EHCP assessment: what is the key to the EHCP process?

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In this podcast episode host, Catriona Attride is joined by specialist in Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) law, Sarah Fitzgibbons, to discuss the EHCP process and outline who is eligible to apply for an EHCP.

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In this episode:

  • We define what an EHCP is and provide an overview of the process of applying for an EHCP.
  • We outline the difference between the support provided with an EHCP in comparison to SEND support.
  • We outline why an EHCP may be better than the support a child receives from school.
  • We outline the key reasons to apply for an EHCP.

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This episode is part of our Talking family and wealth podcast series. Learn more about the series and what we cover. This podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and Soundcloud.

Read the transcript:

Catriona Attride: Welcome to Talking Family and Wealth, your straight-talking guide to dealing with matters that are at the heart of the family in terms of planning for the future and protecting assets and resolving difficulties that might arise in family relationships. My name is Catriona Attride and I am a private client lawyer with over 20 years of experience supporting clients in their estate and tax planning.

In each episode, I'll be joined by an expert and together we'll lift the lid on how best to handle everything from inheritance to divorce. Along the way, we'll share some of the situations we've encountered. Some good, some bad and many ugly, but all useful in helping you to protect your family and wealth.

Welcome to another edition of our Talking Family and Wealth podcast. Today I'm joined by Sarah Fitzgibbons who is going to talk to us about the key to the EHCP process, and special educational needs, which hopefully will be useful for our listeners who have children who have difficulties and need additional support. So Sarah, welcome to the podcast.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Thanks, Cat. It's lovely to be here. Thanks for having me.

Catriona Attride: You're very welcome. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what you are doing in this space and maybe just tell the listeners why you were drawn to it in the first place.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Okay. Well, what I'm doing in this space is, I'm starting to work with families who have children who have additional needs, so special educational needs and disabilities, where families may need some legal advice around how best to support their child in education. And there are a whole host of areas in the SEND space, which is special educational needs and disability where advice might be needed.

So, I might be talking to families about which school might be most appropriate for their child and how to get a place at that school. Negotiating with a local authority about the level of support a child needs at school, helping a family to work more constructively with a school that they feel isn't offering the right support to their child. So, there's a lot of different things that we might do to support a family.

The reason that I became interested in this area is because my young daughter became disabled when she was one. And she has a range of disabilities. And when I started looking at what we were going to do for my daughter for school, both preschool, nursery, as well as, as when she went into reception, I was really struck by the fact that the system can be very complicated, especially for laypeople who are not used to looking at the law and legal guidance.

And also that the system is quite opaque and difficult to follow. And even for myself as a solicitor, it took me a long time to really get what my daughter needed because there are lots of barriers in the way of people getting the support that they need. Sometimes because local authorities don't understand the law that well themselves, sometimes because schools don't understand the law that well themselves, and it takes a while to realise that you may know more about it sometimes than the school or the people at the local authority you're talking to.

So it can be a long drawn out process and incredibly stressful when you're just wanting the best for your child, which I think everybody can understand being in that position and struggling to get a school place or the support that you know will help your child to really flourish.

Catriona Attride: I think it's that thing of feeling overwhelmed, isn't it? Because I've got three children and two of them have got education needs. One has got Aspergers and ADHD, and now one has got dyslexia and ADHD, both in mainstream and both doing well, but apart from anything else, there's that thing of when you get the diagnosis. There's a bit of a process to go through as a parent, then.

And sometimes almost a bit of a grieving process depending on what their condition is or what help they're going to need. And then, when you then come to navigate and find that the help isn't just there on a plate and people aren't there saying, "Oh, you can have this. And you can have that." And you have to educate yourself.

And that's where Google's great, but there is definitely a point where people can benefit from someone who's got some expert knowledge such as yourself to steer them because it isn't that someone's just going to come along and say, "Oh yes, well, we can offer you this package or this school will be best for you." It's quite complicated, isn't it?

Sarah Fitzgibbons: It's very complicated. And I think as you say at that point where your child becomes disabled, or you get a diagnosis, there is a starting point where very much, a chime of what you're saying about that grieving process of things are going to be different for your child. Things are going to be different for you. And therefore you're essentially looking at potentially something very different to what you have been through yourself with school. And it's a brand new thing.

