Chapter 5: The assessment process

Assessment helps to identify whether your child has additional support needs and determines what kind of support they require.

The priority is always to identify your child’s needs as early as possible and with as little disruption to their education as possible. This means that although ‘assessment’ sounds formal, most children’s needs will be assessed informally as part of the nursery staff’s or teacher’s day-to-day work with your child. If your child’s needs prove to be more complex, specialists may have to carry out more formal assessments.

The different levels and types of assessment are covered in this chapter.

Children up to the age of three

Information about your child is gathered and recorded as soon as they are born, first by a midwife and then by their health visitor or public health nurse.

The information from the health professionals in the early months will be used to decide what level of support the health service will need to give.

If any concerns about your child’s development are identified, your child might be referred to a community paediatrician, a local specialist or children’s hospital for further assessment. You and medical staff such as health visitors, GP and paediatricians will probably be the first people to see that your child may need additional support when they go to pre-school or school. The local authority may become involved in assessing your child with a view to planning the move to pre-school education. The local authority can provide additional support for children under three who are not disabled but they do not have to do this.

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Disabled children

If you have a disabled child, then an NHS practitioner, such as a health visitor, public health nurse, GP or community paediatrician can refer them to the local authority at this stage. Any other organisation or person, including parents, can bring a child to the attention of the local authority. Professionals in health, education and social work will be in close contact with each other so your child may already be known to the local authority.

The local authority will decide whether to assess your child to find out if they have additional support needs and decide what support they require. If the local authority finds that your child does have additional support needs, it has a legal duty to provide support, unless you do not give your consent.

The education professionals who might work with you and your child could include a home visiting teacher. The support provided could also include support from health, social work or voluntary agencies. This support must have educational aims.

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Pre-school and school-age children

All local authorities must make sure they have systems for identifying which pre-school and school-age children have additional support needs. In most cases, schools or pre-schools using the resources available to them will do this. If necessary, other agencies such as social work, health or voluntary agencies will be called on to help out. The assessment approach used can vary across authorities. You as a parent have the right to ask for information about what will happen. Assessment should look at all aspects of your child’s circumstances that may be giving rise to additional support needs.

However, if you are concerned that your child might have additional support needs that are not being identified, you have the right to ask your local authority to assess your child to find out what those needs are. You should make your request in writing, by letter or email, or use any method that can be kept for future reference such as voice or video recording. Remember to include your reasons. The local authority must comply with your request unless it regards it as unreasonable; e.g. an assessment has been carried out recently and there has been no change in circumstances, or it may not be seen as being relevant given the child’s circumstances. Local authorities also have a duty to make sure all parents are aware of their arrangements for identifying which children have additional support needs and must publish the arrangements. You can contact your local authority to find out its procedures.

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Looked after children

If children are looked after, they are presumed to have additional support needs. This is the case unless the local authority assesses them and decides they do not need additional support to allow them to benefit from school education.

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Assessment at school

Assessment of your child’s abilities should be continuous and may occur in stages. It should involve gathering evidence of your child’s progress, giving feedback on their strengths and areas where they need to improve, and planning next steps to make sure those improvements are made. The assessment may also involve other teachers and professionals who know your child and should take account of all relevant aspects of your child’s life.

You and your child should be involved in setting learning goals and discussing progress in achieving them. You can discuss your child’s progress at a parents’ evening or arrange an informal meeting with their teacher.

If your child has any difficulties, if they need more attention or more help with their work, then they are likely to come to the teacher’s attention as a result of these day-to-day assessments.

This fairly informal method aims to help identify and resolve any problems as early and as quickly as possible. It could avoid the need for a formal referral to a specialist service, which can take time and be disruptive for your child.

However, if this fails to determine what support your child requires, the school may need to get help from other appropriate agencies, such as health or social work services, which can carry out specific types of assessment (see the section on ‘Specific types of assessment’, below). You too can ask for a specific type of assessment for your child (see the section on ‘How to request a specific type of assessment’, below).

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Getting help with assessment from outside school

Schools have access to an increasingly wide range of specialist support services. This includes professionals with a wide range of knowledge and expertise in education, social work and areas of health, including psychology. The school can ask these professionals to use their expertise to help assess your child’s needs and suggest how it can help.

