In 2014, the special educational needs system (SEN) underwent its biggest reform in 30 years. Here it is explained what these changes were and how they could affect your child.

What is a special educational need?

The 2014 SEN or SEND code of practice can be separated into four areas:

  • Communicating and interacting
  • Cognition and learning
  • Social, emotional and mental health difficulties
  • Sensory and/or physical needs

Many children with SEN have a disability of which is a physical or mental impairment that has a long-term and substantial effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. These can include physical impairments like mobility problems, and ongoing health conditions such as  asthma or diabetes. These are often first detected by a child’s school and they must contact you to discuss their concerns and tell you if they’re making any special provisions for your child. If you’re worried that your child may have SEN, you can speak to the school, who will discuss the issues with you and tell you what happens next.

The new code of practice: SEN support

School Action or School Action Plus was previously what children was put on if they were causing concern to whose progress was causing concern.

School Action and School Action Plus have now been replaced by a system called SEN support.

There are four stages to SEN support:

  • Assess- In order to get the right support, your child’s needs must be assessed which should involve parents, teachers, and potentially experts such as an educational psychologist or health professional.
  • Plan- A plan must be put in place with the school, with your input on how they intend to support your child from the beginning.
  • Do- The school will arrange this support and will likely involve your child’s teacher, the SENCO and any support staff or specialist teaching staff who will work with your child or be involved with their progress.
  • Review- Agree on a date for reviewing your child’s support at the time of making the plan. Decide with your child’s teachers whether the support is having an effective impact and what, if any, changes should be made.

The new code of practice: Educational, Health and Care needs assessments and plans

Under the previous system, if a children had more complex needs than could be met by the school alone underwent a Statutory Assessment, which in some cases led to a Statement of Special Educational Needs. This lasted until the child turned 16.

Statutory Assessments and Statements have now been replaced by Educational, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessments and plans. This is a simpler assessment process covering young people from birth to 25 years of age (in full-time education). The EHC plan is a legal document that sets out your child’s education, health and social care needs in one place.

You, or anyone at your child’s school, can ask the local authority for an EHC needs assessment and they have six weeks to gather information and decide whether to carry it out. If an assessment goes ahead, the LA will talk to you, your child and anyone else involved in their care, such as doctors or psychologists, about the support you think your child needs.

If your child is granted an EHC plan, it will include details of the educational support and health support that your child is legally obliged to receive. You can also request a specific school for your child, whether mainstream or a special school – for the first time, you can also request a place at a state academy or free school. EHC plans must be reviewed every 12 months, and you and your child must be consulted about how you think the support is working out, and what you would like to happen next.

Personal budgets

For the first time, children with an EHC plan are entitled to a personal budget. Money is provided by the LA to meet some of the needs in your child’s plan, and you can be involved in choosing how it is spent, for example:

  • Direct payments where you are paid the money directly and buy and manage services yourself
  • Notional arrangements where the LA or education provider keeps hold of the money and commissions services for your child under your direction
  • Third party arrangements where you can choose someone else to manage the money on your behalf.