And I think a lot of people perfectly understandably assume that somebody, either in a school or in a local authority, is going to be able to give them all the information they need. And it's all going to be very straightforward in the way that you would have expected if your child was entirely, a typical, child going to a fully mainstream school.

It's a very simple, straightforward process. And unfortunately, it's anything, but, once you're looking at supporting a child who may have special educational needs, so yes, having a solicitor to help you through that process can be... Well, I think the first thing is it takes a weight off your shoulders. Just trying to understand at all, is very difficult, because the legal duties are set out in a number of pieces of legislation. And there's also very complicated and very long-winded guidance.

 So, it takes the weight off your shoulders and it also gives you someone to almost plan and strategise with.

Catriona Attride: And it means you're not alone, doesn't it? Because there's someone there who gets it.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Exactly.

Catriona Attride: Because I think it's a very isolating experience. You feel like yours is the only child that's got these difficulties, or you're the only one having these problems. And actually, when you start to talk to somebody who has got lots of experience because they've come across lots of different people, I think again, that must help with that sense of, "Okay. Other people have done this. It might not be an easy path, but it is a trodden path."

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Absolutely. And I think having that person who you can feel is on your side and not only on your side, but, in my situation, I've been through it myself and I'm continuing to go through it.

Catriona Attride: It doesn't end, does it? You don't suddenly go, "Oh, okay. We've done that." Each time they change a school, or a stage, you're back to square one.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes. And having that person that you feel is on your side understands, and because of their own personal experience has a lot of, not just understanding of the legal side of things, but almost the such of the strategising and also understanding expertise in things like, if your child may need support from therapists, or you're looking for a very specific school, I've spent the last six years pretty much looking at every single issue.

Catriona Attride: I can imagine. And how do you find that? I mean, I think that's really interesting. I don't know if you saw the recent documentary with Katie Price, with her son, Harvey?

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes.

Catriona Attride: And she's looking at his next stage now that he's 19 and needing to move into the next situation. And there are all those schools out there, there are these gems dotted around the country, but how do you find them?

Sarah Fitzgibbons: I think it is very, very tricky, and again, this is the kind of thing where at the beginning of the process that we started with my daughter, again, I assumed, I think quite understandably, that there would just be a list somewhere. 

Catriona Attride: That's what I'd expect, someone to hand you a list and say, "Right. This is what... yeah."

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Exactly. And as I started looking, I realised that actually there wasn't this one list, there are a number of lists that are relatively comprehensive, but there is no one list that sets up every single school. And I think what happens often is that, as I've done myself, you just find yourself Googling and you sometimes by chance will come across the right place. But of course, that doesn't feel very comprehensive. It doesn't feel very structured and you can end up feeling, "Have I actually found all of the options?"

Catriona Attride: "Have I missed another gem? This one looks okay, but is there something better that I'm not finding?"

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes. Yes. And again, having been through all of that myself and knowing what the law is around which schools fall within the type of lists that our local authority will be most likely to approve and the ones they would be less likely to approve, there are different lists of schools. But again, essentially you're within your right to say that you want whatever school you feel is most appropriate for your child.

And then there is legislation and guidance around whether a local authority will or won't agree with that. But, I think sometimes parents don't realise that actually, they have more power in that choice around school provided they can evidence that it's the right school, that providing evidence again, that would be where the support of a solicitor you'd find it easiest to do this, to say why those resources would be best used in that way.

But it is very much a case of looking at a number of different sources to find those schools. And I found in my own journey that it is talking to other people and lots of different bits of experience that you end up knowing where to look. But it isn't one place. And so again, that's the thing that I think can be helpful when you're talking to me about this work that I do have a good understanding about what is out there and where is best to look.

Catriona Attride: I think you made a really important point there, about the fact that the parents do have a say in this. They do have some power because I think it's very easy when you're dealing with authorities or institutions that it's a bit like, when you go to the doctor, you can be the most assertive person in the world, but you sit in the doctor's waiting room and suddenly you lose the power to question anything because they know best.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes.

