The needs of most children and young people can be met by their school or nursery, sometimes with the help of outside specialists. 

However, in some cases, the Education Authority (EA) will be asked to make a statutory assessment of a child or young person's educational needs. If the EA then decide that they need help which is greater than can be provided by the school's resources, they must write a statement of special educational needs (SEN). This details the child or young person's needs and the additional provision needed to meet them. 

The Education Authority (EA) has replaced the previous five Education and Library Boards. 

Statutory assessment

A statutory assessment is a detailed investigation to find out what a child or young person's SEN are and what provision is needed to meet them. It is also:

A statutory assessment doesn't always lead to a statement being written, instead it may highlight ways a child or young person's needs can be met by school without one. 

By law, the EA must comply with a request for a statutory assessment unless:

  • a statutory assessment has been made in the last six months
  • upon examining evidence it believes that a statutory assessment is not necessary.   

The EA will only carry out a statutory assessment if they believe a child or young person probably has SEN and that they need, or probably need, to determine the level of their SEN provision by writing a statement. 

A statutory assessment is different from assessments that may be carried out by school, educational psychologists, specialist teachers or speech and language therapists. 

Only the EA can carry out a statutory assessment and this is the only kind of assessment that can lead to a statement of SEN

Who can request a statutory assessment? 

A request for a statutory assessment can be made by a child or young person’s school or nursery. Schools should consult with parents or carers before requesting this. 

As a parent, you can request an assessment if you believe that your child's needs are either not being met through Stages 1-3 or are so substantial that a school could not meet them using their own resources. 

If the request has been made independently of the school by a health and social care or other professional, and the EA refuse to undertake the assessment, the parents don't have the right to appeal. In this situation, we suggest that you make your own request at the same time. 

A statutory assessment can be carried out if your child is between the ages of two and 19. If they are between the ages of 16 and 19 and still go to school, the EA is obliged by law to carry out an assessment. However, if your child is over the age of 16 and not at school, the EA doesn't have to carry out an assessment.

The EA doesn't need your consent to carry out an assessment of a child over the age of two, but it does need to keep you informed. If a child is under the age of two, the EA needs a parent or carer's consent before they can carry out an assessment. 

You should discuss your concerns with the school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO), or the nursery manager before making the request. If further support is not available, then you can make a request for a statutory assessment directly to the EA. 

The request should be made in writing to either the Regional Office or Chief Executive of the EA. A copy of the letter should be sent to the school or nursery.

The request should:

  • clearly set out the reasons for making the request
  • provide information on the help that your child has already received. 
Even if the school is asking for a statutory assessment, then it is a good idea for you to send your own letter making the same request.
This means that you can be:  
  • sure of the exact date that the request was made
  • clear that it is a statutory assessment that has been requested
  • assured that your legal rights are not compromised in any way.   

You may like to use this sample letter

Considering the request for an assessment

As soon as the EA starts looking at the request for a statutory assessment they should write to you and:  

  • tell you that they are considering whether to carry out a statutory assessment 
  • tell you how they will carry out a statutory assessment 
  • give you the name of the person at the EA who will be your point of contact – your named officer 
  • ask you to give written or spoken reasons, called “parental representations”, about why you think your child should or should not be assessed (you have 22 days to do this). You may also submit any written evidence or reports that you have as “parental evidence” in the 22 days
  • make you aware of the range of provision available in grant-aided schools in your area
  • tell you about independent sources of support and advice 
  • tell you that you can seek guidance and support from an independent person eg a friend, relative or advocate throughout the process, including attending meetings with you
  • tell you that you can present any private or independent evidence or opinions you have collected.

You may not need a full 22 days to submit your reasons and evidence and can do so earlier if you wish. This may speed up the process if you state in writing that you consent for the process to move forward before then end of the 22 days.  

The EA must inform your child’s school or nursery when you make a request for a statutory assessment. The EA should ask for written evidence about your child, in particular the school's assessment of their learning difficulty and an account of any special educational provision that has been made. 

At the same time, the EA should notify the educational psychology department, health and social care trust and any other agencies that may later be asked for advice.

In considering whether a statutory assessment is necessary the EA will look at:

  • any evidence provided by you or your child’s school about their learning difficulties, including any action already taken by the school or external specialists to help your child
  • your child’s academic attainment and whether they are achieving the results expected of children of their age
  • whether the school has made use of information provided by you in helping them to address your child’s learning difficulties
  • any medical advice available to the school about your child’s SEN.   

