EHC needs assessments

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The information on this page is for families in England only.
I live in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

Education, health and care (EHC) needs assessments are a necessary step in determining whether a child or young person requires an EHC plan and what help to include within it.

In this article

What is an EHC needs assessment?

An education, health and care (EHC) needs assessment is the process the local authority carries out to determine whether a child needs an EHC plan and, if so, the support (provision) contained within it.

It is the first step to getting an EHC plan. It is a legal process carried out by the local authority. It is not to be confused with other assessments that teachers, health or other professionals may arrange for your child.

How do I get an EHC assessment for my child?

Requesting an assessment

The following people can make a formal request to the local authority for an EHC needs assessment:

  • A parent.
  • A young person themselves if over 16.
  • A nursery, school or college.

If you are making the request yourself, you might find our request letter template useful,  though many local authorities have their own form. This should be available on the local authority’s Local Offer website.

When must the local authority carry out an assessment?

The local authority must carry out an EHC needs assessment if they are of the opinion that both:

  • Your child has or may have a special education need.
  • Your child may need special educational provision to be made through an EHC plan.

This is a legal threshold, which the local authority must follow in making its decision whether to assess your child. The local authority can have their own guidance or checklist to help them decide when to carry out an assessment, but the decision should always be made on an individual basis.

The local authority will want to see evidence that your child needs more support for their special educational needs than a mainstream education setting can normally provide. It will want to see evidence of the following:

  • What sort of special educational need your child has or may have. Note that this does not require a medical diagnosis.
  • The amount and type of help your child may need and why the school may not be able to provide this from their own resources.

You should explain your child’s difficulties, describe any extra support your child has already received and say why you feel your child needs more help. Our parent advisers have made a checklist that may help you think about what to say.

The local authority must tell you in writing within six weeks whether they are going to assess your child.

What if the local authority refuses to do an assessment?

The local authority can refuse a request if they don’t think your child needs an assessment. They may decide that there is not enough evidence of your child’s difficulties or that the nursery, school or college your child attends can provide all the help your child needs at the level of SEN support

You can appeal the “refusal to assess” decision to an independent tribunal within two months of the date on your decision letter, or one month from the date of the mediation certificate – whichever is later. See our page on appeals and tribunals.

What happens during an EHC needs assessment?

If the local authority decides to assess your child, it will gather information about your child’s needs from:

  • You and your child.
  • The nursery, school or college your child attends.
  • An educational psychologist.
  • Specialist teachers, if your child has a vision or hearing impairment.
  • Health and social care services.
  • Others whose views may be important.
  • For a child in Year 9 (age 14) or above, advice about preparing for adulthood and independent living.

Advice and information requested by the local authority should be provided within six weeks.

The local authority does not have to seek further information from professionals if this has been provided recently. However, any existing reports should meet the requirements of the assessment process. They must have detailed information about your child’s needs, the support or provision they require, and the expected outcomes (how the support will make a difference to your child).

The local authority must help your family, including your child, to take part in the process. They must provide you with any information, advice and support you need to do this.

If you have already provided information about your child as part of your request, you don’t need to repeat this, but you can send in new information if you want to. You can send in other reports if you have them, for example a report from an independent professional. You can also ask the local authority to seek information about your child from someone who has not been contacted before. For example, you may want to ask if a speech and language therapist can assess your child.

The local authority will gather information about your child’s social care needs as part of the EHC needs assessment. If your family is not already getting support from children’s services, you can ask your local authority to do a separate assessment to decide if you or your child need support at home or in the community. For more information see our webpages on social care.

After the assessment

Once the assessment has been carried out, the local authority must decide whether to issue an EHC plan.

If the local authority decides to issue an EHC plan

At first you’ll receive a draft EHC plan, and you have 15 days to put forward your views to the local authority about the contents of the plan. The final plan must be issued within a maximum of 20 weeks of the initial request.

Find out more about the EHC draft plan.

If the local authority refuses to give your child an EHC plan

You can appeal the decision to not issue an EHC plan to an independent tribunal within two months of the date on your decision letter, or one month from the date of the mediation certificate – whichever is later. See our page on appeals and tribunals.

An EHC needs assessment does not always lead to a child or young person receiving an EHC plan. For example, the local authority might decide that the child’s or young person’s needs can be met by the school in other ways.

If the local authority are not going to make a plan, they must write to you within 16 weeks to tell you this. You will have the right to appeal, and the local authority must give you information about this. Find out more about appeals and tribunals.

More information

SEND Code of Practice

See the SEND Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years in England. [PDF].

Local Advice and Information Services (IASS)- England

Local authorities in England must provide Information, Advice and Support Services (IASS) to parents of disabled children and parents of disabled children with SEN.

The IASS service must be provided free of charge, be impartial and confidential. In some areas, local authorities will contract a local charity to provide the service, while others have an in-house service.

You can search for details of the IASS service in your area on the Council for Disabled Children’s IASS network website.

Information for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Read our information about education in Wales.

Find out about the system of support for children with special educational needs in Northern Ireland on the NI Education Authority website or Senac (special educational needs advice centre).

In Scotland, the system of support for children with additional support needs is called additional support for learning. You can read more about it on the Enquire website.