Catriona Attride: I think it is important for people to know that it might be a minefield and it might not, but you are the parent, you do know your child, you know what they need, you know what's best for them, and if you can support your request with evidence on that, then you do have a say in this. This isn't just that you have to take whatever is offered to you.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Absolutely. And I think that in this area of law, there are many myths that get built up around what your child may be entitled to and when, and I think it's sad, but parents do end up feeling very much like things are being done to them and to that child, and they're being told what should happen to them and that child. And again, without having had the opportunity to re-look at the law and understand what someone's rights are, it can feel like that is just what the system is.

But actually, the system is designed so that the parent and the child are supposed to sit at the heart of it. And there are plenty of opportunities, again, as long as you understand your rights, to really drive the process yourself and focus it in the direction you want it to go in. But it is tricky and it takes a lot of time, and a lot of energy, and a lot of resources, and can be extraordinarily stressful.

Again, that's why sometimes people feel it appropriate to get somebody like me involved to help them because frankly, it can become a bit of a full-time job.

Catriona Attride: Yeah. I think that's right. And I think it's encouraging to know that there is support out there for people. Can we talk a little bit about what the difference is between children who need SEND support, which is the category my kids have been into, and those that need an EHCP?

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Sure. Again, I think there can be some common myths around this area. And I see it a lot where families are told, "Oh, well, your child doesn't need any EHCP, or your child can't have an EHCP. And again, parents and families do have a lot of choice in this area. An EHCP essentially, it's a written plan that sets out all of the special educational needs or disabilities that your child has, what adjustments, additions, or changes need to happen in a school environment to support those additional needs as well as setting out any therapy that the child may need.

So for example, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and then also, what the school and the family hopes will be achieved as a result of those provisions being put in place? And it will also name the appropriate school for that child in light of their needs. And often people assume that people who have an EHCP are children who have the most profound and complex needs. And it is the case that children who have profound and complex needs are most likely to have an EHCP.

However, the actual legal test to have an EHCP or to have an assessment for an EHCP is actually quite a low bar. Essentially the local authority has to look at whether, firstly, a child may have special educational needs. Secondly, whether those special educational needs may need to be met by way of an EHCP.

Catriona Attride: And who assesses for the EHCP?

Sarah Fitzgibbons: It's the local authority. So, if a family feels that their child is receiving additional support at school, and they're very happy with that additional support, it's working for that child, it's working for the school, and it's working for the family, then it may be that nothing else needs to be done and that is perfectly fine. It's really very much about what works for a child. And so, if that's all in place, then that can stay as it is. The reasons why a family may consider that something different might be needed, may be because, for example, they start to feel that actually more support than the school is able to offer informally is needed.

So for example, possibly more specialist input, blocks of types of therapy, or individual teaching hours with a teaching assistant more than the school are able to offer is needed, or perhaps the child is not making as much progress or struggling in ways other than just educational, or maybe socially, or a family might consider that actually a different school is now needed for that child.

And those can be some of the reasons why you might look at applying for an EHCP. And I think the other thing that's really important that isn't always apparent to families, is that the legal requirements are very, very different. If you have SEND support to if you have an EHCP. So once you have an EHCP, there is a legal obligation on the local authority and those instructed to carry out what's in the EHCP, that they must provide that level of support.

Catriona Attride: There is a legal binding on them

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes.

Catriona Attride: There is an obligation.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes. Yes. There is no possibility for them to do anything other than what is in the EHCP. It must be carried out. And in the absence of that families have a cause of action in law to take action against the local authority. So, what that means in essence, is that, exactly what your child needs, as has been assessed, will take place for your child. Now, there is a whole other area in which I may be helping families who are dealing with local authorities or schools who are not doing what's in the EHCP, but of course, with the EHCP in place, they do have the right to say that those things must be done and to take action when they're not. That's very different.

If a child simply has SEND support, in that situation, certain schools will have an obligation to use their best endeavours, to support a child with special education needs. And of course, that is a much lower standard. Also means that support may be altered, they may be changed, they may be taken away, and that very strong duty that you would have within the EHCP then doesn't exist for those families to be able to potentially change the support in a way that they feel is appropriate.

