Proposals to reduce autism diagnoses – what does it mean for special educational provision? 02/08/2017 11:58

Since reports in May, about a proposal, in South West London, to restrict the eligibility of children for referral for diagnostic assessment in relation to an autistic spectrum condition (ASC), IPSEA has been contacted by parents.  In particular, there is a concern about the effect a lack of diagnosis might have on the special educational support a child or young person receives from either school/college or the Local Authority (LA). 

When does a child or young person have special educational needs (SEN)?

The Children and Families Act 2014 (the Act) s.20 says that a child or young person has SEN if he or she has a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.  However, what a learning difficulty or disability is does not require a specific diagnosis but a:

  • significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or
  • disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions.

The duties of schools/colleges and LAs in relation to children and young people with SEN are don’t depend on a child/young person having a diagnosis.

You can find out more about school’s duties here

You can find out more about LA duties here

EHC needs assessments and diagnosis

Again, the Act doesn’t require a diagnosis before an EHC needs assessment can be requested.  The success of a request doesn’t depend on a diagnosis either.  The decision as to whether or not to carry out an EHC needs assessment depends on whether the child has or may have SEN and whether it may be necessary for special educational provision (SEP) to be made for the child or young person under an EHC Plan (s.36(8) of the Act).

You can find out more about requesting an EHC needs assessment here

As part of the EHC needs assessment process, the LA must obtain information and advice from a number of different sources (Regulation 6(1) SEN and Disability Regulations 2014 (as amended) (the SEN Regs).  The LA can obtain information from anyone it thinks it is appropriate to contact.

The LA might seek information and advice from an NHS practitioner or service.  They must also seek information and advice from anyone that a parent/carer or young person “reasonably requires” (which could include an NHS practitioner or service).  If an NHS practitioner or service is contacted, as part of an EHC needs assessment, then they are required to provide information and advice within 6 weeks of being contacted (Regulation 8(1) SEN Regs).

Therefore, even where an NHS practitioner or service will not diagnose a condition such as an ASC, they can still be required to provide information and advice about a child or young person’s SEN, the special educational provision those SEN require and the outcomes sought.

Remember that information and advice provided by parents/carers or young people as part of the assessment process must be considered by the LA.  This would include private diagnoses.

Diagnosis and the EHC Plan

An EHC Plan must specify all of a child/young person’s SEN and the SEP required to meet those needs.  For more information about the content of EHC Plans, see IPSEA’s EHC Plan checklist



  • SEN isn’t defined by the presence or absence of a diagnosis.
  • SEN Support (via school/college or, where necessary, an EHC Plan) is available whether or not a child or young person with SEN has a diagnosis.
  • NHS practitioners and services must comply with requests for information and advice made as part of an EHC needs assessment and provide this within 6 weeks of a request.
  • Private diagnoses must be considered by schools/colleges and LAs (unless there is some reason to doubt the professional qualifications of the person providing the diagnosis).

If you are the parent or carer of a child or young person who has or may have SEN and you want legally based advice about the educational support they are receiving then contact us to arrange a callback with one of our volunteers.

Independent Parental Special Education Advice (known as IPSEA) is a registered charity (number 327691).  We offer free, legally based information, advice and support to help get the right education for children and young people with all kinds of special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities. You can read an example of how IPSEA helps children and young people here.


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IPSEA training

IPSEA provides a wide range of SEN training for Parents, School Staff, Parent Forums, Support Groups, Local Authority SEN teams, Parent Partnership Schemes, School Governors and other groups / organisations. Click here for details.

Advice Line

This provides next step advice on: problems with schools, requesting statutory assessment, statements and Education, Health and Care Plans, annual reviews, disability discrimination and exclusion. Please click here to book an appointment to get one of our advisers to call you back.

Tribunal Helpline

Our Tribunal Helpline Gives next step advice on SEN appeals and disability discrimination claims to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. When you call we will also assess whether you need casework support. Please click here to book an appointment to get one of our advisers to call you back.

Information Service

The Information Service is for general legal enquiries and will signpost you to factsheets and resources on our website.  The Information Service cannot provide specific advice about individuals and their circumstances.

Face to Face Advice

IPSEA is now able to offer free and independent legally based SEN advice at Face to Face sessions organised in conjunction with the Pen Green Centre for children and families (

For information on how to book a session please click here.