EHC needs assessment


An Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment is an assessment of a child or young person’s education, health and care needs. It’s the first step to getting an Education, Health and Care plan.

Most children and young people with SEND go to a mainstream nursery, school or college and are supported by their staff, resources and funds. Outside specialists sometimes help too. This is called SEN support and for most this support works and they make progress.

But for some children, even though support is in place, it doesn’t seem to be enough or be the right kind of support. Your child may not make progress and start to fall behind other children their age. Or their difficulties in school may get worse not better and behaviour at school or home becomes more challenging.

If that happens, then you or the professionals involved with your child may decide to ask for an EHC needs assessment. This can help to make their special educational needs and the support they need clearer.

The information on this page tells you what happens during a needs assessment and the part parents and carers play. You can also learn about what happens when the local authority decides to issue a plan, or what you can do if they decide your child doesn’t need and assessment or a plan.

If you’re thinking about applying for an assessment, but you’re not sure whether your child needs one, have a look at our webpage Thinking about an EHC needs assessment.

You can download a short guide to EHC needs assessment (PDF) which give you all the main information without the extra detail.

What happens when I ask for a needs assessment?

When you ask for an EHC needs assessment, a member of staff at the Special Education 0-25 team (0-25 team) at Devon County Council will look at the information that you’ve given them.  They will contact your child’s nursery, school or college to ask them for information. They will also contact other Devon services such as:

  • social care services
  • the main hospitals and health services
  • specialist services, such as educational psychology, youth intervention team and specialist teachers

When they contact these services, the 0-25 team will send them all the information that you and/or the school have given. They will ask whether your child is ‘known to them’ which means, ‘has your child been seen by that service for assessment or treatment?’.

  • If your child is known to a service, that service will send information to the 0-25 team about your child.
  • If your child isn’t known to a service, they may look at the information about your child and decide that they should know about them. If that happens they may arrange for your child to be assessed. So, for example, if staff at your child’s school have said they’re having difficulty communicating, then speech and language services may arrange for your child to be assessed to find out more. Depending on the service, this may not happen within the time it takes for the needs assessment to be done.

While the assessment is being done, the support your child gets at school or college will stay in place. The assess, plan, do and review cycle should carry on too and any regular meetings or reviews should still happen.

Do I need to give my views?

Yes! Your views and those of your child or your young person are an important part of an EHC needs assessment, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to gather these. The local authority must take them into account when they make decisions. They should be listened to equally, alongside those of professionals.

There’s more detailed information on the website about how you can help your child or young person to give their views, and about how you can give yours.

To help you or your young person to share the most useful information, we’ve designed forms and some guidance about the kind of things you could say. There’s a form for parents and a form for young people.

If you have relevant recent reports, letters and assessments from education, health or care professionals, send them to the 0-25 team too, along with your request for an assessment or with your views. This helps to make sure the 0-25 team have the information they need to decide whether to go ahead with the needs assessment. You can find out more about this in our ‘How to Guide’ – Asking for an EHC needs assessment.

How is the decision made about whether my child needs an assessment?

Based on the information they have from you, your child and other services, the 0-25 team must decide whether they think your child needs a needs assessment. They must do this within six weeks of the date when you put in the request.

The final decision about whether a needs assessment should go ahead is made by a panel of people from education, health and social care. They decide by looking at the support your child is already getting, and what difference it’s making.  A wide range of evidence is taken into account, such as

  • your child or young person’s academic progress, or their developmental milestones if they’re very young
  • information about their special educational needs and what support has already been given
  • information which shows that where they’ve made progress it’s because of the support they’ve had, which is more than what’s usually given
  • evidence of their physical, emotional and social development and health needs, including information from doctors and other health professionals

If the panel decides your child or young person does need to be assessed for an EHC plan, a needs assessment will go ahead.

If the panel decides your child or young person doesn’t need an assessment, the local authority must tell you why and give you information about your right to appeal their decision. You can find out more about what to do if this happens in the last two sections on this page.

What happens during the needs assessment?

When an assessment starts you’ll be given information about the services that can give you independent support and advice, and who to contact in the 0-25 team.

Doing the assessment and deciding whether to issue a plan must take the local authority no more than 16 weeks from the date of the request for assessment.

A needs assessment includes the following:

  • Asking you and your child for your views (if you haven’t already given them).
  • Asking the professionals already involved with your child to give information about their needs and recommended support. This might include people like teachers, an educational psychologist and health and social care staff.
  • Sometimes a service may carry out a new assessment for your child, such as a speech and language assessment or an assessment by an educational psychologist. This might happen during the EHC needs assessment itself or after it, depending on how long the waiting list to be assessed is.

In reality, getting the information that’s needed from the various services and professionals involved with your child can sometimes take time. The 0-25 team will keep asking until the information is sent, but that can sometimes delay things. Some parents tell the professionals that support their child about the assessment and ask them to send reports and recommendations.

How long does it take to do the assessment?

The EHC needs assessment process is set out in law and there is a clear timetable for what should happen by when. The whole process from the point when an assessment is asked for until the final EHC plan is issued, must take no more than 20 weeks. There are some specific exemptions to this – you can find out more about these in the SEND Code of Practice (page 152).

If the needs assessment for your child is taking longer than it should, contact the 0-25 team for your area of Devon and ask for information about why there is a delay. You can also contact us for information and advice.

Is there anything I can do to help things go smoothly?