Catriona Attride: And a lot of this comes down to funding, doesn't it? Because with the EHCP, they've got an obligation there, so it must be easier for the schools to get the funding. Whereas if it's just sending support, they'll have allocated some of their budget to helping the children with the additional needs, but there's no additional funding.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: That's absolutely right. And what can be another thing that can be really helpful when trying to build a really good working relationship with the school, which again, is something that I can support families with, is actually helping the school to understand their rights, to get funding. Because what often happens is that families may have a child who is getting SEND supportive school and their child may actually be getting a significant level of extra support, which, for a school can be a big dream-

Catriona Attride: Yeah. Of course.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: And often that is the barrier to their child getting the level of support they actually need. But the school may not understand that actually, they could apply for this child to have an EHCP, and having applied and having then got that EHCP in place, the school then is able to obtain more funding to essentially provide a similar level of support or possibly more comprehensive, depending upon what the EHCP says.

So that actually they've got more money to support that child properly. But unless the school understands the law around who can get an EHCP, they may be acting under the pretence that actually, well, not under the pretence, but they may be acting under the misapprehension that they can't apply for an EHCP for that child.

Catriona Attride: And I think... Because I suspect that schools are not being actively educated in this area, and encouraged to make these requests for assessment. So it is very much going to be down to the individuals in organisations, understanding as you say, the opportunities that are there, particularly when it might be like you say, they're using a lot of their budget, which is going to be constrained anyway, in supporting a child when actually they could be getting some additional funding.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yeah. That's absolutely right. And that was another thing that I suppose I was quite surprised about early on in our journey in this area. Because again, as a lot of families do, you assume that when you talk to the SEND team and your local authority, you talk to the special education needs coordinator of the school, you often find the parents assume that those people have a better understanding of the law than families do, or they rely upon these people to have an understanding of the law and that's perfectly understandable that people would do that.

However, when I took a sabbatical from work shortly after my daughter was ill and became disabled, and I started really looking into this myself, I suddenly realised, "Hang on, what I'm being told is not actually correct. And I don't think these people are telling me things because they're deliberately telling me incorrect. They just haven't had the full training themselves."

So, it can be really helpful for parents to have somebody on site who can explain the law and work very closely with school and in a really cooperative way, because that can really make things so much easier because sometimes those barriers between families and schools end up being there, simply because of misunderstandings about what is and isn't possible.

Catriona Attride: And that leads to a lot of frustration and anger sometimes, doesn't it? Because families can feel like the school are working against them and it's not necessarily that the school's working against them, but the bottom line is here, this is not a level playing field. It's hard enough anyway, that we have a school system that is a very much one-size-fits-all approach, which just doesn't really work.

But when you've then got this, end of the spectrum, where you have people who really do need a different offering, and people are assuming the school know what they're doing and they don't always know completely what they're doing. Like you say, through no fault of their own, you can see how the tensions rise, can't you? And the frustrations come about.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Absolutely. And it's something I've had to navigate myself, and I have worked hard to navigate that in a really positive way so that it's good for school and good for my daughter, but yes, it can be very, very tricky. I think what happens often is that SEN codes at school, so the special education needs coordinator, who is the person who is essentially in charge of supporting children who have special educational needs in schools. They often receive training via the local authorities-

Catriona Attride: Oh right. Okay. You are not going to be advertising the fact that there might be more money available.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes. And also, of course, a local authority is entitled to put in place policies around who they will, and who they won't, for example, assess for special education, sorry for an education.

Catriona Attride: Oh, are they? So, they can have their list of who they will and won't consider.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes. And how they will choose to do that. And of course, again, perfectly understandably, families will always understand that even though local authorities are entitled to have those policies, they do not trump the law.

Catriona Attride: Not quite.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: If the policy says that, for a particular child, they would be asking the school to do more, SEND support before they would assess under an EHCP, their policy may well say that, but that doesn't mean that the legal entitlement of that child to have an assessment has gone away and so often, schools will be following what the local authority have told them about what their policy is and won't understand that that policy is all very well and good.

But if in any event, a family still want to push for an EHCP assessment, they are entitled to, because the law remains the same and their child is in fact entitled to that EHCP assessment, because there is in law, such a low bar.

