Demystifying SEN support in schools Part One: SEN Support Without EHCP

What you'll learn


Support that your child is entitled to in school

  • Parents can seek SEN support for their children even before a formal diagnosis
  • Schools have an obligation to put in accommodations under Quality First Teaching, if your child needs additional support, they can apply for an EHCP. 
  • Children may often mask in school, leading to disbelieve in parents when they are looking for support for their kids.

If you’re a parent or carer of a school-age child with special educational needs (SEN), do you want to feel more empowered to request the support your child is entitled to thrive during their school life?

We wrote this article after watching Eva Atkins’ webinar on how to secure the right SEN support for ND kids in school. Eva is an education lawyer, and a neurodivergent herself with three children who required SEN support in school.

There are three main stages of your child’s educational experience at which you can request support for the following areas of need:

  • communication and interaction.
  • cognition and learning.
  • social, emotional and mental health difficulties.
  • sensory and/or physical needs.

In this article we will explain what those stages are and what support, reasonable adjustments and resources are available.

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It’s crucial to know that you can ask for SEN support without having an Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP) in place. You can even start the process before you have a diagnosis of neurodiversity or other needs.

Schools have an obligation to put in accommodations under Quality First Teaching, however if your child has more complex needs or requires more resources, you need an EHCP.

Once you have a diagnosis it is possible to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made to enable your child to thrive in the school environment. These adjustments should be discussed with your psychiatrist and SENCo at the school and a quarterly review should be organised with your child’s teacher.

If an EHCP is required, you’ll need to get extra adjustments put in place to help your child.

It’s so important to persist to get children and young people the educational provision and school placements or Education Otherwise Than At School (EOTAS) to enable them to thrive throughout their education.

There will be challenges to face in seeking that support but parents should feel empowered to face them and understand their child’s rights and entitlements to know what to ask for.

Let’s take a look at some of the challenges.

Getting acknowledgement that your child needs support

It’s common for parents and schools to see things differently. Schools may see nothing wrong and view parents as combative and overprotective. While the parents see their child struggling and in need of support.

An EHCP is often seen as the holy grail, providing all the solutions. But in reality an EHCP is not enforceable legally if it isn’t written well. If it is written well, the school or local authority may not be executing the provisions leading to the child not receiving the support they need. In this case, the local authority can be held to account via a judicial review or local government Ombudsman.


Children with challenging behaviour can find themselves excluded (from trips, activities or sent home early to cool off) permanently, for a fixed term, or put in isolation. Some of these exclusions are lawful but many are not. And it is often the case that Neurodivergent children with ADHD, autism or other conditions which make it difficult for them to regulate their responses, are more vulnerable to exclusions, leading to a negative cycle.

Out of school exclusion / physical or mental health / school refusal

All children have a right to suitable full-time education and under the S19 EA1996 act, local authorities must make arrangements for suitable education at school or EOTAS for children of compulsory school age. That includes children who cannot attend ‘regular school’ for reasons relating to illness or exclusion.

Children with SEN have the following rights:

  • Right to SEN Support (SEN provision in state school when you don’t have EHCP) & Reasonable Adjustments (disabled child)
  • Right to provision specified in their EHCP (Disabled child, right to have provision specified in your plan, List of things your child is entitled to)
  • Right to suitable and full time education
  • Right to protection from harm (bullying, mistreatment, child protection needed)
  • Right to have “best interest” as primary consideration in decision and actions concerning them (social care, health, education decision making)
  • Right to Freedom from discrimination (Human right, equality act issue)
  • Right to Freedom from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment (sanctions) e.g., in education and schools, this is sanctions that go on for too long, deprived of parent /caregiver support,
  • Right to Fair Trial (exclusions – when child accused of something, they have the right have their say, right to access paperwork and info, reasonable and fair opportunity to present their case)

 Does my child have Special Educational Needs?

If your child has difficulty learning, they may have SEN. This is from a holistic point of view, so not just from cognition and academic aspects, but taking into account communications, social and emotional aspects of school, problems with their mental health, physical or sensory needs.

It can be challenging to identify difficulties if your child is academically able and ahead of their peers, but if they have challenges in other areas such as social, emotional, communications or access to the general school setting, they may have SEN.

Is my child disabled and is the label helpful?

While it’s not always helpful or desirable to label your child as disabled, when it comes to securing SEN support it can be helpful and give you rights you might not ordinarily have.

According to Section 6(1) of the Equalities Act 2010, you’re disabled if you have:

  • a physical or mental impairment
  • And if the impairment has a substantial (more than minor or trivial) and long-term adverse effect (12 m+) on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities

The social model of disability illustrates that society should be fit for purpose for all, no matter their ability. And while we might not want to refer to our child as disabled to them (their brains are wired differently), it’s helpful to have that classification in order to gain adjustments to help them.

If your child has SEN but no EHCP there are different ways of gaining the support your child needs. These avenues differ from state schools to private schools.

In state schools, schools have a duty to use their best efforts to secure SEN provision for any child struggling in the school environment. These provisions may vary from 1:1 support in the classroom to small social skills groups and minor adjustments.

Chapter six of the SEN Code of Practice (2015) lays out how a school should achieve this.

SEN support is a holistic picture of your child. A record is made of the findings and a support plan put in place. The process should follow this simple model:

ASSESS – Identify what the problems are: Attainment (tests), behaviour (observations), Screening assessments, external support (CDC, CAMHS, S&L, OT), parents and pupils views.

PLAN – Teachers and SENDCO’s meet termly (separate and in addition to parents evening) with staff to agree in consultation with parents about adjustments, strategies, interventions and support with a clear date for review.

DO – Class teacher and SENDCO work together in effective implementation of support day to day for pupils.

REVIEW – effectiveness of support and interventions should be reviewed regularly (agreed date) and revised. The parents should be involved in this at least termly in addition to the usual parent evenings. Individual Learning Plan (ILP)/Individual Education Plan (IEP) – a record of these outcomes, action and support should be given to all staff and parents to make sure plans are happening.

All staff working with each pupil should be made aware of their needs and be involved in seeking outcomes, support and teaching strategies. The decision to involve specialists can be taken at any time and should always involve parents.

An annual report should be provided and parents should be called in once a term to have a discussion around the effectiveness of the support provided.

The next two parts of this series where we demystify SEN support in school can be found here

For more guidance, we created a course “Raising Girls with ADHD” which goes into condensed learning of what parents need to be aware of. 

Want more tailored support for the parents in your organisations or settings?

We run workshops to support parents of ND kids navigate advocacy at school, parent and child relationship, and the elusive work life balance. 

We also provide ND training to organisations and educational settings. Register to listen to Sam Hiew’s talk about “Neurodiversity Through the Family Life Cycle” at Witherslack Group‘s Supporting Parents & Carers: Virtual ADHD Conference. 

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