If your child has a learning disability, their special educational needs (SEN) can be met either in a mainstream school with extra support, or in a special school.

If your child has special educational needs, they will be able to access help, called SEN support, from:

  • nurseries or childminders
  • schools
  • further education institutions, such as colleges and 16-19 academies

Children and young people with more complex needs might instead need an education, health and care (EHC) plan.

You can find out how to get local support through your local authority website and search for "local offer".

Getting SEN support

You may be contacted if your nursery/childminders, school or college think your child needs SEN support. In schools, for example, this will be by your child's teacher or special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO). You can also approach your child's school/nursery etc if you think your child might have SEN.

Communicate with your child's teachers -  getting involved with your child's school will help them get the support they need. Let the school know what's going on at home. Explain your priorities for your child and how he or she is doing at home, so that the school can build on this. Your views and involvement will be needed throughout the process, and you will be kept up to date with the progress made.

Young people aged 16 to 25 will be fully involved in designing their own SEN support and provision which is a four-stage process - these are: Assess, Plan, Do and Review.

Assessing your child's needs - Talk to your child's teacher or the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) about getting an assessment. The SENCO can spend some time with your child to work out what kind of extra support they might need. If necessary, other specialists, like a psychologist, may be involved. Every child's SEN needs are different, depending on what kind of difficulties they have and how serious these are. 

Planning their SEN support - You and your child's school or nursery need to agree how your child will benefit from any SEN support they get. All those involved, including you, will need to have a say in what kind of support will be provided, and decide a date by which they will review the plan.

Do – putting the plan into action.  Your child's school or nursery will put the planned support into place. The teacher remains responsible for working with your child on a daily basis. However, the SENCO and any support staff or specialist teaching staff involved in providing support should work closely to track your child's progress and check that the support is working.

Review the outcomes of the SEN plan - The support your child receives should be reviewed at the time agreed in the plan. If your child doesn't progress with their current support, the review is an opportunity to discuss alternatives.

Education, health and care (EHC) plan

An EHC plan is for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through special educational needs support. EHC plans identify educational, health and social needs, and set out the additional support to meet those needs.

Requesting an EHC assessment - You can ask your local authority to carry out an assessment if you think your child needs an EHC plan. A young person can request an assessment themselves if they're aged 16 to 25. A request can also be made by anyone else who thinks an assessment may be necessary, including doctors, health visitors, teachers, parents and family friends.

If they decide to carry out an assessment you may be asked for:

  • any reports from your child's school, nursery or childminder
  • doctors' assessments of your child
  • a letter from you about your child's needs

The local authority will tell you within 16 weeks whether an EHC plan is going to be made for your child.

Check out these infographics from the SNJ on: 

Personal EHC budgets

You may be able to get a personal budget for your child if they have an EHC plan or have been told that they need one. It allows you to have a say in how to spend the money on support for your child. There are three ways you can use your personal budget. You can have:

  • direct payments made into your account – you buy and manage services yourself
  • an arrangement with your local authority or school where they hold the money for you but you still decide how to spend it (sometimes called "notional arrangements")
  • third-party arrangements – you choose someone else to manage the money for you

You can have a combination of all three options. 

If your child got support before 2014

The current SEN arrangements, called SEN support, came into force in September 2014. SEN support replaces:

  • School Action or School Action Plus
  • Early Years Action or Early Years Action Plus

EHC plans replace statements of SEN and Learning Disability Assessments (LDAs).

Dates for moving to an education, health and care (EHC) plan:

  • September 2016 if they have a learning difficulty assessment (LDA)
  • spring 2018 if they have a statement

This normally happens at a planned review, or when your child moves school. Your council will tell you which.

Disagreeing with a decision - You can challenge your local authority about:

  • their decision to not carry out an EHC assessment
  • their decision to not create an EHC plan
  • the special educational support in the EHC plan
  • the school named in the EHC plan

If you can't resolve the problem with your local authority, you can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunal.

Help for parents and carers

Contact a Family can put you in touch with other parents who have children with learning disabilities. Parents can be a valuable source of information, from recommending children's centres and counselling services, to helpful individuals at the local authority

Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA) offers free and independent legally based information, advice and support to help get the right education for children and young people with all kinds of special educational needs and disabilities.