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The EHC needs assessment process

See our flowchart in the download section of this page. This explains the EHC needs assessment process. Information in alternative languages is also provided in the download section of this page.

An EHC plan is a legal document which describes a child or young person’s educational, health and social care needs and sets out the specialist provision required to meet those needs and achieve agreed long-term outcomes. It is issued by the local authority after an EHC needs assessment. This article tells you how to request an EHC needs assessment, and what happens at each stage in the process.

Special schools and Integrated Resources only admit pupils with EHC plans. However, an EHC plan does not necessarily mean that a child will need a specialist placement; many pupils with EHC plans are successfully supported in mainstream schools.

Last reviewed: September 2021

Information owner: SEND Assessment and Review Service (SENDSARS)

Who can have an EHC plan?

Most children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) do not need an EHC plan. EHC plans are for a small minority of children and young people who need more support for their SEN than a mainstream school can normally provide through existing resources. This is likely to apply to pupils whose needs are identified at levels 4 or 5 of the Sheffield Support Grid. However, the grid cannot replace the legal test that all local authorities must apply (see below).

Although EHC plans also cover health and social care, they are education-driven.

Support for health and social care needs can be provided through an EHC Plan. But Social Care Assessments and Health Care Plans are available to meet these needs, if they are the only ones identified – i.e. if the child did not have special educational needs.

Requesting an EHC needs assessment

An EHC needs assessment is an assessment of a child or young person’s educational, health and social care needs. It is the first step to getting an EHC plan. At the end of the assessment, the local authority must decide whether it will issue an EHC plan or not.

When a request for an EHC needs assessment is received, the local authority must apply a legal test to decide whether such an assessment is required. They must consider whether:

a) the child has or may have SEN, and
b) whether provision may need to be made for them by way of an EHC plan.

Legal definitions for these terms are included at the end of this article.

There are two main routes for requesting an EHC needs assessment:

1. School requests via the graduated approach

The SEND Code of Practice expects schools to engage in the graduated approach. The graduated approach is delivered through a four-part cycle, where the school assesses the child or young person’s needs, plans the support they need, does the work, and reviews whether it has made a difference. For children who have long-term needs and require support from a range of services, this is done through a document called a “My Plan”. The local authority would like to see at least two assess-plan-do-review cycles (over two school terms) via the MyPlan before an EHC needs assessment is requested. More information about the graduated approach and the My Plan.

However, there is no legal requirement to complete a specific number of My Plan cycles before carrying out an EHC needs assessment. In some cases, children may have such significant difficulties that it would be inappropriate to wait for this to happen. In other cases, two cycles of the My Plan may not be enough to get a clear picture of the child’s needs.

The SENCO can take your child's case to a "Locality Stage 2 meeting". These meetings are to review cases where a request for an EHC needs assessment is being considered, before a formal request is made to the local authority. More information

When making a formal request for an EHC needs assessment, the school or other setting should submit educational advice and information about the child or young person. This would include evidence gathered through the graduated approach. This includes My Plan documentation and evidence of the assess-plan-do-review cycles.


The local authority also needs the school or other setting to show how they have engaged with parents and partner agencies. This includes services provided by the local authority and NHS through the local offer, such as Educational Psychology, Autism Education Team, Fusion, health and social care services, etc.

Please see the Downloads section on the left for further information for schools and other educational settings about statutory processes around EHC Plans.

2. Parental requests

The My Plan system is designed to ensure that requests for EHC needs assessments are supported with appropriate information about the child or young person. However, parents and young people have the right to request an EHC needs assessment at any time. You and your family can do this by sending a letter to:

SEND Statutory Assessment and Review Service
Level 5, Little West Wing
Moorfoot
Sheffield
S1 4PL
or by emailing SENDAssess&Review@sheffield.gov.uk

The more information you can provide with your request, the better. If you want, you can use the Parent/Young Person Advice Form (available via the Downloads section on the left), which the SEND Statutory Assessment and Review Service provides to parents if the assessment goes ahead. This would save you having to repeat the information later on.

Once your request has been received, the local authority has a legal responsibility to contact your child's education provider, and health and social care. The education provider should return information by either sending in your child’s My Plan, or if one is not in place, providing the relevant information and professional advice which is available. The local authority will also request information from any professionals who have been identified as being in involved with your child.

The local authority must write to you and your family within six weeks to tell you whether they are going to carry out an EHC needs assessment.

The decision is made by the EHC Placement Panel. This panel meets on a weekly basis and consists of professionals from across Education, Health and Social Care.

If the local authority decides not to carry out an EHC needs assessment, you and your family have the right of appeal to the SEND Tribunal.

Carrying out the assessment

If the local authority has agreed to carry out a full assessment, they will start gathering information about your child. Please note this does NOT mean that your child will definitely get an EHC plan.

The local authority must seek advice and information from a range of people. This must include the parents, the school, an educational psychologist, health and social care services, and any relevant professionals involved with your child. Advice and information requested by the local authority must be returned within six weeks of the request.

