Last reviewed on 9 November 2021
School types: All · School phases: All
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Read our summary to help you comply with the SEND Code of Practice. Find out how the EHC assessment process works, and share our handout with staff to help them understand their responsibilities under the code.

It's statutory for all schools 

The Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice provides statutory guidance on the SEND system for children and young people aged 0 to 25.  

All schools must have regard to the code when taking decisions relating to pupils with SEN or disabilities.

This is explained on page 13 of the code and section 77 of the Children and Families Act 2014.

Note on terminology: 'must' vs 'should'

Where the code uses the word 'must', it means that this is something you're required to do by law. 

Where it uses 'should', it means that you must consider the guidance and, if you don't follow it, you'll be expected to explain why. 

This is explained on page 12 of the code. 

Involve parents and young people in decisions

Your local authority (LA) must make sure parents and pupils are involved in discussions and decisions about their individual support and local provision. 

You should also take steps to make sure parents and pupils are actively supported in:

  • Contributing to needs assessments
  • Developing and reviewing education, health and care (EHC) plans

This is set out on page 20 of the code and section 19 of the Children and Families Act 2014.

Mainstream schools: understand your requirements 

You must:

  • Identify and address the SEN of your pupils - see this article for more information about teachers' responsibilities in this
  • Do everything you can to make sure that a child with SEN gets the support they need
  • Make sure pupils with SEN engage in school activities alongside other pupils
  • Designate a SENCO - a teacher who's responsible for co-ordinating SEN provision (this doesn't apply to 16 to 19 academies)
  • Inform parents when you're making special educational provision for a child
  • Prepare an SEN information report and your arrangements for:
    • The admission of children with disabilities
    • The steps you're taking to prevent children with disabilities from being treated less favourably than others
    • The facilities you're providing to enable children with disabilities to access the school
    • Your accessibility plan showing how you plan to improve access progressively over time

This, plus more information about schools' responsibilities, is outlined in chapter 6 of the code.

How the EHC assessment process works

What is it?

An EHC plan is used to make special provision for children and young people with SEN to secure the best outcomes and prepare them for adulthood.

If an LA thinks it may be necessary for a child to have an EHC plan, it must conduct an assessment of education, health and care needs (as explained on page 142 of the code). 

See the flow diagram on page 154 of the code for an overview of the EHC assessment and planning process.

Who can request an assessment from the LA?

  • The child's parent
  • A person over the age of 16 but under 25 (note that young people without an EHC plan continue to have the right to request an assessment of their SEN at any point before their 25th birthday, unless an assessment has been carried out in the previous 6 months)
  • A person acting on behalf of a school

How long does the process take?

It must be completed within 20 weeks, and the LA must consult the governing board before naming the school on the EHC plan.

What considerations does the process need to take?

The EHC assessment should:

  • Focus on the pupil as an individual
  • Be easy for pupils and their parents to understand and use clear language and images, not jargon
  • Highlight the pupil's strengths and capabilities 
  • Enable the pupil, and those who know them best, to say what they've done, what they're interested in and what outcomes they are seeking in the future
  • Tailor support to the needs of the individual
  • Organise assessments to minimise demands on families
  • Bring together relevant professionals to discuss and agree together the overall approach
  • Deliver an outcomes-focused and co-ordinated plan for the pupil and their parents

Once the EHC plan is confirmed: personal budget

The pupil or their parents can request a personal budget once the pupil's EHC plan is confirmed. 

The personal budget is an amount of money identified by the LA to deliver provision set out in an EHC plan (the LA must provide information about personal budgets as part of the local offer - see below).

You can find this information, and more on personal budgets, on pages 178 to 182 of the code.


LAs must publish a 'local offer'

This sets out information in one place about what provision they expect to be available for children and young people in their area with SEN or disabilities, including those who don't have EHC plans.

The 2 key purposes of the local offer are to:

  • Provide clear, comprehensive and accessible information about the provision available and how to access it
  • Make provision more responsive to local needs and aspirations by directly involving children and young people with SEN and disabilities and their parents and carers and service providers in its development and review

See more about the local offer in chapter 4 of the code. 

What you must consider for pupils in specific circumstances

This includes children and young people who: 

  • Are looked-after or care leavers
  • Have social care needs, including 'children in need'
  • Are educated out of area, in alternative provision, in hospital or at home
  • Are the children of service personnel
  • Are in youth custody

Looked-after children 

You must have a designated teacher for looked-after children. If this is someone other than your SENCO, they should work closely together to ensure that the needs of pupils who are looked after and have SEN are fully understood by relevant staff.  

If a looked-after child is being assessed for SEN:

  • The information in their care plan must be taken into account
  • SEN professionals must work closely with other relevant professionals, such as the child's social worker 
  • The LA that the child ordinarily resides in must carry out the EHC assessment, even if a different LA looks after that child  

This is set out in paragraphs 10.3, 10.7 and 10.8 of the code. 

Children and young people with social care needs 

Your LA is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of 'children in need' in your area, including children with disabilities, by providing appropriate services to them. This could include:

  • Short breaks for parents/carers
  • Equipment or adaptations to the home
  • Support for parents from social workers 

Any EHC assessment of these children should be a holistic assessment of their EHC needs, and should be combined with social care needs where appropriate. The EHC plan review should be synchronised with the social care plan review. 

This is set out in paragraphs 10.13 and 10.18 to 10.20 of the code. 

Chapter 10 outlines more information on supporting pupils in specific circumstances. 

Use our handout to teach your staff about the code 

It includes: 

  • How to identify and teach pupils with SEN 
  • How to implement support for pupils with SEN 

Annex 2 of the code also outlines agencies which offer training and support to schools on identifying and teaching pupils with SEN.