Catriona Attride: And just a law... I mean, I'm assuming the law doesn't set out a list of diagnosed conditions that would justify any EHCP assessments. So, how is it worded? Is it worded along the lines of, if a child is identified as someone who needs additional support, they can have one?

Sarah Fitzgibbons: It's an incredibly, incredibly low bar. So it simply says, and it's section 36 of the Children and Families Act 2014, which is what brought in the EHCP rather than the old statement capture. Which is what they used to do.

Catriona Attride: Because that's what they used to be called, wasn't it? If the child was "statemented", they got the extra help.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes. Yes. So, the test is essentially, one, is this a child who may have special educational needs? Two, might those special educational needs need to be met by way of an EHCP? And if the answer to both of those questions is yes, a local authority in law is obliged to carry out an EHCP assessment.

Catriona Attride: That's really interesting. You don't actually have to have a diagnosis.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: No.

Catriona Attride: To get a diagnosis, unless you're going to pay for it, can be incredibly difficult.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes. And again, I've just finished writing an article actually on some common myths, because again, common myths come up all the time. And I talk to families and they say, "Oh, well, my child hasn't got a diagnosis. I've been told I can't get any help." Or, "You know, my child's got dyslexia, and so I've been told that you don't get any EHCP for dyslexia." Or another one that comes up often is, "Well, the school are telling me that my daughter or my son is not behind academically and so I can't get an EHCP".

And again, all of these things are myths. You don't have to have any level of disability or behind in your educational work to have EHCP. Once the local authority have then agreed to do that assessment, there is then a relatively long process by which they will decide whether to then give an EHCP. And that is a separate assessment from deciding to do the assessment in the first place.

But that first test of having an assessment is a really low bar. And actually, in my experience, most children who are then assessed for an EHCP will actually end up with one, because if a child does have special educational needs and the family or the school have identified that more formal support is needed than has been offered previously, it does tend to be the case that that child more often than not will then need an EHCP.

Catriona Attride: It's really interesting, isn't it? Because I think a lot of people will think that the child's got to be really bad to be able to...

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes.

Catriona Attride: And what is really bad apart from anything else? But I think the dyslexia one's an interesting one. And that's one that I've got experience with, because my son is very bright as a lot of dyslexics are, and is able to compensate for some of his dyslexia because of that. And therefore some of his tests aren't too low in certain areas. But the fact is that he still can't spell and things are a bit slower, so he needs extra help. And he gets that from the school that he's at, but there are other... It isn't just, you can't read and write that isn't the bar, is it?

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Absolutely not. No, it's not at all. And I had a similar experience, Cat, with my daughter. So, my daughter has a range of disabilities. So, she is severely sight impaired. She has epilepsy. She has cerebral palsy. Goodness me, there's so many that I forget what they are.

Catriona Attride: You've got a lot going on.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: She's got lots of different disabilities. However, my daughter is broadly age-appropriate in all of her learning and she's ahead in some of her areas of learning. And what I was told on a number of occasions, quite early in our journey was, "Well, she's keeping up with all her milestones." So basically, she doesn't need any EHCP, but actually, my daughter is partially blind and her physical skills are significantly different to her peers. And socially she's very different to her peers.

And all of these things are needs that, as a child with special educational needs, you're perfectly entitled to seek an EHCP for, and there are many, many children who are very high functioning ASD, or spectrum disorder, or children with dyslexia, or they may have relatively minor social and communication differences. And all of these children, obviously, each case is different and each case would be looked at on its own merits, but all of those children would be perfectly entitled to apply for an EHCP.

Catriona Attride: Because I think the thing that gets missed, and this was explained to me with my middle one is that, if an atypical child is sitting in the lesson for half an hour, they're using up half an hours worth of energy and concentration to keep on task and to do what they're doing. Whereas someone with my son's difficulties with his Aspergers and his ADHD is having to work twice as hard. So, within 10 minutes, he'd used up the energy that the other child's going to use in half an hour.

