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Navigating SEND Support: DFE Advice Simplified by a Parent

Reading Time: 8 minutes

The Department of Education (DFE) published a document “Special Educational Needs and Disability A Guide for Parents and Carers” This blog post aims to summarise the core points, the document is a guide for parents and carers of children and young people aged 0-25 years who have special educational needs (SEN) or a disability.

Anyone who is about to start, or has started the journey in the minefield of special education needs may well choose to begin by reading as much of the government guidance as possible. Build at the early stage a foundation knowledge of the topic area. You may well find as you progress on this personal journey, that your knowledge soon overtakes those who provide the provisions. Use this blog post as a source of hints and tips to start your journey

Publication Date: August 2014

  • Target Audience: Parents and carers of children and young people aged 0-25 with SEN or disabilities.
  • Objective: To guide parents through the new system supporting children and young people with SEN or disabilities, which started on September 1, 2014.
  • Usage: The guide can be used to understand the SEN system, know the rights and laws, and find out what support is available from educational providers and local authorities. It can be a handy tool during meetings with professionals.
  • Production: The guide is based on various regulations and acts including the Children and Families Act 2014 and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014. It was produced in collaboration with organizations such as Contact a Family, The National Network of Parent Carer Forums, and Special Needs Jungle.

Definitions of Special Educational Needs and Disability

  • Special Educational Needs (SEN): Children and young people with SEN have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn compared to others of the same age. They may need extra or different help. The SEN can be categorized into four areas:
  • Communicating and interacting: Difficulties in understanding language or communicating effectively.
  • Cognition and learning: Learning at a slower pace, having difficulty understanding parts of the curriculum, or having specific difficulties in areas such as literacy or numeracy.
  • Social, emotional, and mental health difficulties: Issues managing relationships with others, being withdrawn, or behaving in ways that hinder learning and well-being.
  • Sensory and/or physical needs: Needs arising from impairments such as visual or hearing impairments, or physical needs requiring ongoing support and equipment.
  • Disability: Defined as a physical or mental impairment with a long-term adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities. It includes sensory impairments and long-term health conditions like asthma and diabetes. The law mandates reasonable adjustments to avoid discrimination against disabled children and young people.
  • Seeking Help: If parents suspect their child has SEN or a disability, they should discuss their concerns with the child’s educational setting. The setting should identify the SEN and discuss the support to be offered. Parents can also seek information and advice from local authority services, doctors, and other organizations.

The Principles of the Special Education Needs System

  • Objective: To ensure children with SEN or disabilities can progress and transition successfully into adulthood.
  • Parental Involvement: Parents should have a substantial say in decisions affecting their children and have access to impartial information, advice, and support.
  • Local Authority’s Role: They must regard the views, wishes, and feelings of children and their parents while making decisions. They should also involve them in developing local provisions and services.
  • Collaboration: Different services like local health organizations and local authorities should work together for the benefit of the child.

Information, Advice, and Support

  • Services: Local authorities are required to provide information, advice, and support services in their area for children with SEN or disabilities and their parents.
  • Support: These services offer support in various forms including face-to-face, telephone, and online. They assist in preparing for meetings, expressing views, and participating in decisions regarding the child’s education, health, and social care.
  • Further Information: Details about these services can be found on the local authority’s website, the Local Offer section, and at www.parentpartnership.org.uk.

What Is The Local Offer?

  • Definition: It is an information directory that identifies and includes education, health, and social care services in the local area for families with SEN or disabilities.
  • Involvement of Parents and Children: Local authorities must involve children, parents, and young people in producing and reviewing the Local Offer.
  • Feedback and Updates: The Local Offer needs to be updated regularly based on feedback from children, parents, and young people.
  • Further Information: More details can be found in Chapter 4 of the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice.

Support Available for Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs

  • SEN Support: It describes the support available for children with SEN, replacing previous systems like school action/school action plus and early years action/early years action plus.
  • Education, Health, and Care (EHC) Needs Assessment and Plans: It describes who EHC plans are for and the process of EHC needs assessment, including how and when children, parents, and young people are involved.
  • Personal Budget: It briefly mentions personal budgets and where to find more information about them.
  • Graduated Approach: It involves a four-stage process: Assess, Plan, Do, and Review, to ensure the right support is provided and reviewed regularly.
  • Further Information: More details can be found in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice.

Education, Health, and Care (EHC) Needs Assessment and Plans

  • Objective: To bring a child’s education, health, and social care needs into a single legal document.
  • Eligibility: The child must have special educational needs to be eligible for an EHC plan.
  • Requesting an Assessment: Parents, teachers, and others who work with the child can request an EHC needs assessment.
  • Assessment Process: Involves gathering information from various sources including parents and professionals working with the child.
  • Decision Making: The local authority decides whether an EHC plan is necessary, involving parents and the child in the process.
  • EHC Plan: If approved, a draft plan is created and shared with the parents for feedback before finalizing.
  • Review: EHC plans must be reviewed at least every 12 months, involving parents and the child in the review process.
  • Disagreements: Parents have the right to challenge the local authority’s decisions regarding the EHC needs assessment and plans.

Personal Budgets

  • Eligibility: Parents can request a personal budget if their child has an EHC plan or has been assessed as needing one.
  • Usage: The budget can be used to meet some of the needs identified in the EHC plan.
  • Management: The budget can be managed in various ways including direct payments, notional arrangements, third-party arrangements, or a combination of these.
  • Local Offer: Information about personal budgets must be included in the local offer.

