However, in some cases the local authority will be asked to make a statutory assessment of a child's educational needs. After the assessment, if the authority decides that a child needs special help which is greater than can be provided by the school's resources, they must write a statement of special educational needs. This describes all the child's needs and details the specialist help and provision required to meet those needs.
You've heard from your child's school that a statutory assessment has been requested for your son or daughter, or you may have thought about requesting one yourself, as you think they need more help than the school can give at present. But what exactly is the assessment process?
A statutory assessment is a detailed investigation to find out what your child's special educational needs are and what provision is needed to meet those needs.
An assessment is the step before a statement of special educational needs (often known simply as 'a statement'), but doesn't always lead to a statement being written.
The local authority must, by law, comply with a request for a statutory assessment unless:
- a statutory assessment has been made within the last six months
- it believes upon examining evidence that a statutory assessment is not necessary. The local authority will only carry out a statutory assessment if they believe your child probably has special educational needs and that they need, or probably need, to determine the level of your child's special educational provision by writing a statement.
It's important to remember that a statutory assessment is different from assessments that your child's school may carry out. It is also different from tests or visits by educational psychologists, specialist teachers or speech and language therapists.
Only a local authority can carry out a statutory assessment, and this is the only kind of assessment that can lead to a statement of special educational needs.
Who can request a statutory assessment?
A request for a statutory assessment can be made by a head teacher or a professional working with your child, such as an educational psychologist. Schools should consult with you before requesting an assessment.
As a parent, you can request an assessment if you believe that your child's needs are either not being met through Action or Action Plus (support programmes which are funded by schools); or are so substantial that a school could not meet them from within their own resources.
A statutory assessment can be carried out if your son or daughter is between the ages of two and 19. If they're between the ages of 16 and 19 and still go to school, the local authority is obliged by law to carry out an assessment. However, if your child is over the age of 16 and not at school, the local authority doesn't have to carry out an assessment.
The local authority doesn't need your consent to carry out an assessment of a child over the age of two, but it does need to keep you informed. If a child is under the age of two, an assessment can still be carried out but local authorities need parents' consent to do this.
Before making a request, you should discuss your concerns with the school's special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO), or the manager of the nursery or pre-school. If they're unable to offer any further support and your concerns remain, you can make a request for a statutory assessment directly to the local authority. Clearly set out the reasons for making the request and provide information about the help that your child has already received.
The request should be made in writing to the either the Director of Education, or Director of Children's Services of the local authority where your child lives. Send a copy of the letter to the school or early years setting.
If you're thinking of requesting a statutory assessment for your son or daughter, you may like to use or adapt the following sample letter. Even if the school is asking for a statutory assessment it can be a good idea for you to send your own letter making a request for assessment, too. This then means that you can be sure of the exact date that the request was made; that it is a statutory assessment that has been requested; and that your legal rights are not compromised in any way.
If a professional associated with your child's school, such as an educational psychologist, is the person making the request for a statutory assessment, it is especially important that you also make your own request (see the special note in the section 'The decision to assess or not').
[Insert child's name and date of birth]
I am writing as the parent of the above child to request an assessment of his/her special educational needs under section 323 of the 1996 Education Act. [Insert child's name] attends [insert name of school/early years setting].
I believe that my child needs more help than the school/setting is able to provide. His/her special educational needs are as follows:
[Here you could outline the difficulties your child is having at school/setting and at home, send information about any diagnosis, outline any support your child has been receiving and who (if anyone) outside the school/setting has been involved]
My reasons for believing that the school cannot on their own make the provision required to meet my child's needs are:
[Here you could outline your continuing concerns about your child's progress in relation to peers, any increased behavioural difficulties, progress through an Action or Action Plus programme, etc]
I would like you to seek advice from the following people, who are involved with my child.
[List the people involved, giving addresses where necessary]
I understand that you are required by law to reply to this request within six weeks and that if you refuse to carry out an assessment, I will be able to appeal to tribunal.
