Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum

Difficulties in education; getting a statement or Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan

Concern about their children’s education was a major theme in the interviews with parents. They worried about the lack of awareness of the autism spectrum in schools, the complexity of the assessment process, the lack of appropriate support for children at lunchtime and breaks, bullying and how their child/ren would cope at school.

Getting a statement or Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans

Most children's needs can be met by their school, sometimes with the help of outside specialists; with delegated or devolved funding the school can support children through school-based help called ‘SEN support’ (School Action' or 'School Action Plus were replaced by SEN support in September 2014 for more details see GOV.UK website.

Statements of special educational needs or ‘ statements’ and Learning Difficulty Assessments (LDA) are being replaced with a single Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan for children and young people with complex needs. The reforms, introduced through the Children and Families Act, came into force on 1 September 2014. So now when a child needs additional support, the local authority (LA) and the health service must jointly make a statutory assessment of his/her needs.

If the local authority then decides the child needs special help, as the special educational needs of the child cannot be reasonably provided for with resources normally available to mainstream early years, schools and post-16 provisions, a EHC plan is produced describing all the child's needs and all the specialist help; the local authority has a legal duty to meet those needs just as it was with statements but this protection is extended from age 16 to age 25 for those in education or training.

Councils must be able to offer a co-ordinated education health and care plan assessment and issue an EHC plan within 20 weeks where one is needed. Those with an EHC plan also have the legal right to ask for a personal budget, which they will agree with their council (Department for Education September 2014).

As part of these reforms local authorities must publish a 'Local Offer' outlining the support they and other local authorities nearby will normally provide for children with Special Educational Needs - SEN.

Families will also be able to access new Independent Supporters to help with EHC needs assessments, and there will be a gradual transfer from statements to EHC plans by the end of April 2018.

For more information, go to National Autistic Society or telephone the NAS Education Rights Service on 0808 800 4102.

All the parents we spoke to were interviewed before these new arrangements were put in place so refer to the process of assessment as ‘Statements’ but many of their experiences are still relevant under the new system.

Most parents we interviewed talked about the importance of getting an assessment (statement) for their children. Without an assessment/plan specifying the hours and type of support to be provided, it is very difficult to get the appropriate support and children can struggle in the school system.

While not all the children needed to be statemented, the parents of those that did described a range of experiences. Some schools were less supportive than others. For example, one boy’s school wanted him to go on School Action Plus (now SEN support) but his mother was determined for him to be statemented; “There was a bit of flustering and then they said they would support me”. Parents felt that the sooner the child was statemented, the better and a few parents were delighted that their children were statemented during pre-school - though even a straightforward process of statementing was still described as worrying and stressful.

Some parents had ‘fought’ or ‘battled’ to get their children statemented, and a few parents were still waiting to hear from their local authority. As one mother said; “If they had looked at him properly he could have had a statement going into school but because they did not do that, he is now in school trying to get a statement while he is in school and that makes me so cross that pre-schools don’t recognise it.” Another parent described the process as a “minefield”.

Once the parents had got the statement, some of them still had battles with the school to make the school provide the hours of support that the statement recommended. They had to monitor closely the support that their children actually got and make sure it was the amount specified on the statement. Other parents had appealed to SEND Tribunal (Special Educational Needs Independent Tribunal) to have the statement altered to increase the provision of support. (The SEND Tribunal is an independent tribunal which hears and decides parents’ appeals against decisions of local education authorities about children’s special educational needs).

For more information see Department for Education ‘How to appeal against a SEN decision' a guide for parents’.

In addition, some parents talked about “the constant fear” that hours of support were going to be taken away or that budget cuts would affect their children.

Relevance of the Curriculum
Several parents discussed how inflexible the national curriculum was; their children struggled because though they were very good in a few areas, they found many of the compulsory subjects too difficult to manage.
The government had stated that the new EHC plans must  now be person-centred, focusing on the needs and aspirations of the child.

Parents whose children were in special schools emphasised the relevance of the targets set for their children, such as learning to sit still for short periods of time.

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Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated
January 2015.



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