Country information for UK (England) - Assessment within inclusive education systems

The Children and Families Act 2014 states that a child or young person has special educational needs (SEN) ‘if he or she has a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her’. Such provision is required when a child or young person:

  • has significantly greater difficulty in learning than most others of the same age;
  • has a disability which either prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions;
  • is under the age of five and is likely to fall within either of the above paragraphs when over that age (or would be if special educational provision were not made for them).

English as an additional language, giftedness and high ability are not included within the definition of SEN.

The Equality Act 2010 defines a person with disabilities as ‘someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.

The Children and Families Act 2014 places a general duty on local authorities (LAs) to identify children and young people with disabilities and SEN in their areas. It also requires LAs to undertake a multi-professional, formal education, health and care assessment of a child or young person in its area if they believe that the child or young person has special educational needs that are such that the LA will probably need to arrange provision over and above what is normally available in a mainstream school or college and, if necessary, set this out in an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.

All annual reviews of a child’s EHC plan following their 13th birthday must include a focus on preparing for adulthood.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years gives detailed guidance on effective processes for identifying and assessing pupils with SEN. It has separate sections on provision in the different phases of education, providing impartial information, advice and support for children, young people and parents working together across education, health and care for joint outcomes and developing a ‘local offer’ of services. It recommends that schools, colleges and LAs adopt a graduated response, documented at each stage and using a range of strategies and means of support for pupils with learning difficulties based on an assess-plan-do-review cycle, involving specialist external support, where necessary.

The Code of Practice sets out detailed guidance as to the procedures following a decision to undertake a formal multi-agency education, health and care assessment for a child or young person. This includes time scales for taking action.

The LA will make an EHC plan if the assessment indicates that the special help a child or young person needs cannot reasonably be provided within the resources normally available to the school or college. If the LA decides not to make an EHC plan, it must inform the parents or the young person of this decision. Parents and young people have a legal right to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) if they do not agree with the final EHC plan or if the LA decides not to carry out an assessment or make an EHC plan. LAs must ensure that the child or young person receives the special educational provision specified in the EHC plan. All EHC plans (and remaining statements) must be reviewed annually. Approximately 2.8% of pupils have an EHC plan or statement of SEN (Source: Financing of Inclusive Education – UK-England Country Report).

Parents of children with EHC plans and young people with EHC plans have the opportunity to request the school or college they want, whether that is a mainstream or special school or college. If they ask for a state-funded (LA/academy/free) mainstream or special school, ‘non-maintained special school’ (run by charities), some independent special schools or colleges or a mainstream college, then the LA has a qualified duty to send the learner to that school. Parents and young people can also request other independent schools or specialist colleges for their children or themselves. The LA can send the child or young person to one of these schools or colleges, but is not obliged to do so.


Last updated 27/03/2018

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