ASD, ADHD, or any other hidden disability, you will need to be able to evidence this, not just give your opinion.
We would advise you to take your child to your GP and ask them to refer your child to a paediatrician, child psychiatrist, or the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). A precise medical diagnosis is hard to ignore.
You can book an appointment with a paediatrician or child psychiatrist privately for a diagnosis if you can afford the significant fees.
If your child has an undiagnosed condition, then focus your case around the symptoms that they have. You may also draw parallels with general conditions for some of their symptoms, e.g., posture, visual difficulties, medication needs, attention difficulties, sensory issues, accessibility requirements etc.
Once you have all of the evidence and information you need, contact your LA and work through their application process, keeping all of their policies alongside. Make it work for you. Use evidence to demonstrate that your child isn't getting what they should be. When you send in your EHCP submission, you don't need to use their application form if you don't want to. Ensure that you write all that you can relevant to your case and provide reports to back them up. This will take many redrafts and a lot of time. You may feel you need help, and if so, don't be afraid to ask.
There is no doubt that this process can be stressful and often depressing, and many parents will give up along the way.
Cases are self-evident and easier to prove if your child has visible and significant needs. If your child has a hidden disability, then the issue is much more challenging to prove. In these cases, only the most determined parents will get what they want, and many families will give up during the process. Remember, you are your child's greatest asset and best advocate. Don't give up.
Look at your Local Authority website and search under “Local Offer” to find further and specific details of the process and policies set out in your region.
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.
An EHCP will include 12 sections of crucial information, which include:
Note, if a young person is in or beyond Year 9, the EHCP must also set out the provision for the young person in preparing for adulthood and independent living.
The EHCP will be reviewed once every year by the Local Authority. The Annual Review Meeting involves all the agencies involved with a child or young person, including the young person. This meeting will review the progress towards the outcomes in the EHCP, discuss any changes in need or new needs that may be present, and give everybody involved with the child a chance to share their views, feeling and wishes about their education, their health and overall care.
An EHCP should support a child or young person from birth up to 25, helping them access school, further education, training, and further support in the workplace.
If your child has an EHCP (or have been told that they need one), you may be able to control their personal budget. This will give you much more say in how to spend the money to support your child.
There are three ways you can organise your personal budget:
We would recommend that any parent aims to secure the first of these three options so that they can have complete control of their budget and can direct this all to their own child, rather than letting a school or other provider use this to provide more general SEN support for other children in that setting.
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