So, actually... And that's to make sure that he... To keep him at the right level. And therefore, if there were ways to support someone, to keep them at that level without it being such hard work, that's what the EHCP I suppose, is there for.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Absolutely. It's there because the law is such that what is trying to be achieved in essence, in the guidance's to achieve the best educational and other outcomes for the child. And the purpose of the EHCP is not just to allow children to do their best with that education, it is to literally allow that child to have a full rounded, positive existence, not just in school, but socially-

Catriona Attride: To be the best person they can be. Yeah. Exactly.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: In the community. Absolutely. And there may well be children who could do incredibly well in school, whether that's sporting, education, socially, part of the school community, but the opportunity for them to do as well as they could, can't exist, if they don't have certain supports in place, it would be... Often people asked me about my daughter with her vision as an example, how vision is such that she has lots of different adaptive equipment, and she also has a teaching assistant with her so that they put her with the equipment.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: But for my daughter, it would be like asking a typically sighted child's, let's think about photo sizes, for example, they can't. Asking my daughter to look at a typical book would be like asking a typically sighted child to learn to read using a font one.

Catriona Attride: Absolutely. Yeah.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: And with all of the pictures completely blurred out so that you couldn't see any of them. It would be like asking a typically sighted child to sit in a classroom and look at a whiteboard that's up the other end of a sports field and concentrate on that. It's about doubling the playing field.

So for my daughter, it is perfectly right and within the law that those adaptions are in place because that puts her in as close to a level playing field with her typically sighted peers. And that's the same thing that you were saying about your son with concentration energy. You've got to allow those children to be supported in such a way that they are able to access their education as closely to the typical peers as we can reach.

And that's the purpose of having any EHCP because it is trying to tweak every single little thing that happens during the school day, such that that child is able to have the most positive experience, but also be able to reach the same access as their typical peer.

Catriona Attride: Yeah. Absolutely. It's like you said, it's a whole levelling the playing field. So, I think it would be useful if you could just give us a little bit of a comparison to how things would work if your child's in the private sector and has got additional needs because clearly there's a difference there in terms of responsibility.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes. There absolutely is. And again, sometimes there's some strategising around that that can be really useful. Looking at the very bold legal tests on it, independent schools don't have the same legal obligations upon them. So, for example, they don't have an obligation to use their best endeavours to support a child with special educational needs, like a state school.

Catriona Attride: Like a state school. That's quite a big difference, isn't it?

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yeah. So in a private school, an independent school, the main obligation upon them is under section 20 of the Equality Act, which is where they have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for those who may have disabilities, and disabilities are very broadly drawn under that Act. So, it's not a full crossover, but for children who have special educational needs under the Equality Act, a lot of them would fall within that definition of disability.

Catriona Attride: Right.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: And then, of course, schools may have their own policies in private school about what they may and may not do. And some private schools will then also have extra tuition that they are prepared to put in place to support children. And that will be an extra cost to families. It is, excuse me, it is a very different playing field in terms of their legal obligations and a private school will not be obliged to take a child who has an EHCP.

Catriona Attride: Whereas a state school would be. So, the state school couldn't turn you down because you've got an EHCP.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: No. I mean, so, of course an EHCP ultimately will name a particular school, but no state schools, a maintain schools, they have an obligation to take a child who has an EHCP, and to follow the terms of that. So there's much more flexibility for independent schools about what they are, and are not prepared to do. Having said that, when you look at a website, so if you are thinking about schools for your child it's often helpful.

And I found this myself when we've been looking at schooling for my daughter, and looking at their website, looking at the website about the school, and often those reports in the independent schools will set out the children at school that have been identified as having some special educational needs. And then, also often set out how many children at the school have an EHCP.

Catriona Attride: Okay. Right.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: So, that can give you some guidance about whether it is a school that is more or less likely to be open to working with your family. And they may also, of course, have policies on their website around SEND. And again, that can give you some useful information about whether that school is going to be a SEND friendly school, or less so.

Catriona Attride: I can definitely tell a lot from the school's website with the SEND policies because when I ended up at various schools in the independent sector, there are those where you can barely find the policy online. And in fact, I helped a client whose son had the needs was at an independent school. And it caused crisis point with various issues. And the school really they weren't really behaving in a terribly appropriate way. And as part of that, I tried to find their certain policy, and actually, there's, wasn't even on their website, you actually have to phone them and ask for it. And they didn't even have a proper SEND coordinator.

