Your child doesn't automatically need a formal educational assessment just because he has more problems than other children. His difficulties may not affect his education at all, or the school may be managing to meet his needs anyway. An assessment is only necessary if your child needs extra or additional help to that normally available at school - for example, if he needs extra practical support, special equipment or specialised teaching methods.
At the time of writing, the results of a formal assessment are written down in a document called a "Statement of Special Educational Needs" which also includes the local education authority's proposals to meet those needs. The LEA is then legally obliged to follow those plans so they may be resistant to committing themselves to anything expensive.
If your child is going to be assessed or you think he should be, find out about the process beforehand. This is particularly important if you think you are likely to disagree with the LEA's plans. When the LEA informs you of their intention to assess your child, they should also tell you about the procedures involved and about your rights as parents, as well as giving you the name of an official whom you can contact for further information. Don't hesitate to ask questions about anything which is unclear or to ask other organisations for information. The Advisory Centre for Education, Network 81 and your voluntary society are all good sources of advice.
The assessment includes medical, psychological and school reports plus an opportunity for you to state your views. In fact, one of the best things about the procedure is the way it forces communication between all concerned. The whole process can take a long time. There is no harm in phoning occasionally to ask how it's progressing - it may remind someone to chase a missing report.
The opportunity to express your views is a valuable one so make the most of it. You have years of knowledge about your child which can be valuable to those planning for his future.
Before the finished statement is issued, the authority should send you a draft copy of it together with copies of all the reports written by the professionals involved. Read them all carefully, even if you agree with the LEA's plans, as you don't want any mistakes (however small) recorded for posterity. Make sure the statement contains precise indications of need rather than vague comments. For example, "some speech therapy" is less acceptable than "speech therapy twice a week".
Although you have a right to state your views you don't have a right of veto if you do not like the authority's plans. However, you are allowed to comment on the draft statement and, if you still disagree with the final one, you have a right of appeal. If you find yourself battling with an uncooperative education authority, it is particularly important to know your rights. You may find your voluntary society, the Advisory Centre for Education, Network 81 and the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice (IPSEA) can offer you valuable support.
If you are telling the education authority that you disagree with the draft statement, make your reasons clear and keep copies of your letters. Perhaps you feel some of the reports are inaccurate or you can't understand them. Perhaps you agree with the reports but feel the description of your child's special needs has not taken them all into account. Maybe the school isn't the one you wanted, or the proposed help is inadequate or rather vague.
Don't just disagreee. Try to suggest some viable alternatives: ways the statement could be changed so you would agree with it. You may like to ask for support from one or more of the professionals who know your child or from the school you would like your child to attend. You could also obtain an alternative assessment of your child from someone independent of the authority.
The National Curriculum lays down what all children should be taught at school. As some children can't cope with the full curriculum, there is provision in the legislation for children to be excluded from all or part of it and for the Curriculum to be modified. If anyone suggests this for your child, ask why they feel it is a good idea and what he will be taught instead.
Sometimes such a suggestion seems sensible. For instance, if your child has severe language problems, it may be better for him to spend extra time mastering English rather than struggling to learn French. However, opting out of part of the curriculum is not a decision to be taken lightly so if you are unhappy about the idea, say so.