Getting a Statement of Special Educational Need.
Please note: The government is currently seeking to streamline the cumbersome Statementing process into a single assessment and plan: the Education, Health and Care Plan. It is proposed for this to be in place by 2014. Until then, the existing system of Statements of Special Educational Need will continue to apply.
What is a Statement?
A Statement of Special Educational Need may be offered to pupils with significant difficulties. It is a document setting out the child's special educational needs and the help the child should receive. This provision is funded by the Local Authority. A Statement may be issued when a school has done all it can be expected to do, and the child is still not progressing satisfactorily. A Statement is a legal document and, as such, non-compliance can be legally challenged. The Local Authority is responsible for the implementation of a Statement. An application for a Statement can be made by a parent or the child's school. Adverse decisions can be challenged in the SEND Tribunal.
For information see http://www.justice.gov.uk/forms/hmcts/send
Who is eligible for a Statement?
Statements of Special Educational Need are available to support all children, whether in the state or independent sectors, and including children educated at home.
In the case of Specific Learning Difficulties like dyslexia, Local Authorities set out criteria of eligibility, such as how far behind the childs levels of reading and writing must be compared with the expected level for their age. Unfortunately, because of budget considerations and often poor understanding of Specific Learning Difficulties at Local Authority level, these criteria may be unduly stringent. In some authorities, Statements may not be offered at all. If you feel that any policy of the Local Authority is detrimental to your child's education, you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.
Local Authority eligibility criteria are devised locally and are not set down nationally. There is no set level above which pupils are ineligible for a Statement. Whatever the eligibility criteria or even absence of a Statementing process, a parent can still apply for a Statement if they feel that their childs significant difficulties are not able to be effectively supported in school.
The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice states that a decision to offer a Statutory Assessment for a Statement should consider evidence to show that, despite the school taking relevant and purposeful action, (including the involvement of outside specialists), difficulties remain.
A SEND Tribunal is not interested in individual Local Authority rules: they are only interested in whether the school can adequately meet the childs needs.
Get as much advice as you can.
Before you embark on the process, do as much homework as you can, including seeking advice. Getting a Statement can be a fraught exercise and it is likely that you may need to challenge Local Authority decisions.
See if the school will support you: but if they won't, you can still go ahead. Talk to your school's SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator).
Contact your Parent Partnership Officer for advice. The Parent Partnership Officer is employed by the Local Authority to support parents with special needs issues. http://www.parentpartnership.org.uk
Contact your nearest Local Dyslexia Association In some Local Dyslexia Associations there are volunteers called Befrienders who can advise parents on Statementing. Get a copy of the Special Educational Needs (SEN) A Guide for parents and carers. This has helpful information on seeking a Statement. It can be downloaded from the Department of Education website
Look at the websites of the Advisory Council for Education and SOS SEN who have really useful advice. These have very helpful information and guidance on getting a Statement; ACE have template letters. There are other organisations who can offer advice and help: Independent Parental Special Educational Advice: IPSEA and Network81.
In Northern Ireland there is a charity offering advice and an advocacy service: Special Educational Needs Advice Centre: SENAC
Getting started: applying for a Statutory Assessment.
A Statutory Assessment involves a full, formal assessment of a child by the Education Authority. This includes:
- Reports from the Educational Psychologist (parents may well need to provide their own independent assessment if there is a reluctance to assess the child, or if they subsequently challenge a decision).
- Reports from any other relevant body: school, medical, social services for example, plus parents and the childs own views.
- Supporting evidence from anyone who may help the case, such as outside activity leaders (e.g. sports, Scouts/Guides etc.), neighbours etc.
It is important for parents to have confidence in themselves and their opinions and not be overawed by professionals. They are the ones who know their child best.
What happens if the Local Authority refuses the application?
The first step in an application for a Statement is to apply for a Statutory Assessment. You could make it clear at the outset that you are willing to challenge any adverse decisions in the Special Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunal. This may help to further your cause.