The local authority may be required to share information about your child. Information about how the local authority processes, shares and stores personal data (in line with GDPR regulations) is included within the letter you will receive.

Tips:

  • You and your family can ask the local authority to seek information from professionals not currently involved with your child, if you think that would be useful.
  • Ask the professionals to send you their draft reports before they submit them to the local authority, and check that they contain detailed information about your child’s needs, the support or provision they require, and the expected outcomes. It is necessary to have any provision quantified in these reports, as this will be required if an EHC plan is written.
  • You and your family can send in other reports if you have them, for example a report from an independent speech and language therapist. Please note that the local authority will then share this information with relevant services provided by the local authority or the NHS, to gain their views.

 

Deciding whether to issue an EHC plan

The local authority must notify you and your family by week 16 whether it intends to issue an EHC plan. This decision is made by the EHC Placement Panel using the evidence which is provided as part of the needs assessment process.

The EHC Panel considers if a child or young person has or may have special educational needs and might require specialist support to be co-ordinated by an EHC Plan, either in a mainstream setting, special school or other education setting. It looks at:

  • What has already been done to meet needs and what else could be put in place? Education providers are required to identify needs, provide support, and review this, making changes and introducing extra support where needed.
  • Whether there is evidence that, despite the education provider taking relevant action, the child or young person has not made the expected progress.

If the local authority decides not to issue an EHC plan, you will have this confirmed in writing. The letter will also tell you how you can appeal against this decision to the SEND Tribunal.

If the local authority agrees to issue an EHC plan, it will send you and your family a draft plan and invite you to provide your feedback and comments. You will also be asked which school or other setting you would like your child to attend, and whether you would like to request a Personal Budget. More information about Personal Budgets

Please note: The local authority can only refuse your choice of school if specific exceptions apply (please refer to the IPSEA (Independent Parental Special Education Advice) website for more information). The local authority must consult the school or other setting before naming it in the EHC plan, and the setting must respond to the consultation within 15 calendar days. More information about this process can be found in the "Downloads" box. Once named in the final EHC plan, that setting must admit your child.

You and your family have 15 calendar days in which to comment on the draft plan. If you need more time, you can ask for an extension and individual circumstances will be considered. You and your family will also be offered a meeting with an Inclusion Officer from the SENDSARS Team. At this point, the local authority will consider the changes you have asked for, and may seek seek professional advice before agreeing to any requests, especially if this includes additions which are not part of any current reports. If changes are agreed, then a new draft will be issued for your consideration.

EHC plan checklist

  • Is the plan clear, concise and easy to read?
  • Does it include your and your family's views?
  • Are your child’s special educational, health and social care needs clearly detailed?
  • Are the outcomes SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound) and linked to the aspiration?
  • Is the description of education, health and social care provision detailed, specific and quantified? The EHC plan should clearly state who will do what, how often, for how long, and for what purpose.
  • Is the provision relevant to the outcomes?
  • Is there provision for each special educational need?

 

The final plan

The local authority must issue a final EHC plan within 20 weeks of the initial assessment request. There should be no surprises when you receive the final plan – changes should only have been made if you requested them at the draft stage.

Once an EHC plan has been issued, the local authority must secure the special educational provision specified in the plan, and the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group must arrange the health provision.

If you and your family are not happy with the content of the EHC plan, you can appeal to the SEND tribunal or take part in mediation. You have two months from the date of the decision letter to lodge an appeal or one month from the date of issue of a mediation certificate, whichever is the later.

The EHC plan must be reviewed at least once a year. More information about annual reviews

More information

SENDIAS (Sheffield SEN and Disability Information Advice and Support) can provide impartial, confidential information, advice and support in relation to any aspect of the EHC needs assessment process.

IPSEA (Independent Parental Special Education Advice) have published a useful checklist which helps you check the plan section by section; you can download it from their website.


The Council for Disabled Children have published a selection of good practice examples from real EHC plans.

Legal definitions

Special Educational Needs
A child or young person has special educational needs if he or she has a learning difficulty or a disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.

Special Educational Provision
Special educational provision is any educational or training provision that is additional to, or different from, that made generally for other children or young people of the same age. This is a wide definition, and could cover a wide range of things, for example: having materials provided in a larger font.

Learning Difficulty
A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she:

  • Has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or
  • Has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions.

A child under compulsory school age has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she is likely to be within the above subsection when of compulsory school age (or would be likely, if no special educational provision were made).

When should a local authority carry out an EHC needs assessment?
If a local authority is asked to carry out an EHC needs assessment by a parent, young person, school, or college, they must consider:

  • whether the child or young person has or may have special educational needs (“SEN”); and
  • whether they may need special educational provision to be made through an EHC plan.

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, they must carry out an EHC needs assessment.

This test is set out in the law (section 36(8) of the Children and Families Act 2014). This means these are the only questions the local authority should be asking when considering whether or not to carry out an EHC needs assessment.

Video about EHC plans

Last Updated: 17/09/2021
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