Our daughter’s school won’t allow access for an independent assessment

Question from Parent

We have a statement to EHCP transfer review for my 14 year old. Since she entered special schools in 2010, we don't feel she's made much progress especially in language/communication and sensory issues that hinder her educational abilities.
We wanted to commission private assessments for the review process, but the school has disallowed access apart from insufficient time slot of 30 minutes - this was learned at last moment after weeks of requesting access. It makes us feel like this review meeting and subsequent process will not fully take account of her needs and thus open up solutions for provision.

What are our rights in terms of soliciting alternative views to the assessment? Will it be more advantageous to wait to do private assessment till things are more advanced in terms of a draft EHCP to which respond?

Also we still have had little contact with the school's occupational therapist and SALT despite raising concerns in these areas so we will we haven't had any opportunity to input into their assessments if they do submit a report as requested. Shouldn't that normally be expected?

Is it best to escalate these issues above to school leadership or take this to the LA as the school appears in control over both the process and the eventual provision, although I understood it should be with the LA?

Once at the review meting, if any of it appears lacking in rigour or supporting reports and info is there sufficient time to raise this as an issue for the process before a new plan is created by the LA?

Helen Gifford replies

Helen answers:

This is a highly unsatisfactory situation that you find yourself in.

I would be inclined to escalate your concerns to the local authority, copying in the school leadership team. It is the local authority who have the final responsibility for both the transfer to an EHC Plan including the reports gathered as part of that transfer process, and for arranging the provision that is set out in your daughter's statement and EHC Plan when it is written, so they definitely need to be involved.

You are fully within your rights to obtain private reports, and I would ask the local authority to ask the school to allow the people carrying out the reports to have reasonable access. The only time when I am aware of compulsion becoming possible with the school is if you end up appealing to the SEND Tribunal when you could ask the Tribunal to direct the school to allow this access, but you are not there yet. However, it is no-one's interests for the private assessors to have to guess how things are at school so hopefully the local authority will work with you to overcome this.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for school based therapists to have relatively little contact with parents. However, it is not terribly helpful as most therapy interventions are best implemented across both the school and home. The Code of Practice might help here. Section 9.50 requires that the local authority gives anyone who they approach for advice as part of an EHC assessment (which the transfer process to an EHC Plan includes) copies of representations from the child's parents, so I think when you contact the local authority, tell them that you want your concerns shared with the relevant therapists, so that they can then take them into account with their advice. I also recommend asking that the EHC Plan when written includes liaison with parents as part of the therapy provision.

The best time to seek private advice rather depends on the circumstances. Where there is a reasonable chance of thorough advice being supplied from the local authority commissioned sources, I would suggest waiting until those reports have been gathered as you may not need any extra advice or may end up paying for a report that says pretty much the same thing as the local authority one. However, where you do not have faith in the services that the local authority will approach, it is worth considering arranging the private reports sooner and submitting them to the local authority so that they are available for the drafting of the EHC Plan. I must warn you that where the local authority's advice differs from the private advice, the local authority is likely to prefer their advice over yours, but they must be able to give reasons to justify this decision on the basis of your daughter's needs.

Good luck!