Both you and the school can ask for help from more than one appropriate agency. If there are different agencies involved in this consultation, according to the Getting it right for every child approach, a lead professional should act as a co-ordinator and make sure your views and your child’s views are taken into account. This should avoid you and your child having to repeat information and tasks.

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Specific types of assessment

If your child’s school has asked for help from an appropriate agency for a specific type of assessment, the agency must comply, unless certain exceptions apply. These are:

  • if the request is incompatible with the agency’s own statutory or other duties; or
  • if it unduly prejudices the agency’s discharge of its own functions (in other words, it impairs its ability to do its work).

The appropriate agency must respond to a request for help, including an assessment request, within ten weeks of the date of the request for help. There are statutory exceptions to this including that the child or young person failed to keep an appointment or the assessment cannot take place. For further information, speak to an Enquire adviser on 0345 123 2303.

You also have the right to ask for a specific type of assessment for your child. If your child is aged 16 or over, they have the right to make the request themselves.

The law does not allow you to ask that the assessment be done by a certain individual or organisation. Your local authority makes the decision. You can pay for a private assessment yourself from a particular organisation or professional and then pass the assessment to the local authority. Your local authority must, by law, take it into account.

If you want some help to ask for a particular type of assessment, you can contact a supporter or an advocate (see the section on supporters and advocates).

The following may be useful if you are not sure what type of assessment your child may need.

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Psychological assessment

An educational psychologist employed by your child’s local authority will usually carry out a psychological assessment. They have expertise in teaching methods and psychology and will assess your child’s progress at school, taking into account all relevant circumstances. As with other assessments, educational psychology assessments can be formal or informal, and may involve discussion with teachers, other professionals and you.

Your child might benefit from this type of assessment if they are not making the progress expected of them at school or are having difficulties with learning, and teachers are not sure what to do.

Educational psychologists provide help and advice to schools, teachers and parents on how to help children learn and develop. They can identify a range of difficulties and disorders and provide advice on the learning environment.

In some cases they may need to get advice from other psychologists with different expertise, such as a clinical or occupational psychologist.

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Health assessment

A health assessment or examination will be carried out by a relevant health professional. This may be a nurse, community- or hospital-based paediatrician, therapists such as speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, orthoptist, audiologist, or clinical psychologist, who can all offer advice to you and the school on your child’s health needs. Enquire has more information in Factsheet 7: Who provides extra support for children’s learning?

The range of assessments conducted by health professionals can include any aspect of physical health or development and its effect on education. This could go beyond ill health to include concerns over movement, growth, posture, speech and language skills or mental health.

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Social work

A social work assessment will be carried out by the social work department and will consider how specific issues in your child’s life are affecting their education.

The assessment may say that your child needs, for example, support at home or in the community, welfare benefits and social support; or there may be a need to help with family conflict or breakdown, loss or bereavement, challenging behaviour, or mental or physical health problems in the family.

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Using the voluntary sector

Several voluntary organisations in Scotland have expertise in particular areas. They may be able to offer specialist assessments or advice, but have no statutory duty to do so, unlike appropriate agencies such as health and social work bodies.

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How to request a specific type of assessment

If you want a specific type of assessment by the local authority, you must ask for it using any method that can be kept for future reference. This could include a letter, email, CD, tape or video recording.

You should explain what assessment you would like your child to have, such as educational, psychological or medical, outlining why you believe it is necessary. If you are unsure about the process, contact your local authority – it will have a contact person for you to speak to. The local authority must ensure that you know how to request an assessment for your child.

You can ask for a specific assessment when you ask the local authority to consider whether your child has additional support needs or when you ask them if your child requires a co-ordinated support plan. Also, once it has been established that your child has additional support needs you have the right to request an assessment at any time, if you feel this is necessary. You can find more information in Enquire Factsheet 18: Assessment.

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What to do if your request for specific types of assessment is refused

Your child’s local authority must honour your request for an assessment, unless it considers it unreasonable.