Yes, there’s lots you can do. Here are our top tips:

  • Read everything carefully and make sure you know what you need to do and when. Put a note in your diary or on your phone about any deadlines.
  • If you’re not sure about something, ask for help or more information. You can find information about who to contact on the letter you received about the assessment and on the Local Offer website. DIAS Officers can also advise and support you.
  • Keep copies of all your letters and emails plus details of any phone calls, so you know who you talked to, when you spoke to them and what was said. It can be a good idea to keep a copy of the envelope as well as letters, as these will have a postmark saying when it was sent to you. This can help when working out the time by which things need to be done, or how long the assessment has been going.
  • Put all your paperwork in a folder, or all in one place, so you have everything to hand if you need it.
  • The 0-25 team sometimes use an email service called Egress which keeps information confidential. The system automatically deletes emails after a while, so print or download and save copies of any email correspondence using Egress.
  • If you have queries about the assessment, talk to your contact at the 0-25 team. You can also send an email to the mailbox for your area – this should be on your letter about the assessment.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to resist calling the 0-25 team every day, especially if your child is really struggling at school. Because it can take time for professionals to respond during the assessment, you may find weekly contact more useful.
  • When you’re asking questions or giving your views, try and be as concise as you can. Keep it brief and to the point and stick to the things that are the issue now. That should help you get a response that’s relevant and useful.

How is the decision made about whether my child will get an EHC plan?

When all the reports from the assessment are put together they should give a full picture of your child’s needs and the kind of support they should have. The 0-25 team staff make a draft plan from the information they’ve been given and decide if an EHC plan should be issued. That gets taken to a moderation panel.

The moderation panel is made up of staff from the 0-25 team and health and social care, as well as representatives from other services such as educational psychology when needed. The panel members discuss the evidence and decide whether they think a child or young person needs an EHC plan. This helps to make sure that the decisions made are consistent and fair.

If a plan is going to be made

If the local authority decides your child does need an EHC plan, they will send you a copy of the draft plan for you to check and comment on. You can find out more about how to do this in our ‘How to Guide to checking a draft EHC plan’.

At this point, you can ask for a personal budget. This is information about the resources and funding that can be used flexibly to support your child with their education, health and/or care needs.

If a plan is not going to be made

If the local authority does a needs assessment and then decides that your child does not need an EHC plan, they should tell you no later than 16 weeks from the date of the original request for assessment. They must tell you why they have decided not to issue a plan and give you information about your right to appeal their decision.

If your child or young person has had an assessment, the local authority should give you some feedback about it. This should include giving you copies of any written reports and recommendations.

If the local authority decides not to issue a plan, you have two choices: you can accept the decision, or you can disagree with it. You can find out more about this in the next section.

What can I do if the local authority decides not to do an assessment or issue an EHC plan?

If the local authority refuses to do an assessment or issue a plan, you have two choices

1. You can accept the decision.

Sometimes parents and carers choose to do this because their child’s nursery, school or college makes changes after the request is put in, which mean an assessment isn’t needed any more.

Or if your child has a needs assessment, it can help to make their needs clearer and that changes the support that’s being given, so that a plan isn’t needed.

If you decide to accept the local authority’s decision, your child should continue to be supported at nursery, school or college. You should meet regularly with the staff involved to make sure your child is well supported and making progress.

If things change or there’s new information or concerns about your child’s learning or behaviour, you can ask for an EHC needs assessment again.

If you have an assessment request turned down, there is no minimum time you need to wait before you can apply again. If you’ve had an assessment but a plan isn’t issued, you can only ask for another needs assessment if there hasn’t been one in the last six months.

2. You can disagree with the decision.

If you disagree with a decision about doing a needs assessment or issuing a plan, the first thing to do is to talk to your contact at the 0-25 team. You can tell them why you think the decision is wrong and talk about the main issues. Many disagreements can be sorted out this way.

If you can’t come to an agreement that way, then you can ask for disagreement resolution or mediation. These are ways of discussing things with local authority staff which are led and supported by someone independent. You can find out more about these in our leaflet ‘What if we can’t agree’.

If these options don’t work, you can appeal a decision.  This means going to an SEND tribunal which is part of the court system. At an appeal tribunal, an independent panel of people including a judge will listen to both sides of the argument before deciding. At an appeal hearing a judge can either:

  • overturn the decision of the local authority and if that happens an assessment will go ahead, or a plan will be issued
  • agree with the decision of the local authority, in which case an assessment will not go ahead, or a plan won’t be issued

You must appeal a ‘refusal to assess’ or a ‘refusal to issue’ decision within two months of the date on your decision letter, or one month from the date of the mediation certificate – whichever is later (see more on this below).

How do I appeal a decision not to assess or a decision not to issue an EHC plan?

Before you can register your appeal, you must contact a mediation advisor. This is to see whether mediation could help you to resolve your disagreement about the EHC needs assessment or plan without going to appeal. Mediation is independent of the local authority and free for you to use.

The Mediation Service for Devon is provided by Global Mediation and you can contact them on 0800 064 4488 or email: sen@globalmediation.co.uk.

After you’ve spoken to them, if you decide to use mediation, a mediation meeting will be set up between you and the local authority. If you decide not to use mediation, you’ll be given a certificate which will enable you to start your appeal.

To register an appeal, you must fill out a ‘Notice of Appeal’ form. You can find this online on the tribunal website.

Or you can contact HM Courts and Tribunal Service for a form at:
Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, 1st Floor, Darlington Magistrates Court,
Parkgate, Darlington DL1 1RU
Tel: 01325 289350

It usually takes about 12 weeks from when you register an appeal to when you go to the tribunal hearing. This gives you plenty of time to prepare, but it can also be a challenge if you need a quick decision, such as if your child has been permanently excluded. For more information or advice, contact the HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

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Page updated: September 2019 Page due for review March 2021