[Your name and signature]
Considering the request for an assessment
As soon as the local authority starts looking at the request for a statutory assessment they should write to you and:
- tell you that they are considering whether to carry out a statutory assessment
- tell you how they will carry out a statutory assessment
- explain the timescales (no longer than six months in all)
- give you the name of the person at the local authority who will be your point of contact - your named officer
- ask you to give written or spoken reasons, called evidence, about why you think your child should or should not be assessed (you have 29 days to do this)
- tell you about sources of support and advice
- ask if there is anyone else you would particularly like the local authority to talk to about your child
- ask you for any evidence or opinions you have collected or intend to get.
The local authority must inform your child's head teacher when you make a request for a statutory assessment. The local authority should ask for written evidence about your child, in particular the school's assessment of his or her learning difficulty and the school's account of any special educational provision that has been made.
At the same time the local authority must notify the educational psychology department and the health authority and any other agencies that later may be asked for advice.
In considering whether a statutory assessment is necessary local authorities will seek:
- evidence that your child's school has responded appropriately to the requirements of the national curriculum
- evidence provided by your child's school or early years setting, by you and by any other professionals who have been involved with your child, about the nature, extent and cause of his or her learning difficulties
- evidence of the rate and style of your child's progress
- evidence that where some progress has been made it has only been as the result of a lot of additional effort.
As well as evidence of attainment the local authority should seek evidence of any other factors that could impact on learning. For example:
- evidence of clumsiness, marked difficulties with understanding the order or arrangement of things (sequencing), lack of working memory or delays in language
- evidence of difficulties with social interaction or communication, or restricted imagination and a limited interest in activities or particular topics
- evidence of significant emotional or behavioural difficulties.
The local authority has six weeks to decide whether or not to carry out a statutory assessment from the date that they first receive the request.
The decision to assess or not
If the local authority refuses to agree to a request for a statutory assessment, parents have a legal right to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal Wales (SENTW). You can appeal whether you made the request for a statutory assessment, or whether the school did.
Special note: if the request for a statutory assessment has been made independently of the school by an educational psychologist or another professional, such as a speech and language therapist, and the local authority refuses to undertake an assessment, parents do not have the right to appeal. Therefore, if an independent professional is making a request for your child to be assessed, we suggest that you make your own request at the same time.
If the local authority agrees to conduct the assessment they will ask you and a number of professionals to give views on your child, including:
- your child's school or early education setting
- an educational psychologist
- a doctor
- social services (who will only give advice if they know your child)
- anyone else whose advice the local authority considers appropriate.
As parents you:
- have the right to be present at any interview, medical or any other test during the statutory assessment process
- can suggest any other people or organisations whose views may be helpful to the assessment of your child
- may send the local authority any private advice or opinions you have collected. The local authority should take these into account.
The assessment process should take ten weeks, after which the local authority will decide whether or not to issue a statement of special educational needs.
It is only the local authority which can issue a statement and they must do so if your child has complex and significant special educational needs which need more help than can be given from the school's or early years' resources.
If the local authority decides not to issue a statement (because they determine your child does not have special educational needs for which they must make provision) they must inform you, as parents, of your right to appeal to SENTW.
If the local authority decides to make a statement, they have two weeks to issue a proposed statement.
Timescales from statutory assessment to statement
- Local authority receives request for statutory assessment - six weeks to make decision about whether to carry out an assessment.
- Local authority decides not to assess - writes to parents with information about their right to appeal.
- Or... local authority decides to assess.
- Local authority seeks advice from parents and a range of professionals within ten weeks (unless in exceptional circumstances).
- Local authority decides whether or not to make a statement within two weeks of receiving all the advice. They will then either issue a proposed statement or write to parents informing them of their right to appeal.
- Local authority has eight weeks to make a final statement.
- Total time: 26 weeks.
Useful documents and reading
National Assembly for Wales (2004). Special educational needs (SEN) code of pratice for Wales/Cod ymarfer anghenion addysgol arbenning Cymru. Also available by contacting Wales publication centre on 029 2082 3683.
Further help for parents trying to obtain an appropriate education for their child is available from our Education Rights Service.