How can I get the right education for my child if they have special needs?
A child has special needs and should get help at school if they:
- have significantly more difficulty in learning than other children of the same age;
- have a disability which affects how they can use educational facilities that are usually provided for children of the same age in the same area; or
- are under five, and are likely to fall within these categories when they reach compulsory school age.
A learning difficulty can be the result of, for example:
- a disability;
- behaviour problems; or
- problems learning to read.
Your child doesn't have a special need because:
- the language they speak at home is different from the language taught at school or;
- they are gifted, unless they have other difficulties that cause them problems in learning.
In most cases, the school should decide what help children with learning difficulties need. Children with the greatest difficulties will need a 'statutory assessment' from their LA (see 'What is a statutory assessment?').
If you think your child has learning difficulties, you can ask your authority for an assessment.
Local authorities, schools and colleges must not treat children and students with disabilities less well than others for a reason to do with their disability. All schools must have an anti-discrimination policy setting out what they do to prevent discrimination;
- an accessibility policy setting out how the school buildings are made accessible to pupils with disabilities; and
- a disability equality scheme setting out how they will promote equal opportunities for disabled people.
If you think your disabled child has suffered unlawful discrimination, you may complain to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (Sendist). This tribunal can order the LA, school or college to stop the discrimination but it cannot order it to pay you compensation. Disability discrimination in admissions and permanent exclusions is considered by the relevant appeal panel, not by the tribunal.
For more information about discrimination against people with disabilities, see the Community Legal Advice leaflet ‘Rights for Disabled People’. Also see ‘Guide to Disability in Education for Parents’ from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and ‘Disability Discrimination’ from the Advisory Centre for Education. See ‘Further help’ for contact details.
You have the right to ask your LA for a statutory assessment of your child’s needs. The LA must follow a process set out in legal guidance to decide if your child needs a statutory assessment. If it refuses to assess your child, you can appeal to Sendist (See 'What can I do if I disagree with my child´s statement or assessment decision?').
If the LA decides that your child needs an assessment, it must ask for reports on your child, including reports from:
- a doctor;
- an educational psychologist;
- the school; and
- a social worker, if your child is known to social services.
You have the right to be present at any examination of your child. If you won't let your child be examined by a health or education professional during a statutory assessment, the LA might take you to court to make you allow this.
Your own report on your child can include your opinions and experiences, and reports by other professionals who may have seen your child.
The LA must then decide if your child needs the sort of help they can only get through a 'statement of special educational needs'. (Only about 3 per cent of school-age children have a statement.)
This is a complicated area, and every LA must provide a parent partnership service or other independent advisers who can help you understand the process and your rights.
A statement of special educational needs is a legal document produced by the LA, which sets out:
- your child's learning needs; and
- the help they will receive to meet those needs.
The help must normally be described in as much detail as possible. The statement must also say where your child will be educated (though you may say which school you want your child to go to). For school-age children, the education will normally take place at an ordinary (mainstream) or special school. For younger children, it may be in a nursery or at home. If the statement does not name the school your child should attend, it should state the type of school, for example ‘mainstream secondary’.
Most children with statements are taught in ordinary (mainstream) schools and, under recent legislation, parents now have a stronger right to a place in an ordinary school for their child.
An LA can refuse a mainstream place to a child with a statement only if other children’s education could suffer and there are no reasonable steps it can take to prevent this.
The stronger right to a mainstream place for a child with a statement does not mean you have a right to a place at a particular school. Whichever school you say you would like (special or mainstream), the LA will consider:
- the cost of your child attending the school;
- whether the school can meet your child's needs; and
- whether the education of other children would be affected.
You have the right to appeal to an independent body called the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (Sendist) if you don’t agree with what the LA has decided for your child. You can appeal if you disagree with the LA’s decision:
- not to give your child a statutory assessment or reassessment when you have asked for one;
- not to give your child a statement after a statutory assessment;
- not to name a school in the statement;
- not to change your child's statement after reassessing them; or
- not to continue your child's statement.
You can also appeal if you disagree with:
- the description of your child's special educational needs or the special educational help they should have; or
- the choice of school named in the statement
If you want to appeal against the statement, you have two months, starting when you receive the LA’s written decision.
The LA must provide free transport if your child lives further than the legal walking distance from their nearest suitable school.
The legal walking distance is:
- two miles for children under eight years old; and
- three miles for older children.
If you have chosen to place your child at a school that is further away than the legal walking distance when there is a place available at a nearer school, the LA will not normally provide transport.
However, the LA may still have to give your child free transport if:
- they have special educational needs;
- your family has a low income; or
- there are other special circumstances.
If you think your child needs free transport, you should write to the LA to explain why, and ask for a copy of its transport policy. If the LA refuses to provide free transport, you can normally appeal the decision.
If your child has a statement of special educational needs that names a school they can’t reach by walking or public transport, the LA must provide another form of transport to that school. This may be specified in the statement.
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