Commencing the education process for your disabled child can be confusing and very daunting. It is important that the process is started as early as possible in order to get the support in place when your child is young. You may find (as we did) that this is usually around the age of 3 when you will be contacted by an Educational Psychologist from your Local Educational Authority (LEA) to establish the needs of your child and you. They will make an extensive report on your child and based on this they will make recommendations as to whether your child needs additional support up to age 5 in a nursery environment and beyond into school from age 5. They will arrange to review your child on a regular basis to establish any changes in their development. All of these reports and reviews will be kept as it is these that will form the basis of any statutory assessment made (more commonly known as a statement). 

Pre School Education:

For the under 5s you may find that your Health Services OT will put you in touch with a special needs nursery (if not ask or contact your LEA)– These special needs nursery’s can sometimes be at a Hospital or more so today these are linked to special needs schools. Unfortunately places are limited but you will find that there are a number of private nursery’s now available to disabled children with support through Early Years Action or Early Years Action Plus, which is an intervention designed to support children whose progress is noticeably slower than it is for children of a similar age.

There are many funding streams available to pay for private nursery care – contact your local social services Children with Disabilities (CWD) team for more advice on this.

Additionally because many disabled children are unable to use conventional toys there are over 1,000 Toy and Leisure libraries across the UK (most hospitals will have one available on site or close by) which provide specialist toys, play sessions and a meeting place for parents and carers to share advice and experience. Sometimes the toys are loaned out for free, sometimes it is necessary to pay a small fee. Again speak to your Health Services OT or Physiotherapist. 

Primary School Education (Years 1 to 6):

The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice sets out the key principles for identifying and assessing Special Educational Needs (SEN) and describes the process of supporting children with SEN.

Choosing the best school for a child with special needs requires some research on the part of the parent or carer. Primarily, a meeting with the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) will help you to establish the school's approach to educating children with special needs. Ask them how special needs are addressed and catered for at that school. The school should have a special needs policy which you can ask to see. You can also ask to be shown round the school to see what sort of barriers the physical environment might present for your child. Try and speak to other parents whose children are at the school who also have special needs. Finally, find out what the rules on admissions involve.

Types of Schools:

There are principally three types of school:

If your child has a Statement of Special Needs, part 4 of that statement will name the type of school they ought to attend. Parents may make a request for a certain school but this request will be rejected if:

The LEA must talk to the governing body at the school but they cannot refuse to admit a child just because he/she has special needs.

Both Tommy and Matthew are in a Maintained mainstream school which we find works well for their mental stimulation and develops their social skills with the local children – which I consider is very important for their future independent living and integration into the local community.  The school has been very accommodating of both their needs; however we do find a lack of input from the Physiotherapists in attending the school on a regular basis which does delay the adjustment and assessment of equipment needs, as well as meaning that more of their physical exercise has to be done at home (a minor drawback which I don’t mind because they are getting a high level of mental stimulation and social interaction). Again in our local area there are few children’s Physiotherapists and even fewer available physiotherapy sessions outside of school hours – so to ensure continuity for Tommy and Matthew (which as you will find out is important to a child with disabilities) I always take them to a private Children’s Physiotherapist every two weeks.

Statutory Assessment and Statements of Special Educational Needs:

Remember disabled children will not automatically receive one or both of these and it is reassuring to know that not all disabled children will need one (Matthew is statemented but Tommy isn’t). As previously mentioned a preliminary assessment will be made by your LEA at about age 3 via the Educational Psychologist and it is at this point that an initial decision will be made as to whether your childs current development status may require further monitoring with the intention of issuing a Statutory assessment and Statement of Special Educational needs prior to attending school at age 5.

What are they?

The statutory assessment is a thorough assessment of needs to which parents will be asked for their input. As a parent you will need to think about and write down the history of your child's special needs from as far back as you can (keeping a diary is very useful) so that the assessment gives a full background to the issues and can therefore formulate as effective a plan as possible. For detailed information regarding the statementing process, see the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice

Regulations set out time limits in which the various parts of the process of making statutory assessments and statements must normally be conducted. The cumulative effect of these time limits is that the period from the receipt of a request for a statutory assessment or the issue of a notice to parents to the issue of the final copy of the statement should normally be no more than 26 weeks. (A flowchart of the time limits can be found on page 120 of the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice)

Once the assessment process of six weeks has been concluded the LEA will at this point decide whether to proceed with a proposed Statement of Special Educational Needs. If they decide not to do this they have to give a full report to the Parents detailing their reasons.

The Statement consists of 6 parts:

  •  Part 1 gives general information about your child

  •  Part 2 gives the description of your child’s needs following the assessment

  •  Part 3 describes all the special help to be given for your child’s needs

  •  Part 4 gives the type and name of the school your child should go to

  •  Part 5 describes any non-educational needs your child has

  •  Part 6 describes how your child will get help to meet any non-educational needs

Every LEA also has to provide independent advice, support and information to parents of children with special needs. These are called Parent Partnership Services.

A Child with no Statutory assessment and Statement of Special Educational Needs:

If you are worried about your child's progress at school, talk first to their teacher and then the SENCO. Schools are able to support pupils with special needs through a mechanism known as School Action and School Action Plus.

