When special needs have been identified
Children identified as needing extra help in school will be given an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which sets out their difficulties and targets. There should be details of how the child will be helped towards these targets and how success will be measured. Parents, and where appropriate the child, should be involved in the development and regular reviews of the IEP.
Children with special needs are placed in one of three categories of support, depending on the level of their needs. (This system is likely to change under the proposals being considered in the Children and Families Bill – though the Government say the aim is to make the process easier for parents to get the right support for their children).
School Action (Early Years Action in pre-school settings)
The child's teacher or SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) will devise ways to help your child make progress. These might include different teaching methods, practical classroom adjustments, extra lessons in some areas or individual or group support from a teaching assistant.
School Action Plus (Early Years Action Plus)
The school will bring in external support for your child – for instance from a Speech and Language Therapist, Occupational Therapist or the local authority's Behaviour Support Team.
Statement of Special Educational Needs
If a child's needs are not met through School Action or School Action Plus then they may need to have a Statement of SEN (Special Educational Needs) – a document issued by the local authority setting out the child's needs and how they will be met. The statement names the school to be attended and the provision of support to be given.
A statement is issued – if the local authority agrees that one is needed - after a process of assessment. This can be requested in writing by parents or by the school or nursery. The local authority should inform the parents within six weeks whether or not they will begin the assessment process. If it begins the draft statement – or letter setting out the reasons for not giving one – should be complete within three to four months.
During this time information will be requested from parents, teachers, the child's doctor, an Educational Psychologist and any other relevant professionals involved with the child.
Useful information about the Department for Education policies on SEN and statementing can be found here: Education.gov.uk.
The process of assessment can be lengthy and stressful – and many parents feel that cash-strapped local authorities are resistant to handing them out. "The statementing process necessarily focuses very much on the negative. We warn parents we will have to describe their child in the worst terms possible but that we don't do that at any other time," says Rosie Noble, a parent adviser with Contact a Family who can help parents ensure their children get the extra support they need.
If a statement is refused, parents can discuss the reasons with the local authority officer assigned to their child's case. Remaining disagreements can be taken to a SEN Tribunal. Parents should consult their local Parent Partnership for help with this (Parentpartnership.org.uk).
How will the new proposals change things?
The Children and Families Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, could lead to some of the biggest changes in SEN provision in a generation. There is no definite timescale for its introduction and modifications are still likely, but the Government hope changes will be implemented by 2014.
The Bill will see the statements replaced by wider reaching packages of support across education and other services – the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). It also proposes greater parental control over the funding of their child's support.
Further details of the proposals can be found at Education.gov.uk.
"Having a statement in place meant Molly had the support to maximise her potential," says Debbie, mum to Molly, six, who has autism. "She isn't disruptive and I worried that she would just get lost in a classroom otherwise. She is doing really well and has a great relationship with her learning support assistants."
Mainstream versus special school:
The majority of children with SEN will have their needs met with the right support within a mainstream school, however some children benefit from more specialist facilities and provision in special schools.
n some areas mainstream schools with specialist units catering for particular disabilities or needs – for instance hearing impairment or Autistic Spectrum Disorders – offer the opportunity for a degree of specialist education but with the potential for social inclusion in the mainstream.
Moving a child from mainstream to special school can be a difficult decision for parents. "It can be very hard to accept that a child is not dealing with education in the same way as their peers but you might need to look at schools in a different way," says Rosie Noble of Contact a Family. "Don't rule things out. Look at each one on its own merits. Parents have an instinct about whether their child will thrive in a particular school."
Both mainstream and special schools vary a great deal, and parents should look for the school they feel best fits their child's needs and personality. Special school places can be hard to secure (partly because they cost the local authority a lot more than mainstream places).
Charities such as Contact a Family or IPSEA can help parents who feel their child needs more help.
What parents say:
Nikki, mother of Christian, five, who has autism, says:
"The special school Christian attends is wonderful. He has made incredible progress and his teachers are so dedicated. I don't know the mainstream system but it would not be possible to give any child that level of attention in a class of 30."
Nikki, mother of Dan, 15, who has ADHD, says:
"It was very hard to make the move from mainstream to special school. Every child is special, but you don't want them to be that special. I was terrified when I saw the locks on all the doors but I realise now it is to protect the children. It has been marvellous for Dan. He is treated as an individual and doesn't spend all his time in trouble."
Carrie, mother of Emily, five, says:
"In mainstream school Emily has been able to develop her social skills and have extra support with her learning. She is behind lots of the other children, and she isn't always invited to all the parties, but she has made some good friends, meets lots of different people and she is happy. It feels right for us."