All requests are judged individually. As a guide, a request may be considered unreasonable if it:

  • may not be seen as relevant, given the child’s or young person’s circumstances
  • may be unnecessary as there has not been a significant change in the child’s or young person’s circumstances since an earlier assessment
  • seems badly timed, e.g. it is too soon after a previous request
  • may repeat previous assessments.

If the local authority refuses your request for an assessment or examination, it must tell you why.

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Carrying out assessments

All assessments may involve:

  • observing your child in day-to-day situations, such as in the classroom and sometimes at home
  • individual work with your child
  • discussions with you
  • discussions with others who know your child well.

Whatever level or type of assessment is being used to identify your child’s additional support needs and determine what support they require, it should consider the following:

  • the whole child. Home life or health needs, for example, could both be affecting their ability to learn. This may mean contacting and meeting other professionals who are involved with your child, such as a social worker or GP
  • any advice or information given by other agencies or professionals involved with your child. A local authority must also seek information and advice from other agencies if necessary
  • information from any previous assessments that your child has had. This includes any assessments that you have arranged yourself
  • any advice or information given by you or your child
  • your child’s preferred method of communication. For example, assessments of bilingual children should take into account their level of skill in their first language as well as in English. Please click here to view chapter ‘Your child’s ability to make their views known’ for more information.

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Phillipa’s story

Phillipa - picture posed by model


(picture posed by model)

Phillipa is one year old and she has had complex medical needs from birth and now has significantly delayed development. Phillipa’s mum and dad are worried about Phillipa reaching developmental milestones and are in regular contact with the paediatric team at their local hospital. Phillipa has been referred to the local authority by the staff from this team who are part of the NHS Board. They will consider whether they think that Phillipa has additional support needs arising from her disability and needs to be assessed. A community assessment team consisting of an early years home-visiting teacher, health visitor, GP and paediatric consultant is co-ordinating a support package for Phillipa and her family. Phillipa’s mum and dad are in contact with the parent support group based at the hospital which organises family events and offers practical and emotional support. A speech and language therapist is also advising Phillipa’s mum and dad on activities to help develop Phillipa’s language.

It is clear that her needs are complex and long-term and will require significant support from different professionals. It has been agreed that in addition to the current additional support, a co-ordinated support plan will start to be prepared before her third birthday.

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Children who are educated outside the home authority

If your local authority makes arrangements for your child to go to a pre-school centre or school run by another authority, or an independent special school or grant-aided school, your local authority remains responsible for identifying and monitoring the additional support your child needs.

However, if your child attends pre-school or school outside their local authority area via a placing request (see the section on ‘placing requests’), the host authority is responsible for their education. This means the host authority is responsible for identifying whether your child has additional support needs and for providing the additional support.

Assessment procedures may vary from area to area, but the same principles will apply. Please see the section on carrying out assessments above.

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Children who are educated outside the public education system

If you have made your own arrangements for your child to attend an independent or grant-aided school, or to educate your child at home, you still have the right to ask your local authority to identify whether your child has additional support needs and determine what level of support they require. However, although your local authority can choose to comply with your request, it does not have to do so. If it does assess your child, it must give you advice and information on what type of support your child requires. If it fails to provide you with advice and information, the failure can be referred to mediation.

Your local authority may ask you if it can assess your child to find out if he or she has additional support needs. It will only do this if concerns about your child have been brought to its attention. Normally it will seek your consent before making an assessment.

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At a glance: The assessment process

You have the right to:

  • ask your child’s local authority to find out whether your child has additional support needs
  • request a specific type of assessment or examination (or both) for your child, including when the local authority proposes to formally identify whether your child has additional support needs, or requires a co-ordinated support plan
  • receive information or advice about your child’s additional support needs.

Your child’s rights

  • If your child is aged 16 or over, they have the same rights as you, listed above.

Local authorities must:

  • make arrangements to identify children who have additional support needs. It can get help from other agencies to make sure it can achieve this
  • meet your request if you ask it to find out whether your child has additional support needs. It can only refuse if it considers your request unreasonable
  • publish, and keep updated, information on its arrangements for identifying children who have additional support needs
  • take account of any advice or information that is provided by you, your child or other agencies when it is assessing your child.

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