Some Local Authorities refuse Statutory Assessments simply because they have not received adequate evidence from schools as required under the SEN Code of Practice. This is not a lawful reason for refusing an assessment. The authority should take active steps to obtain the necessary evidence.
There are a number of issues relating to the Statementing process which may need to be challenged in the SEND Tribunal. Do your homework and download the Tribunals guidance for parents on http://www.sendist.gov.uk.
Some of the issues where parents may need to apply to the SEND Tribunal include:
- If they are refused a Statutory Assessment.
- If, following a Statutory Assessment, they are refused a Statement of Special Educational Needs.
- If the parents disagree with the proposed Statement, (tip: put in the appeal straightaway, and then work out the details later, to save time.)
- If they wish to change an existing Statement, for instance if circumstances change or it transpires that all the difficulties have not been addressed in the original Statement and the Local Authority refuses to reassess. (N.B. a Statement should always be updated at transfer stage, e.g. from Primary to Secondary.)
- Where they are refused a change to the Statement after reassessment.
- If the Local Authority decides to cease to maintain a Statement.
N.B. In all cases, parents have 2 months to appeal to the SEND Tribunal from the date of the decision letter from the Local Authority, (not the date they receive the letter). Keep the envelope, if postmarked, as proof of date sent.
Section 1 of the Statement is the introduction giving details of the child's name, parents etc.
Section 2 describes the child's Special Educational Needs:
A full description of the child's strengths and weaknesses and any test scores. It should start with a general overview and then go on to specifics. It should reflect the finding of all the reports, especially the Educational Psychologists. It is extremely important that all the child's difficulties are noted in this section, as it informs the provision set out in the next section.
Section 3 of the Statement sets out the Special Educational Provision. This is the legal part of the Statement.
The Provision should, legally, be quantified and specified. This means how much support should be given by and by whom, including the qualification of the teacher etc. There should be no woolly words, such as opportunity to or even help to, access to or a programme for literacy without giving specifics. It is important to state what, when, how often and by whom.
Section 4 deals with placement and other arrangements, such as a specialist dyslexic school.
Sections 5 and 6 are concerned with non-educational needs and provision that fall into the health rather than educational orbit, such as speech and language and occupational therapy.
Accepting a Statementing.
Parents may wish to take professional advice before agreeing to the provision set out in the Statement. For a child with severe dyslexic difficulties, daily sessions with a specialist qualified dyslexia teacher would be appropriate. Further support from Learning Assistants in school should be from those trained to support dyslexic pupils. A Statement should be precise about the number of hours of support and the qualifications for those providing support.
There is a requirement for Parental response to be included in the final Statement. This is invaluable in that it allows the school and other parties to understand the parents' views, and may also contribute important evidence in the event of an appeal to the SEND Tribunal.
Statements for Special Schools.
If a parent feels that mainstream schooling is unable to offer their child an adequate education, it is possible to apply for a Statement to cover the fees for a specialist school.
Schools supporting dyslexic pupils can be seen on http://www.crested.org.uk. Most are fee paying and many are boarding.
Parents will need to provide convincing reports to support their application, as Local Authorities are very likely to resist in the first instance (budget considerations). A challenge in the SEND Tribunal is likely.
Statements should be reviewed annually, or there may be interim reviews. If parents would like to see changes to the Statement provision, they should make their proposals known clearly at these meetings. If a Local Authority fails to amend a Statement following a review, parents may appeal to the SEND Tribunal.
The Tribunal system is designed to be accessible to individual claimants, but in some cases a parent may seek legal representation. Parents would be looking at solicitors specialising in Education Law or other education advocacy services.
SEN Legal have good understanding of dyslexia: http://www.senlegal.co.uk
An Education Advocacy service could be a useful alternative.
In June 2011, the Ministry of Justice confirmed that legal aid for SEN will continue.
Parents may appeal to the Local Government Ombudsman if they are concerned that their child's SEN provision is not being met.
This includes delay in assessing a child and issuing a statement of SEN; and failing to implement the provisions set out in a statement or carry out an annual review. The Ombudsman is concerned with process only, not with the merits of council decisions.