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EHCPs: a beginner’s guide

If you are a parent or carer of a newly diagnosed autistic child you have probably heard a lot of talk about EHCPs, or as they used to be called colloquially, ‘statements’. We understand that if you are new to the world of special educational needs (or SEN) the thought of trying to work out if your child needs one and how to go about getting one can be overwhelming.  So what are they? Why are they important? Why does everyone want one? Read on to find out more.

Please note: the information in this post refers to EHCPs in England. If you live in Wales, Ireland or Scotland some of the information here may be incorrect, so please bear this in mind and seek local advice if you want to apply for one.

What is an EHCP?

An EHCP is short for an Education, Health and Care Plan. They were introduced in 2014 to replace Statements of Special Educational Needs. They are provided by your local education authority, which is part of your local council, also known as your Local Authority (LA). 

An EHCP is a legal document that outlines any special educational, health or social care needs your child may have that cannot be provided by their school, nursery or college without extra support from the LA. It sets out what your child needs provided to be able to get the most from their education, so as to secure the best possible outcomes for them and to prepare them for adulthood as they grow older.

They go with your child right up until the age of 25 for further education placements and college, although they do not cover studying at university (though may cover internships, apprenticeships and other further education options). Because your child and their needs will probably change as they get older, EHCPs are reviewed and updated at least once a year to make sure they reflect your child’s current situation and changing needs. 

Who can be assessed for an EHCP?

If you feel your child needs more help and support in school than a mainstream education provision can usually provide, an EHCP needs assessment can be requested by you or your child’s school, nursery or college. Your child does not need to have a diagnosis of autism or any other disability, or to be officially registered as disabled, in order for you to ask for an EHCP assessment.

Stressed autistic school girl
You will need an EHCP if you want your child to attend a special school

Why are they important?

They are important because once your child has an EHCP the local authority will be legally obliged to provide your child with the educational setting best suited to their needs, whether this be specialist or mainstream. Without an EHCP you won’t be able to consider specialist schools for your child. 

If your child attends a mainstream school and you want them to stay in mainstream education an EHCP is still important. If your child has an EHCP you will not be required to apply for schools through the normal application process, so you can apply for schools further away if they are able to meet your child’s needs better than schools local to you.

Assessment process

You or your child’s school can ask your LA for a needs assessment. Before a needs assessment is granted your child’s school, nursery or college will need to provide details of what they have done to try and meet your child’s needs using their own resources, so the first step is to talk to your child’s special educational needs department to ask them to do this. Every school has a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) who deals with this. 

Once you or the school have requested an assessment the local authority should reply within six weeks. If they agree to assess they must then gather information from you and education professionals, as well as therapists and doctors involved in your child’s care. You can request that any schools which can meet your child’s needs are listed in the application. The LA should then produce a draft EHCP, and before it is finalised you can check that you are happy with it. 

If the local authority refuses to assess your child for an EHCP, you can appeal the decision. 

You can find information from Bristol City Council about how to apply here, North Somerset Council here and South Gloucestershire Council here

Further help, advice and support

There is a lot of help out there to guide you through every stage of getting an EHCP, including supporting and advising you if you need to appeal any local authority decisions. Below we have listed some local and national organisations you can contact for help and advice.

There is an excellent Facebook group to join if you are going through the EHCP process. The Bristol (and surrounding local authorities) EHCP experiences group has very helpful people who can guide you through the process.

Supportive Parents provide independent advice and support to parents and carers in Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset about all aspects of special educational needs, including going through the EHCP application process and helping with appeals.

Contact is a national charity for the families of disabled children.

Child Law Advice is a national charity who can advise about all aspects of applying for an EHCP.

The National Autistic Society have an Education Rights service helpline you can contact.  

We have a section on our website packed full of useful information and further help with all aspects of special educational needs here.

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