How to challenge decisions about special educational needs in England.
This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
This article answers some commonly asked questions about the system of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), in the system introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014.
What are special educational needs (SEN) ?
The statutory special educational needs and disability (SEND) code of practice defines SEND as:
A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she:
• has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or
• has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions
While many children with SEN will also have disabilities, this is not uniformly the case. This page focuses on educational support.
What type of support might children or young people receive?
The type of support that children and young people with SEN receive varies widely, depending on the individual difficulties faced. However, two broad levels of support are in place:
- SEN Support is support given to a child or young person in their pre-school, school or college.
- Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through SEN support.
What is an EHC plan?
These are documents setting out a child or young person’s assessed special educational needs, the special educational and other provision required, and the school or college placement. They aim to provide more substantial help for children and young people through a unified approach that reaches across education, health care, and social care needs.
They are issued following a statutory EHC needs assessment undertaken by the local authority.
They are the replacement for SEN statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments (LDAs).
Who is responsible for delivering the special educational provision in an EHC plan?
The statutory duty to secure the special educational provision detailed in part F of an EHC plan is placed on the local authority, and not on the school or college. Institutions are under a statutory duty to use their ‘best endeavours’ to meet pupils’ special educational needs.
What should parents who think their child has SEN do?
Parents who have concerns should raise the issue with their child’s pre-school, school or college. It may be that their issues can be supported at school.
Parents and carers, and in some cases young people themselves, have a statutory right to request an EHC needs assessment if they believe an EHC plan might be required.
A request can also be made by:
- anyone at the child’s school,
- a doctor,
- a health visitor or
- a nursery worker.
The charity, Independent Parental Special Educational Advice (IPSEA), has a model letter that could be used to request an EHC needs assessment, IPSEA: Making a request for an EHC needs assessment.
The local authority must respond within 6 weeks, and a decision not to assess can usually be appealed to the First Tier Tribunal.
How can I find out what support is available locally?
Local authorities are required to publish a ‘local offer’ to clearly set out the services available for children and young people with SEN or disabilities. The offer must have been developed in partnership with children and young people with SEN or disability and their parents, and education, health and care partners. It should cover the support available for those with and without EHC Plans and from birth to 25 years, including SEN Support.
Are arrangements made under the old SEN system still valid?
In some cases yes. The SEN system underwent significant reform under the Children and Families Act 2014. The changes it made began to be introduced in September 2014, and the full transition to the new system was planned to be completed by April 2018. However, any statements still in place did not automatically stop being valid after this date.
This means that some children may still have support under the old system, set out in an SEN statement. This remains valid unless replaced by support under the new system, or discontinued for another reason – for instance if the young person finishes their education, or no longer needs the support involved.
Can decisions about SEN support be appealed?
It is possible to appeal a wide range of decisions and local authority actions relating to SEN.
More detail on this can be found in Disputes about special educational needs in England.
What about children with disabilities?
The SEND Code of Practice includes information on the protections afforded to children and young people defined under the Equality Act 2010 as having disabilities.
- House of Commons Library, Special Educational Needs: support in England, SN 07020
- The Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan
- DfE/ DoH, statutory SEND Code of Practice:0-25 years, January 2015
- Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA)
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.
This House of Commons Library briefing sets out the system of support for children and young people in England aged 0-25 with special educational needs (SEN).
An overview of the Government's March 2023 SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan, and some initial reaction to the measures