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Frequently Asked Questions

What is meant by special educational needs (SEN)?

The term special educational need has a legal definition. A child with special educational needs will have a learning difficulty or a disability that will make it harder for them to learn compared to most children of the same age.

A child with special educational needs may need extra support or help that is different to that given to other children.  A child with special educational needs may need extra help because of a range of needs, such as thinking and understanding, physical or sensory difficulties with speech and language or how they relate and behave with other people.

What do I do if I am worried that my child has special educational needs?

If you think your child may have a special educational need that has not been identified by the school or early education setting, you should talk to your child's class teacher, to the Special Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) or to the Headteacher.

They will be able to tell you about the school's policy for special educational needs, the support and resources that the school can provide and help available from outside the school.

If your child has not started school but you are concerned there may have special educational needs there are several services that may be able to offer support and advice: health visitor; doctor; social worker; pre-school or nursery group; portage and Educational Psychology Service.

What is an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan?

An Education, Health and Care Plan will describe the needs of the child or young person, the services to meet those needs and the suitable educational placement.  It will be developed in partnership with you and your child or young person and will be carried out within 20 weeks of the assessment.

Who decides whether a child needs an EHC plan?

Together for Children, on behalf of Sunderland City Council will make the decision as to whether a child or young person needs an ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’, as it does at the moment with ‘Statements’.  The process leading to this decision will be shorter (maximum 20 weeks) and more child/young person and family-focussed.   

How can I request an EHC plan?

You, your child's teacher or others who work with your child (such as doctor, nursery nurse or health visitor) can ask the Local Authority for an EHC assessment to be carried out.

The Local Authority then has up to 6 weeks to decide whether it intends to carryout an EHC needs assessment and they will ask you and others involved with your child to provide them with information to help them decide - you can collect any reports from those who know your child and any assessments already done to give to the Local Authority to help them make a decision.

Can I access any support to help me through this process?

You can get free help and support from a trained Independent Support worker to work with you throughout the EHC plan assessment process. They can explain each stage, help you get your views across and ensure you take an active role in the process.  The Independent Support Workers are based at Sunderland Carers Centre and further information can be accessed from their website by using the above link.

In addition advice and guidance about more complex cases and mediation between families and the Local Authority or schools can be accessed from Sunderland SEND Information, Advice and Support (IAS) Service.  This service also offers support to children and young people up to the age of 25 themselves.  The confidential support and advice can be in relation to SEND, education or training.  Sunderland SEND IASS is provided by Caroline Comer.  Further information about this service can be found by using the above link.

What will happen to children who have SEND but who do not have an EHC Plan?

Under the old legislation, children and young people at school who did not have a Statement of SEN could have been supported under arrangements known as 'School Action' and 'School Action Plus'.  These terms reflected differeing levels of need and support.  The terms and arrangements are not included in the new legislation, however there is still provision for children without EHCPs.  This is set out in the Code of Practice which was published in July 2014.  The Code calls this 'SEN Support' and gives an idea about what this might look like.  It indicates this should be a graduated approach which takes form of a four-part cycles - Assess, Plan, Do, Review.

If you would like to find out more information you can find the Code of Practice at

People are talking about the Local Offer.  What is the Local Offer?

The Local Offer is a duty in the SEN Code of Practice that is being placed on Local Authorities which requires them to publish, in one place, information about provision they expect to be available in their area for children and young people from 0 to 25 who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). 

The Local Offer will provide clear, comprehensive and accessible information about the support and opportunities that are available.  It will directly involve children and young people with SEN, parents and carers, and service providers in the development and review of the information contained as well as informing future provision.

What is a personal budget?

A personal budget may help you to find alternative solutions that you may feel supports your child / young person better.  The personal budget allows parents, carers and young people to see the funding that is available.

A parent/carer of a child, young person or adult up to 25 years old with an EHC Plan can request a personal budget.

There are 4 ways that a personal budget can be delivered:

  1. Notional budget – No money changes hands.  Services are arranged on the family’s behalf by the Local Authority or health service
  2. Direct Payment – Money is paid directly to the young person/family and they pay for their agreed support where this funding has been identified in the plan
  3. Third party arrangement – A third party organisation, trust or nominated person holds the money and pays for agreed services on behalf of the young person
  4. A combination of the above.

Personal budgets will be optional and parents and carers or the child or young person can continue to have services provided in the current way.

I have decided that I want to request a Direct Payment.  Must the Local Authority agree to this?

No, the Local Authority can only agree to this if they are sure that:

  • You plan to use the Direct Payment in an appropriate way
  • You will act in the best interests of the child
  • Making the Direct Payment will not adversely impact upon other services provided to other children who have an EHC Plan
  • It is an efficient use of the Local Authorities resources.

Where the support or service is to be used in a school the Head Teacher of the school must agree.  If they do not the Local Authority cannot make the payment.

If the Local Authority refuses a Direct Payment they must explain their decision in writing and also explain to you how you can challenge this decision.

If the refusal concerns the personal health part of the plan, then the explanation concerning the refusal must be sent out by the Clinical Commissioning Group who are the health organisation responsible for the decision.

We both work – does this mean we will not be able to have a Personal Budget?

No. Personal Budgets are not means tested, however, if your child/young person is over 18, and part of the budget comes from Social Care then the family may have to make a financial contribution – you should talk to your social worker about this.

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