A friend of ours, aware that we have a child who has a Statement of Special Educational Needs, recently asked us for advice on how to approach the first annual review of the statement for their child. This, with some edits, is what we replied.
Disclaimer: this is not legal advice.
The purpose of the annual review meeting is to review and if necessary re-word an existing statement with the goal of getting your child the support he/she needs. Changes to the statement are to be made in Parts 2 and 3, but it’s really important to be very careful about the precise wording in Part 3 because what is committed to in that part is what is legally binding on the authorities.
Make your goals clear in advance
Try, in advance to make clear with the school’s SENCo what you are trying to achieve at the meeting. You should both be aiming for the same thing. In our experience that didn’t happen at X’s previous school and the SENCo wanted to place X in a special needs unit, while we were committed to mainstream education.
Don’t allow wiggle-room
Watch out for wriggle-room in words like “regular” in the context of visits by a professional. That could mean a visit once a year instead of what you imagined to be several times a term. Specify who does what, how often and for how long. Sounds pedantic but our experience has been that unless Part 3 is very explicit professionals will not work to the spirit of the statement but the letter, providing the minimum that the wording allows them to get away with.
Pay attention to Part 3
Thus, if Part 3 requires a visit “by the Speech and Language department”, your child may get visits from an unqualified SLT assistant who trains teachers in SLT techniques, not an actual SLT therapist giving one-to-one therapy to your child. So get the statement to specify visits by a qualified therapist who gives therapy directly.
In case you haven’t noticed by now, it’s all about being specific in Part 3!
Sorry to be cynical but the people at the meeting may well take advantage of your naïveté about the process: their aim could be committing to as little expenditure or resources as possible, rather than getting the best outcome for your child. Remember that how they resource what is in Part 3 of the statement is not your problem.
Beware of blanket policies, e.g. “Borsetshire doesn’t do that” – they aren’t allowed and you should make sure they know that you know that.
Get their ducks in a row
All professionals involved with the child, whether attending the meeting or not should provide reports no later than two weeks prior to the meeting. The reports should be sent to each other and to the parents. If you haven’t got a report before the meeting and they only turn up at the meeting with it, you have the right to request time to read it and postpone the meeting if necessary.
Hold until the right people can come
From our experience, if you have a specific issue that you want addressed, e.g. SLT, make sure the professional that deals with that is attending the meeting. Again, postpone the meeting until that particular professional is able to attend.
Don’t go on your own
Being a layperson surrounded by a room full of professionals can be intimidating and you may feel more inclined to go with their suggestions against your gut instinct simply because you feel overpowered. Make sure you have your partner or a friend with you at the review meeting.
There is a Code of Conduct that governs all this. Each LEA has a copy on their website.
IPSEA, an independent charity has been really useful, so make use of them if you want more legal info – case law etc. They are at www.ipsea.org.uk and the specific page about Statements is here.