If your child has special needs and requires extra support at school or in the home, they may have an EHCP (Education and Healthcare Plan). This is a legal document that sets out exactly what kind of help they will receive in terms of their schooling, social care, and medical requirements.
It is a statutory requirement that the EHCP be reassessed every year at an annual review meeting. This is to check whether:
- The help the child receives is still relevant and useful
- To identify any changes in their needs
- To specify the support they will require for the following year
This process is usually coordinated by the child’s school. Parents or carers have to be consulted as part of this but anyone involved with the young person’s care – such as medical professionals, therapists, support workers or other family members – may also be invited to attend. Following the meeting, the local authority will read through the new plan and agree (or disagree) to fund any changes.
The Annual Review is a Positive Opportunity
Pippa Whittaker is the SENCO of a large, mainstream school in Bristol and the mum of a young man with special needs. She’s also the co-author of two educational textbooks:
‘Essential Tips for the Inclusive Secondary Classroom’ and,
‘Understanding and Supporting Pupils with Moderate Learning Difficulties in the Secondary School’
She says that parents shouldn’t be intimidated by the annual review or view it as simply a bureaucratic exercise. “It should feel like a useful process,” she says. “It’s a chance to discuss your child’s progress in detail and to make sure they’re getting the right kind of help. It’s all done in the spirit of co-production.”
Parents may have more influence over the annual review than they realise, she points out. There is a form to be filled out every year in advance of the meeting, which allows mums and dads to share their thoughts on how their son or daughter has managed over the previous twelve months and to outline what they would like for their child in the coming year.
Provide as Much Detail as Possible
“It helps if the parents give as much detail as possible,” Whittaker advises. “If you want your child to become more confident, for example, try and specify exactly how you would like this to happen – do you want them to be able to answer a question in class, cook a simple meal or learn how to pay a bill? Always bear in mind that you’re looking to the future and helping the young person towards adulthood.”
Although, she adds, parents can ask for certain types of support for their child as part of this, it’s important to be realistic and realise that the local authority will probably not grant expensive requests unless absolutely necessary. Weekly horse therapy sessions are unlikely to happen!
Raise Concerns and Ask Questions
“Raise any concerns you have, no matter how small,” she continues. “If, say, your child was a bit anxious at the start of term but is OK now, run it past the school, nevertheless. It allows them to be aware of any possible problems in the future.”
It’s also beneficial, Whittaker points out, to take the initiative and let the school know in advance what questions you’d like to ask at the meeting. This gives teaching staff the opportunity to prepare detailed information and will probably be something of a relief, she admits, as often, they aren’t always sure what families want to know.
Useful questions might include asking how the young person’s progress is measured – is it via a formal system or down to an individual teacher’s observations? Parents might also ask to see the support timetable to clarify which people are looking after their son or daughter.
Annual Reviews at Points of Transition
If your child is about to move on to a new stage – from primary to secondary school, say, or to post-sixteen provision – Whittaker recommends inviting professionals from the new school or college to attend the annual review. You might even, she suggests, ask them to come along, even if the placement hasn’t yet been finalised, as it might help you decide where to apply.
“I know some parents have a terrible time trying to secure the right help for their child and I would never want to excuse the inexcusable,” she concludes. “But most teachers and TAs work really hard to help kids with special needs, despite limited resources and cuts to funding. If someone has gone out of their way to help your child, please mention it at the meeting. Praise is so important!”