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Getting an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan

Published Date: 14 Oct 2021

Two sisters in PJs sitting on the floor

The experience of getting an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan can be smooth and pain-free for most people. You tend to hear the bad stories, the ‘I had to fight for everything’ stories, because people with bad experiences are more likely to want to share them, understandably.

Our experience getting an EHC plan was not pain-free, but we didn’t have to ‘fight’ so to speak. I’m not sharing it as a way to put people off, I want to learn from it and to help others to learn from it too.

The teams supporting our daughter, Olive, are very caring and want to support her as best they can, we don’t question that. She has additional needs alongside her deafness and is non-verbal and non-mobile. My husband and I both work in paediatrics and write EHC plans frequently as part of our jobs. But it turns out we still had very little understanding of the process and we probably weren’t supporting others with theirs very well.

I applied for an EHC plan for Olive when she was just over two years old, in October 2019. Most local authorities (including ours) don’t tend to consider EHC assessments before the child is in their pre-school year, mainly because their needs aren’t clear and they aren’t always in a setting and don’t have professionals around them to request or support the EHC assessment.

For Olive, we knew quite early on what her needs would be and that she would need additional support, but her setting was a private day nursery with limited experience of children with her needs. They hadn’t applied for an EHC plan before, and given my job, it made sense for me to just apply on my own as a parent. I spent a lot of time filling out the forms, probably five weeks in total. I wrote down everything in great detail and was very specific about Olive’s needs. Had the setting been applying, we would have still had to write information for the application outlining her needs but the nursery would have led on this and collated everything.

Once I had submitted the form, we had to wait for a response from our local authority, then we had to wait for reports to be collated, and by week 16, we had a draft back.

What we got back as a draft was not great. We returned it three times before it was finalised, by which time 12 months had passed since we sent in the original request. I sought advice from our local Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS), who were really helpful. After that, we appealed the final document as we were still unhappy with it and went to mediation.

The reason we were unhappy was a fairly common reason for an appeal. Sections F and G of the EHC plan, the sections which outline the provision detailing what would be provided for Olive, by who and how often was not ‘SMART’. By that, we mean Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Recordable and Timed. There were lots of vague phrases like: ‘Olive will receive therapy on a regular basis’ or ‘Olive will have access to equipment’. This could mean anything, from once a year to daily, because it wasn’t specified.

As a professional, I completely sympathise with those writing reports for EHC plans. Reports take a long time to write, you often have several arriving in your inbox all at once and a strict time limit on getting them done, alongside other work commitments. But as a parent, this was for MY child, I wanted them to get it right and I wanted them to be clear about what Olive would achieve and how they would help her to do that. Will they work towards her learning to read one day? Will they aim for her to move around independently? We wanted her EHC plan to be far reaching even though she was very young. We still have hopes and aspirations for her when she’s an adult and, although we don’t know what lies ahead, we still wanted to aim high.

The mediation meeting was not as formal as we expected, we invited a friend who knew all about Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) legislation. She was there as support for us. We discussed our issues and what we wanted and we came to an agreement with all parties that the current draft plan wasn’t SMART and lots of information needed to be clarified.

We had a further meeting with Olive’s professional team after the mediation. This was to clarify and finalise the wording in the plan. If we’d still not been happy, we could have gone to tribunal, but the mediation had addressed the points we needed and we agreed to accept the new version which was much clearer. The EHC plan was finalised and we have a really clear idea of what support Olive gets and what we’re all working towards. She’s doing brilliantly.

Olive’s EHC plan is reviewed annually and we get to hear about her progress and changes in her needs, her strengths and the provisions in the EHC plan. It’s a working, living document that belongs to Olive so we’re keen it stays relevant to where she is up to, but it doesn’t have to change every year. I’m glad we did it and got it right. Yes, it was a lot of work at the time, but we felt confident her needs were met by the end of it.

Here are my top tips for applying for an EHC plan:

  • Be clear what you want for your child: If you know what their aspirations are and what you want for them, make sure that’s in the EHC plan as it helps professionals work towards those goals.
  • Make sure you check the draft: Is it SMART? Does it set out what your child will get and who will provide it? Does it make sense to you? Don’t be afraid to ask questions if things aren’t clear.
  • Seek help: There are lots of websites out there to help (the National Deaf Children’s Society for deaf-specific advice or Special Needs Jungle for general advice). Your local SENDIASS is a great place to turn to as well, they’re independent so will offer clear, impartial advice.
  • Make sure your child is represented in the EHC plan: Can they say what they like, what they want to achieve and what works for them? Make sure their voice is heard.
  • Having a diagnosis of something doesn’t automatically mean you will get an EHC plan: The assessment is based on need and if your child has a diagnosis but they’re achieving as expected, they may not need one.

Jennie and her husband, Rhys, both work with children with additional needs and live in Manchester with their children Connie (7), Olive (6) and Acer (1).

Olive has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is profoundly deaf with bilateral cochlear implants. Olive is verbal but also uses a mixture of sign and her voice output device to communicate. (Connie and Acer use a loud voice.) They all use speech and British Sign Language (BSL) at home.