“Special needs” or learning disabilities” are very descriptive yet very general terms. They can cover a child who requires full time round the clock care at a very high level to a child who has a need that allows them, with support, to operate in a mainstream school environment. It is this latter group that I would like to focus on.
Before any support can be put into place you need to be aware that your child has special needs. Sometimes this is obvious and sometimes it is not. A special need or learning disability could be picked up at a young age or not until the teenage years and it might be you as a parent who discovers it but equally it might be their school. However it is identified there is a process that you need to follow to secure the support that your child needs.
If your child needs help at school beyond that which a teacher will usually provide they will need a statement of special needs. This is often referred to as being statemented. This is a formal document that details any learning difficulties and the help that will be given. It is estimated that around 2% of children in the UK have a statement, not all children with learning needs require one.
The first step in the process is to undergo a statutory assessment which is carried out by your local authority. Either the school or parents can request this although if the school asks the parents must be informed. During the assessment the following parties may be consulted:
- Educational psychologist
- Doctor, could be GP or Specialist
- Social Services (if the child is known to them)
When the assessment process is complete you will be told within 12 weeks if a statement will be made and you will be shown a draft and be able to offer comments. The statement will include:
- Name and contact details of the child
- Details of the child’s SEN
- The help the child should receive
- The school’s part
- The child’s non-educational needs and how these will be met
If you do not agree with the local authority’s post assessment decision you have the right of appeal. Details of how to do this will be included in the notification letter.
Once your child has a statement you will be advised which schools in your area are suitable. These may be special schools or mainstream schools. You have the right to choose where your child goes to school subject to admission numbers and criteria.
Every mainstream school must have a Special Education Needs Co-Coordinator, usually known as a SENCo. This is a qualified teacher who is responsible for managing and coordinating additional learning support for students with special educational needs. Part of this responsibility is goal setting and the measurement of progress and ensuring that the learning requirements of these students receive equal emphasis.
Reaching this point is just the start of the process. By law the local authority must review statemented children at least once a year. These reviews will usually be conducted with the SENCO, parents and any other appropriate parties.
The goal of all this activity is to give each child the best possible chance to achieve their potential and the key aspect is open communication and feedback between all parties. Every child deserves the chance to be the best that they can be.