They had somebody who'd had it tacked on to their job which I think was a lesson for the parents. In hindsight, although that was a very, very nice school where people like to send their children, it was just never going to be appropriate for the child, Eddie, who actually, was EHCP. But it was just never going to be appropriate because it wasn't a priority. It wasn't the child they wanted. They wanted, in speech marks, "Normal academically achieving no problems here, child."

Sarah Fitzgibbons:Yeah. And there are plenty of schools like that, but there are other ones that are much more open and much more accepting of children who may have some, or many, special educational needs. But as you say, looking at the website, looking at the same policy, if you can find it looking at what they, they say about the school, looking at those reports, that can all be incredibly helpful.

And I think often, I think as you just identified that with that client that you were helping, sometimes that there's almost this myth that, if you send your child to a really good school, it's a very expensive school, it's bound to be a good school for your child's. And I think that's something that families who have children who have special educational needs need to think about in a slightly different way because for a child with special educational needs, there are other criteria that you need to think about.

And if the school, as you say, is mainly focused on academic achievement, sporting achievement, and you're very typical child, then it's unlikely that that school is going to have the expertise to look after your child and to educate your child in a way that would be the most appropriate for them on what would be the best for them with expertise in those children, not just in education.

Catriona Attride: Exactly. And I think, I mean, I just look at my own experiences with three, because my children range from 19, ones in our university down to seven, and they're very spread out. But what I've realised quite early on, it's the school that fits the child, rather than, that's the school we're going to go to, and it's really important you do your research, you go and visit the schools, you see what they can offer. And my three, all have always been at different schools because it wasn't that one school was going to suit all of them.

So, it's very much finding their place, finding their people, finding the place that they can thrive in which isn't necessarily... And again, it isn't this one-size-fits-all approach. So it's that thing of doing your research and looking around and visiting. And I mean, I don't know how people are managing during this time where you can't go into schools, but previously you would always say, "Go in. Feel it. See it. Speak to the Head. Speak to the head SENCO. See what they're saying."

Sarah Fitzgibbons:Yes. Absolutely. And I think the other thing that's really important is that it is possible with an EHCP to have an independent school named in an EHCP and therefore to have that school funded by a local authority.

Catriona Attride: Right. That's interesting.

Sarah Fitzgibbons:Now, I'm not saying it's possible for every child, because it will depend upon, what the identified needs of that child are, the provision that's needed to meet those needs is, what schools are available in the local area. The evidence to support why that school is the most appropriate and the best use of local authority resources? But it is absolutely possible for children to have an independent school named.

Now, more often than not those independent schools may be mainstream schools, but that have a high proportion of children that have some SEN, it may not be the independent school that your very typical, very focused on academics, hardly any SEND children put in that school, but there will be, there are, and I've been looking myself with my own daughter. There are lots of independent schools out there that are entirely mainstream schools, fantastic resources, very focused on academics, but that also support children who may have a range of needs.

And it's highly possible if your child is the right type of child for that school, and you can evidence why this school is the best school and the best use of resources that you can get that named in EHCP. So, there's a lot of stuff that can be done that often people don't realise can be done. And, in that situation, then your fees for an independent school are being paid by the local authority because the EHCP states that that school is the school that your child needs to attend to meet its needs.

Catriona Attride: I mean, I have to say. So, that's really interesting. And on a personal level, it's really interesting because I wasn't aware of that. So, you and I might be having a chat off this podcast. I'm conscious, we've covered a lot in this, and I think it would be great if we maybe talk again in a later podcast in a little bit more detail in this area because I think this has been a really great introduction for the listeners.

And if anyone who is listening, any of this resonates, they've got any questions contact Sarah and have a chat and see if she can help you, because this is a really difficult area that affects more people than you might imagine.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Yes. I think that's right, Cat, thank you very much for having me. It's been a pleasure to talk to you about EHCP.

Catriona Attride: No. Thank you for joining us and have a good day.

Sarah Fitzgibbons: Thank you.

Catriona Attride: Thank you for listening to Talking Family and Wealth, to find out more about the series please visit From here, you can subscribe for all updates, meet our speakers and get more information on all of the topics being discussed.

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