Laxmi Patel returns to My Family, Our Needs with information on getting detail from experts in EHCPs to make sure your child’s educational needs are being met.
Q. My child’s EHCP is not very specific. When I asked the local authority, (when the EHCP was in draft), she told me to speak to the school. The class teacher said I should speak to the SENCO. Now 5 months in, we are no nearer and my child is school refusing due to not getting the support I think he needs. Help! We have requested an early review before the new school year but how do we make sure the support set out in the EHCP is sufficiently detailed?
It is the local authority’s duty to make sure your child’s educational needs are being met. If your child’s needs are not being met because the level of support is not sufficiently detailed in their EHCP, then you need to get that rectified. You are right to ask for an early review but you will need to make sure that the local authority has experts’ reports that specify exactly what your child needs. If you succeed in getting sufficiently detailed reports and the local authority still refuses to put that into the Plan, then you must appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.
How easy is it to get a sufficiently detailed report?
The law sets out that support identified in an EHCP must be as quantified and as detailed as possible so that everyone is absolutely clear about what support must be provided. The requirement for specificity applies even where support is being delivered in a special school or a special unit within a mainstream school. So, how do parents get the level of specificity required? What is the process for getting detail from experts in EHCPs?
Evidence is needed from professionals in their assessment reports. The difficulty for many parents is when reports set out vague recommendations. A local authority cannot make up the level of provision your child needs; neither can the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.
My advice to parents who receive reports with vague recommendations is to go back to the expert and ask them to rewrite their recommendations with more specificity. If the local authority has commissioned the reports, then it should be them that approaches the expert. A report that sets out vague recommendations is not fit for the purpose of writing an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
Experts (speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists) often tell me that it is very difficult for them to specify the exact provision to be delivered. The reasons given are:
- The need for a degree of flexibility – fitting support around the changing need of the child.
- Too time-consuming to calculate the exact amount of support required to the required level of specificity.
- A concern about limited resources. ‘We have to deliver what we recommend. We simply do not have the resources’.
- ‘Our managers have told us we cannot be too specific and/or have to limit the amount of support we recommend.’
None of these is a good enough reason to avoid setting out recommendations in detail and some call into question the expert’s duty to their own professional body.
Referral to professional body
If parents are faced with similar responses, they should refer the expert to their own professional body which usually provides helpful advice:
- The Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists (RCSLT) provides helpful guidance to speech and language therapists in their document Guidance for speech and language therapists (SLTs) on their roles and responsibilities under the Children and Families Act 2014 and associated Code of Practice, 2016.
- Physiotherapists can find advice from the Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists in Guidance for Paediatric Physiotherapists Writing Advice for Education, Health and Care Plans, 2017.
- The Royal College of Occupational Therapists provides advice in various formats.
The advice from professional bodies is quite clear. For example:
- ‘SLTs have a duty of care for any child or young person they are writing advice for. Advice should be written with the needs of the child or young person in mind, not the available resources’.
- SEN Provision ‘must be detailed, specific and should normally be quantified, for example, in terms of hours and frequency of support and level of expertise’.
- ‘Recommendations…must be anticipatory, reasonable and in line with what would be considered sound ethical practice by a colleague of similar experience and standing.’
- ‘Speech and language therapy advice on provision should include time required to: support staff, attend meetings including with parents and carers, write reports, review the evidence base and measure outcomes, as well as level and frequency of monitoring.’
This illustrates the level of specification required.
All registered therapists are required to follow the law and guidance and other requirements relevant to their practice, including the need to adhere to standards of conduct, performance and must be able to practice within the legal and ethical boundaries of their profession.
If parents still cannot get sufficiently detailed reports, they can ask the Tribunal to order a report with greater specificity as part of the appeal process.
Laxmi Patel is Partner and Head of the Special Educational Needs Team at Boyes Turner LLP.