As well as evidence of attainment the EA should seek evidence of any other factors that could impact on learning. For example:

  • problems with your child’s health which may have led to absences from school, or difficulty in concentrating or participating in the full range of curriculum activities at school
  • speech and language difficulties
  • difficulties at home 
  • difficulties with peer relationships (including bullying) and/or relationships with adults
  • emotional or behavioural difficulties.   

The Code of practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs sets out the evidence which the EA should seek, and the questions they should ask, about children with particular learning difficulties or disabilities.  

The EA should consider very carefully the case for a statutory assessment of a child or young person’s SEN. They should assess evidence that suggests the child or young person’s learning difficulties:

  • are significant and/or complex
  • have not responded to measures taken by the school and external specialists
  • may require special educational provision which cannot reasonably be provided within the resources normally available to mainstream schools in the area.    

The EA has six weeks to decide whether or not to carry out a statutory assessment from the date that they first receive the request. The period of at least 22 days in which you can make representations to the EA is part of this six weeks.

The decision to assess or not

If the EA refuses to agree to a request for a statutory assessment, they must tell you why and that you have a legal right to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal within two months. You can appeal if the request for a statutory assessment was made by you or the school. You can’t appeal if the case was made by an independent professional. We suggest that you make your own request at the same time if an independent professional is making the request. You may also want to consider contacting the EA’s Dispute Avoidance and Resolution Service (DARS) officer.      

If the EA agrees to conduct the assessment they will ask you and a number of professionals to give views on your child, including:

  • staff from their school or nursery
  • an educational psychologist 
  • health professionals, such as their doctor and therapist(s)
  • social services (who will only give advice if they know your child) 
  • anyone else whose advice the EA considers appropriate. 

The code of practice offers guidelines to help you with your contribution to the assessment which the EA should make you aware of.

As parents you:

  • have the right to be present at any interview, medical or any other test during the statutory assessment process 
  • can suggest any other people or organisations whose views may be helpful to the assessment of your child 
  • may send the EA any private advice or opinions you have collected. The EA should take these into account.   

Wherever possible, the EA  should also seek your child’s views on their SEN and how they could be met. 

The assessment process should take ten weeks, after which the EA will decide whether or not to issue a statement of special educational needs.

It is only the EA which can issue a statement, and they must do so if your child has complex and significant SEN which need more help than can be given from the school or nursery’s resources.

If the EA decides not to issue a statement (because they determine that your child does not have special educational needs for which they must make provision) they must inform you why. They may also issue a Note in Lieu which describes your child's SEN, explains why they do not think it is necessary to make a statement and make recommendations about appropriate provision for your child. All the advice received during the assessment should be attached to the note.  

If the EA decide to make a statement, they have two weeks from the assessment being completed to issuing a proposed statement.

Timescales

The request

The EA receives request for statutory assessment. The EA will acknowledge this request and ask parents to send their views within 22 days.

Within six weeks, the EA will either:

  • decide not to assess and write to parents about their right to appeal
  • decide to assess.  

The assessment

Within ten weeks (unless there are exceptional circumstances), the EA will seek advice from parents and professionals and complete the assessment.

Within two weeks of receiving all of the above advice, the EA will either:

  • decide not to make a statement and will write to parents about their right to appeal
  • issue a proposed statement together with all the reports and advice gathered and give parents 15 days to comment on it.  

The statement

Within eight weeks, the EA will make a final statement.

Total time: 26 weeks

Further help

Further help for parents trying to get an appropriate education for their child is available from our Education Rights Service on 0808 800 4102: press option 5. Specific help for appealing to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal is available from our Tribunal Support Line on the same number by pressing option 6. 

Useful documents and reading

Code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs (1998) Department of Education

Supplement to the Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs (2005) Department of Education

Special Educational Needs: A guide for Parents (1997) Department of Education

Contacts

Department of Education
Website: www.deni.gov.uk
Tel: 028 9127 9279  

Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) 
Website: www.courtsni.gov.uk/en-GB/Tribunals/SpecialEduNeedsnDisability
Tel: 028 9072 4887

Last reviewed: 7 November 2016