Support for the Under 5s

  • Early Years Settings: These settings, registered with Ofsted, must have arrangements to support children with SEN or disabilities.
  • Assessments: Includes providing a written progress check at age 2 and a written assessment in the summer term of the reception year in school.
  • Support: If a child has complex or severe SEN, they might need an EHC needs assessment and possibly an EHC plan.
  • Concerns: Parents concerned about their child’s progress should discuss with the early years setting, doctor, or health visitor.

Support for Children of School Age

  • Schools: Most children with SEN or disabilities attend mainstream schools, which must make reasonable adjustments for disabled children, including providing auxiliary aids.
  • Details: The section appears to discuss the support expected from the child’s school, but the details are cut off in the extracted text.

Support for Children of School Age

  • SENCO: Every school has a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) responsible for coordinating SEN provisions in the school.
  • SEN Support: Children with SEN receive support to help them achieve set outcomes or learning objectives, which can include special learning programs, extra help from teachers, and support from specialists outside the school.
  • Annual Report: Schools must provide an annual report on the child’s progress and discuss it with parents at least three times a year.
  • EHC Plan: If a school cannot meet a child’s needs despite its best efforts, parents should consider requesting an EHC needs assessment which might lead to an EHC plan.

Support for Young People Aged 16 and Over in Further Education

  • Transition to College: Colleges should be involved in plans for young people transitioning from school to college, ensuring they meet the SEN or disability needs.
  • SEN Support: The support includes regular reviews and discussions with parents and young people about the progress and support received.
  • EHC Plan: If a college cannot meet a young person’s needs, an EHC needs assessment can be requested, which might lead to an EHC plan.

Preparing for Adulthood

  • Legal Rights: From the age of 16, young people have the legal right to request an EHC plan and a Personal Budget directly from their local authority.
  • Parental Involvement: Parents continue to be involved, especially when the child is 16 or 17, to support them in making decisions.
  • Focus on Independence: As children grow older, it is important to give them opportunities to take more control over their lives, preparing them for higher education, independent living, community involvement, and maintaining good health in adult life.
  • Early Discussions: Discussions about long-term goals should ideally start before the age of 14, involving parents in the process.
  • Local Authority Responsibilities: They include providing information and support directly to young people, including information in the Local Offer about preparing for adulthood, focusing on preparing for adulthood in all reviews of EHC plans from age 13-14 onwards, and ensuring services like housing and adult social care help young people prepare for adulthood.

Children and Young People in Specific Circumstances

  • Objective: To address the needs of children and young people with SEN who have specific circumstances that require more or different support compared to others with SEN.
  • Groups Covered:
    • Children looked after by their local authority
    • Children with SEN and social care needs, including children in need
    • Those receiving education outside the local authority’s area
    • Those of compulsory school age educated in non-school settings
    • Home-educated individuals
    • Children and young people in hospitals
    • Young people in youth custody
    • Children of armed forces personnel
  • Further Information: More details can be found in Chapter 10 of the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice and through the local authority’s information, advice, and support service.

Challenging or Disagreeing with Decisions

  • Objective: To guide parents on how to challenge or disagree with decisions made by professionals including the local authority, schools, health, and other services.
  • Initial Steps: Parents should first discuss their concerns with the respective institution to try and reach an agreement.
  • Disagreement Resolution: The local authority must arrange for disagreement resolution and mediation services, which are independent and offer a quick and informal way to resolve disagreements. This service covers disagreements about SEN provision as well as health and social care disputes.
  • Mediation: A voluntary process that parents can use if they cannot reach an agreement with the local authority or Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) regarding EHC plans. The local authority must provide access to an independent mediation service.
  • Appealing to the SEND Tribunal: If disagreements cannot be resolved through mediation, parents can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunal, a legal body that hears appeals against decisions made by local authorities about EHC needs assessments and plans. The appeal can cover various aspects including the description of the child’s SEN, the provision set in the plan, and the educational establishment named in the plan.
  • Further Information: More details can be found in Chapter 11 of the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice and through the local authority’s information, advice, and support service.

Further Information and Useful Contacts

  • Objective: To provide parents with contacts for various organizations that can offer support and advice.
  • Organisations Listed: The section lists numerous organizations along with their contact details, including phone numbers, email addresses, and websites. Some of the organisations mentioned are:


This section provides definitions and explanations for various terms used throughout the document, including:

  • Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG): Groups of professionals that work together to commission services, ensuring there is sufficient capacity contracted to deliver necessary services to people.
  • Independent Supporter: A person recruited by a voluntary or community sector organization to help families going through an EHC needs assessment and the process of developing an EHC plan. This person is independent of the local authority and receives training to provide this support.
  • Keyworker: Someone who provides children, young people, and parents with a single point of contact to help make sure the support they receive is coordinated.
  • Local Authority: Administrative offices which provide services within their local areas. There are 152 across England which are education authorities.
  • Mainstream School: A school that provides education for all children, whether or not they have special educational needs or disabilities.
  • Parent Carer Forum: A representative local group of parents and carers of disabled children who work with local authorities, education, health, and other providers to make sure the services they plan and deliver meet the needs of disabled children and families.
  • Reasonable Adjustments: Changes schools and other settings are required to make which could include changes to physical features and providing extra support and aids.
  • Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO): A qualified teacher in a school or maintained nursery school who has responsibility for coordinating SEN provision.
  • Statutory Guidance: Guidance that local authorities and other local bodies have a legal duty to follow.

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