Belfast Telegraph

Know your legal rights if your child needs special help at school

Platform - By Brian Moss, Worthingtons Solicitors

Unofficial tests have been set by groups in the private sector.
Unofficial tests have been set by groups in the private sector.

All parents want what is best for their children and an obvious (and very important) part of that is providing for their education. If a child has a learning difficulty then he/she may require special assistance in school to help reach and to maximise their potential.

Every school will have a special education needs coordinator (SENCO) and parents who are concerned about their child’s progress should speak first of all with the child’s teacher or the school SENCO. The school might then organise additional tuition to be provided for such a child.

However, in a small number of cases, if concerns remain about a particular child’s progress in school, it may be that they require help and assistance which is not commonly found in schools, or that is not within the school’s budget. This is where the education authority comes in. It is the authority’s role to consider such children for assessment and then to decide whether to make provision for their educational needs, directly. If the authority do so decide, then the child’s educational needs and the provision required in order to meet them are set out in a legally binding document, called a statement of special educational needs. 

Parents should be aware that it is their legal right, to ask the authority to consider their child for assessment as to whether they require a statement to be made for them. This right arises under article 20 of the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.

Under the Department of Education for Northern Ireland’s Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Pupils with Special Educational Needs, there are usually five stages to the process which leads to a statement being made for a particular child:

1. Where the child’s teacher identifies the special educational needs (SEN) and information about those needs is collated and may be put on the school’s SEN register.

2. The SENCO may then collect further details from other relevant parties such as parents, the child’s GP and teachers, to get a rounded view of the child’s needs. From this information, an individual educational plan (IEP) is adopted to address the child’s SEN.

3. Help from professionals outside the school environment is the next stage.

4. The education authority can consider the child for an in depth ‘statutory assessment’ of their SEN, if such needs are significant and complex, and/or have not been remedied despite the measures adopted by their school. This will be led by an educational psychologist and will consider input from a variety of disciplines. A ‘statutory assessment’ can be requested by a range of interested persons/agencies. 

5. The child is issued with a statement which will document the child’s needs and what measures are going to be put in place to support them in their education. Once a provision is included in the statement, it must be met by the education authority. Statements are reviewed annually by the education authority, in accordance with their statutory duty.

The SEN system can be daunting for parents. This is especially so for children who require statements to be made for them by the authority. It can be arduous, but hopefully at the end a child will have a statement which meets their needs. However, if this is not the case then parents can in most circumstances appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST).


Brian Moss, solicitor at Worthingtons Solicitors, Belfast, is experienced in advising on and dealing with SEN issues and appeals to the SENDIST

Belfast Telegraph