The law and Education, Health and Care plans: Process, tribunals and deadlines

Some parents may feel that their child requires additional support in school. This can be provided by the school through a programme known as SEN Support (formerly known as School Action and School Action Plus). It can also be provided by the school with the assistance of external specialists, such as speech and language therapists.

If your child needs more support than is ordinarily available at a mainstream school they may be entitled to an Education, Health and Care plan (EHC plan). In order for a child to receive an EHC plan, they must first be assessed by the local authority where the family lives.

Both parents and the child’s school have a right to request an assessment of need.

Once a request for an assessment has been received, the local authority will have six weeks to consider the request and decide whether to go ahead. They must arrange an assessment if the child or young person has or may have SEND and where it may be necessary to secure SEND provision in accordance with an EHC plan. This situation is likely to be the case for most deafblind children and young people.

The local authority must notify the parents, young person, health professionals working with the child/young person and local authority officers responsible for providing social care support for children and young people with SEND. The local authority will look at what support has been made available to the child/young person already and whether they have been making sufficient progress. They will also seek evidence about the physical, emotional and social development and health needs of the child.

The local authority must then inform the parents/young person within six weeks about whether they believe that an EHC needs assessment is needed.

If the local authority decides that an assessment for an EHC plan is not needed, they will need to give reasons for their decision, and share all the evidence they have collected during the process with parents. Parents/young people have a right to appeal against this decision.

After the local authority has decided that they need to do an EHC assessment, they will start to gather information about the child/young person’s needs. Local authorities may have different processes for carrying out an EHC assessment. However, in every area the following things should happen:

  • Local authorities must make sure they are listening to the views of children, young people and their parents throughout the assessment process.
  • Deafblind children/ young people must be supported to communicate their views, and information should be provided to them in accessible formats.
  • The local authority should make sure that parents and young people have access to independent information and advice, and receive support from Independent Supporters and/or key workers when they need it.
  • The local authority should make sure that they minimise the disruption to families and young people. Meetings with professionals should be co-ordinated so that parents/young people do not have to repeat the same information several times to different professionals.
  • All the professionals involved with the child should be encouraged to have face-to-face meetings to discuss what the child/young person needs.
  • The whole assessment and planning process, from the point an assessment is requested until the final EHC plan is issued, must take no more than 20 weeks.

During the assessment process the local authority must seek advice and information from parents, young people and the following professionals:

  • The Manager, Head Teacher or Principal of the nursery, school or college where the child/young person is studying should provide educational advice and information;
  • If the child or young person is either vision or hearing impaired, or both, schools will have to provide educational advice and information after consulting with a specialist teacher;
  • Educational psychologists should provide psychological advice and information;
  • Health care professionals should provide medical advice and information;
  • Social workers should provide social care advice and information (including about any social care assessments that have been carried out);
  • Parents can also request that the local authority seeks advice and information from any person who they think could provide useful information.

The advice should be supplied within six weeks from the date of the local authority’s request and should include the description of the child or young person’s education, health and care needs, desired outcomes and special educational, health and care provision that may be required to meet identified needs and achieve desired outcomes.

Once the information has been gathered together, the local authority will then decide whether to issue an EHC plan. If the decision is taken not to issue a plan, this should be communicated to parents/ young people within 16 weeks of receiving the request for an assessment. The local authority needs to explain to parents/young people the reasons behind their decision.

Once the local authority has decided to issue an EHC plan, they will write it up and issue it.

When a draft is ready, the local authority must share it with parents/young people, along with copies of all the information and advice collected during the assessment. Parents will then have 15 days to provide comments on the content of the plan and ask for any changes they would like to be made.

If parents are not happy with the decisions that have been made, they have the right to challenge them.  Depending on the circumstances, parents can challenge in the following ways:

  • They can negotiate with the local authority themselves by writing or talking to their named contact. This is often the most effective when final decisions have not yet been made.
  • They can make a complaint to the local authority through the local authority’s formal complaints procedure. All local authorities must have a formal complaints procedure which is accessible online. Complaints to the local authority will be investigated by a local authority officer.
  • They can use the disagreement resolution service: This is an informal way to help resolve disagreements, which is independent of the local authority.
  • They can use the mediation service: Mediation is an informal disagreement settlement process run by a trained third party. Parents can contact their local mediation adviser for information about the mediation process. Parents/young people cannot register most types of appeal to the Tribunal (SEN and Disability) until they have contacted a mediation advisor. In contacting the advisor, parents are demonstrating that they have considered mediation as an option.
  • They can register an appeal with the SEND Tribunal.  To lodge an appeal, parents should complete the appeal form and send it together with other documents to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service.  They will also need to submit a certificate from their local mediation service before they will be allowed to register an appeal (see above). Appeals must be made within two months of the local authority sending notice of their decision.

Sense’s guide Making it work for you (PDF) provides information about how to secure the support your child needs through the system of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

First published: Wednesday 6 June 2012
Updated: Monday 13 April 2015