Following your meeting with the teacher and the SENCO, the SENCO will draw up an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which should detail how the issues raised are going to be addressed and when there ought to be a review of how well the plan is working. There should be a review at least twice a year. If it does not seem that the plan is effective, then you might want to suggest the involvement of external help, this might be your Educational Psychologist or a specialist teacher. If this is the case then it means that the programme has moved from School Action to School Action Plus. Now a new IEP will be drawn up which needs to be regularly reviewed.

If this approach is unsuccessful, the school, in consultation with the parents, may approach the LEA for a Statutory Assessment (parents also have the right to request this).

Annual review and meeting:

Your LEA must review your child's statement at least once a year, checking your child’s progress and making sure that the statement continues to meet their needs.
Your child's school will invite you to a review meeting and ask you to send in your views on your child’s progress over the past year. The review meeting looks at written reports and at your child's statement, and will see if it needs changing in any way. You are also asked for your views on your child's progress. You can take a friend or an independent adult, and your child should be able to attend at least part of it.
After the meeting, the school sends you a copy of their report. The head teacher sends a report to the LEA recommending any agreed changes to the statement. This must be within 10 working days of the annual review meeting or by the end of term, whichever is sooner. The local authority may then decide to make changes to your child's statement.

An annual review is also made of the IEP for children who are not statemented , this is usually undertaken by the SENCO, Teacher and Parent completing a review form. If there are any significant issues then a meeting is arranged to discuss between the relevant people.

Secondary School Education (year 7 to 12):

We are not too familiar with this process as yet because Tommy and Matthew are just in year 5, however Matthew has been assessed already (January 2005) for his transition into Year 7 (September 2007) of the local Maintained mainstream secondary school. Initial feelings are that the school is more than suitable for Matthews access needs and the SENCO has confirmed that the Curriculum can be tailored specifically for Matthew. Tommy’s needs have not been assessed as yet because he is not statemented it will be early in year 6 that his needs will be reviewed.

Complaints and Appeals:

If you are worried about your child's education try to resolve the issue first with the school and/or with the SENCO. If you are still not satisfied, ask about the formal complaints procedure.

Every LEA has a 'disagreement resolution service' which may sometimes be called a Mediation Service. This is available to resolve conflicts between parents and schools. An independent facilitator will mediate with the two parties in what is designed to be a non-threatening environment and they will work with both sides to try and reach an agreement. Parents may have a supportive person accompany them if they wish.

If you have made a complaint to your LEA regarding your child's education and you feel that their response has not been adequate, you may approach SENDIST who are an independent body who hear parents' appeals against decisions made by their LEA. If you want to use SENDIST, you must contact them within two months of receiving the LEA's decision.

These are the circumstances under which you may appeal to SENDIST:

You can also appeal if the LEA:

SENDIST will decide within 10 days of receiving your complaint, whether to pursue it or not. If they do decide to investigate the complaint, they will write to you and the LEA and you both have 30 days to prepare your case, known as the Case Statement Period. The parents will be able to see the LEA's response and the LEA will be able to see the parent's response before the hearing/tribunal.

The Tribunal will consist of a lawyer and two other members who are involved with special needs. You are entitled to take a representative if you wish. The Tribunal will advise the parents and the LEA of their decision within 10 days of the hearing.

Help with Transport to school:

LEA’s have to provide free transport for any pupils up to the age of 16 if they need transport to get to a suitable school i.e. the school is not within walking distance (that is, up to 2 miles for children under 8 and 3 miles for children between 8 and 16). A pupil may be given a place on a coach, a school bus or be given a pass for public transport. Pupils who provide their own transport may be given a travelling allowance and parents who drive their child to school may receive a car allowance. The same rules apply to disabled pupils – however LEA’s can make a decision to provide transport on a case by case basis. If a child is unable to use transport other than a car due to their disability it can be argued that the parents should receive car allowance. Your LEA will assess your child’s needs when making a decision.

If parents have chosen a school which is beyond walking distance the LEA does not have to support the pupil in getting to the school in any way if there is a suitable school nearer that the child could attend. However, if your child attends a voluntary school such as a church school, which is beyond walking distance, the LEA may provide free transport even if there is another suitable school nearer.

LEA’s have discretion to pay all or part of a pupil's travel costs so it is always worth approaching them and submitting a request. A parent can challenge an LEA if they think that they have incorrectly assessed someone as not being eligible for help with transport costs. Parents might also be given an allowance to visit their child if their child is living at a maintained special school. This again is at the LEA’s discretion however.

Although we are not eligible for transport costs because we live in too close a proximity to the school and specific transport is needed for Matthew in his wheelchair (I have an adapted vehicle for his sole use) we have had occasions when our vehicle was off the road and the LEA provided temporary transport to and from school via a local minicab firm for us (so remember if in need always ask)

Who provides the actual transport?

School transport is often provided by private companies who have been contracted by the LEA. You may find that a transport management company manages the relationship between the LEA and the transport company themselves. It is important that when transport is arranged that it is able to cater for your child's needs including seating, wheelchair accessible (if applicable) and most LEA’s will provide an escort if your child needs one

The type of transport provided will depend on your child's needs and may be a taxi/minicab or a wheelchair accessible vehicle or minibus or similar.