Top five tips when applying for an education, health and care plan

If your child is struggling at school, and the support which is being provided by the school is not working for any reason, the next step would often be to apply for an Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment (EHCNA in short). An EHCNA is assessment carried out by a local authority which is meant to be holistic and look at all of a child’s or a young person’s additional needs, whether they are educational, health or social care in nature.

In many cases, an EHCNA results in the local authority issuing an Education, Health and Care Plan for the child or young person (EHCP in short). An EHCP is a legally enforceable document which brings with it a number of tangible benefits, such as a conditional but nevertheless strong right for the parents or young person to choose the educational placement to attend, and the local authority’s legal duties to secure the special educational provision specified in the EHCP and to pay fees for the school named in the EHCP.

Local authorities do not always have to carry out an EHCNA. Indeed, they regularly refuse, often on questionable grounds, resulting in the parents or young person needing to appeal this decision to the First-tier Tribunal. This is a process which can be long, stressful, and costly.

The good news is that there are things that can be done to maximise the chances of an EHCNA application being agreed without the need for an appeal. In our many years of experience, we have found the following to work best:

The EHCNA test

Show that you are aware of the legal test for EHCNA, as well as the most important case law which interprets it.

In a nutshell, the legal threshold is very low: a local authority must carry out an EHCNA if the child or young person has or may have special educational needs, and it may be necessary for special educational provision to be made for the child or young person in accordance with an EHC plan.

Note the “may” – this means that you are not required to provide conclusive evidence either of special educational needs or the provision required (although absolutely do provide it if you have it).

The test has been described in case law as a “provisional and predictive one”. This is something that, in our experience, local authorities often misunderstand, and it therefore helps to spell it out.

Front-load the application

Front-load the application. In other words, provide as much information as possible about the child or young person’s needs, and enclose all relevant expert and other written evidence about those needs. Link your summary of needs with information in the evidence.

The devil is in the details

Set out in a good level of detail all of the support provided to date, including any additional provision or adjustments made by the school, as well as any support provided by external professionals such as therapists or health professionals. Make sure to list all of these professionals including details of any assessments they may have carried out. Enclose those assessments.

Why does your child need more support?

Explain why the support provided to date has not had sufficient impact, and why more support is needed. Describe how your child continues to struggle, and remember that this does not include academic progress only, but also the child or young person’s ability to cope with the day to day demands of school or college, such as social interactions and relationships or sensory demands.

Be specific in your request 

Include an express request for the relevant type of full social care assessment to form part of the EHCNA. The type of assessment will depend on the age of the child or young person, i.e. whether they are under or over 18. Whilst an EHCNA is meant to assess care needs in a level of detail sufficient for the local authority to make an informed decision on whether or not social care support is needed, this rarely happens.

We often see one-liner responses from social care departments stating that the child or young person is not known to them. This is not an assessment. It therefore assists to tell the local authority clearly at the outset that a full assessment of social care needs is required.

Finally, be aware that there many myths and half-truths around, such as that it is really difficult to get an EHCNA, that the child or young person’s needs must reach a certain level of severity, that the child or young person must be two years behind academically, that the school must complete several cycles of the assess, plan, do and review process before an application can be made, or that the school must either make the application or at least support your application.

None of this is true, and it is important not to be deterred as it can often feel like a test of perseverance. Seeking help from those experienced in navigating the barriers you may face can significantly mitigate them.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist education law team. We are more than happy to answer any questions.