Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Behaviour : Disruptive & Withdrawn

Behaviour is communication – it is trying to tell you something. All behaviour happens for a reason and being aware of the causes is key. In many cases, challenging behaviour is a way for a person to control what is going on around them and to get their needs met. They also might be ill or in pain, or want to get something. It’s important to understand the reasons behind challenging behaviour for change to happen.

A disability can arise from a physical or mental impairment/condition which affects a child’s ability to function, regardless of diagnosis. This can include symptoms such as anxiety, which can manifest through disruptive or withdrawn behaviours such as fidgeting, aggression, violence, or masking, hiding, selective mutism – indicators of the fight, flight, fawn, or freeze anxiety responses.

These behaviours could be an indication of unmet needs, and if left unidentified, the affects could become even more substantial, adverse, and long-term, preventing the child from making use of the general facilities provided in mainstream school.

Therefore, schools must use their best endeavours and reasonable adjustments duties to secure the provision called for by the child’s SEND. By law, SEN provision is based on the presenting needs, therefore it is not necessary to determine the cause of the impairment, and provision should not be withheld due to lack of diagnosis.

The first step to reducing challenging behaviour is to find out what the reasons are. Some common reasons are:

  • Social attention: It may be a good way of getting other people’s attention, even if it is negative, e.g., shouting
  • To get something: A person may learn behaviours that get them things they want, e.g., food, objects etc
  • Escape: It may help to avoid things a person doesn’t like e.g. dentist
  • Sensory: Sometimes people enjoy the feeling that certain behaviours give them, i.e. repetitive rocking, humming, etc.

“Disruptive behaviour can be an indication of unmet needs. Where a school has concerns about a pupil’s behaviour, it should try to identify whether there are any causal factors and intervene early in order to reduce the need for a subsequent exclusion. In this situation, schools should consider whether a multi-agency assessment that goes beyond the pupil’s educational needs is required.

Early intervention to address underlying causes of disruptive behaviour should include an assessment of whether appropriate provision is in place to support any SEN or disability that a pupil may have. Head teachers should also consider the use of a multi-agency assessment for pupils who demonstrate persistent disruptive behaviour.”
Section 2 ‘Key Points’ and Paragraph 18, Exclusions Guidance

“Persistent disruptive or withdrawn behaviours do not necessarily mean that a child or young person has SEN. Where there are concerns, there should be an assessment to determine whether there are any causal factors such as undiagnosed learning difficulties, difficulties with communication or mental health issues. If it is thought housing, family or other domestic circumstances may be contributing to the presenting behaviour a multi-agency approach, supported by the use of approaches such as the Early Help Assessment, may be appropriate. In all cases, early identification and intervention can significantly reduce the use of more costly intervention at a later stage.”
6.21 SEND Code of Practice

There is no quick fix. Having said that, there is a lot that can be done to prevent or reduce challenging behaviour:

  • Work out if the child is in pain or bored
  • Is there a way of teaching your child to show you what they want in another way? Develop their communication skills
  • Keep a record of the behaviour
  • When safe to do so, ignore it and distract them
  • Ask your GP/social worker if your child can get a referral for a ‘‘functional assessment’’ to better understand the reasons behind their behaviour

The four broad areas of need

“These four broad areas give an overview of the range of needs that should be planned for. The purpose of identification is to work out what action the school needs to take, not to fit a pupil into a category. […] A detailed assessment of need should ensure that the full range of an individual’s needs is identified, […] The support provided to an individual should always be based on a full understanding of their particular strengths and needs and seek to address them all using well evidenced interventions targeted at their areas of difficulty and where necessary specialist equipment or software.”
6.27 SEND Code of Practice

The four broad areas are as follows:

  • Communication and Interaction
  • Cognition and Learning
  • Social, Emotional, and Mental Health
  • Sensory and Physical

You can find out more on our SEN Support page

You may have a child who comes home from school feeling distressed and overwhelmed, however school are not seeing the same behaviours and report that your child is doing “fine” and they have no concerns. If this sounds familiar to your situation, your child may be masking their needs in school.

Masking and camouflaging are terms used to describe neurodiverse individuals who seek to hide or minimize their natural personality, anxieties, or autism traits to fit in with the world around them. Children feel safest at home with their parents, so it makes sense that they feel more able to release their anxieties at home. Many parents describe how their child is like a “shaken up coke bottle” when they return home from school.

See our Masking Factsheet for more information on what strategies you and school can try in the first instance.

“Persistent disruptive or withdrawn behaviours do not necessarily mean that a child or young person has SEN. Where there are concerns, there should be an assessment to determine whether there are any causal factors such as undiagnosed learning difficulties, difficulties with communication or mental health issues. If it is thought housing, family or other domestic circumstances may be contributing to the presenting behaviour a multi-agency approach, supported by the use of approaches such as the Early Help Assessment, may be appropriate. In all cases, early identification and intervention can significantly reduce the use of more costly intervention at a later stage.”
6.21 SEND Code of Practice

“Professionals should also be alert to other events that can lead to learning difficulties or wider mental health difficulties, such as bullying or bereavement. Such events will not always lead to children having SEN but it can have an impact on wellbeing and sometimes this can be severe. Schools should ensure they make appropriate provision for a child’s short-term needs in order to prevent problems escalating. Where there are long-lasting difficulties schools should consider whether the child might have SEN. Further guidance on dealing with bullying issues can be found on the GOV.UK website – a link is given in the References section under Chapter 6.”
6.22 SEND Code of Practice

If you find yourself struggling to be heard by school, you could ask for a meeting with the SENCO to discuss what might be behind the behaviours, and to work together on strategies to try moving forward and improving your child’s learning experience.

It might help to write down a list of concerns beforehand, and to bring along a family member or friend to support you. You can also remind the school of their duties (detailed below) and ask them how they think they are meeting this for your child. Try to maintain a positive relationship, including by recognising the things that are being done to help your child.

If the situation still does not improve, you have a right to make complaint to the school using their complaints procedure. You also have the option to apply for EHC needs assessment if the relationship with school has broken down and the situation has become more urgent.

School’s legal duties

Schools should take seriously any concerns raised by a parent. These should be recorded and compared to the setting’s own assessment and information on how the pupil is developing.” 6.45 SEND Code of Practice

“Persistent disruptive or withdrawn behaviours do not necessarily mean that a child or young person has SEN. Where there are concerns, there should be an assessment to determine whether there are any causal factors such as undiagnosed learning difficulties, difficulties with communication or mental health issues. If it is thought housing, family or other domestic circumstances may be contributing to the presenting behaviour a multi-agency approach, supported by the use of approaches such as the Early Help Assessment, may be appropriate. In all cases, early identification and intervention can significantly reduce the use of more costly intervention at a later stage.”
6.21 SEND Code of Practice

Schools have an important role to play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils, by developing approaches tailored to the particular needs of their pupils. All schools are under a statutory duty to promote the welfare of their pupils, which includes: preventing impairment of children’s health or development, and taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.”
1.1 DfE Mental health and Behaviour in schools guidance

It is also worth noting that “it should not be assumed that attainment in line with chronological age means that there is no learning difficulty or disability. Some learning difficulties and disabilities occur across the range of cognitive ability and, left unaddressed may lead to frustration, which may manifest itself as disaffection, emotional or behavioural difficulties.” 6.23 SEND Code of Practice

It is likely that the plan needs to be re-examined. Are the school following the plan to the letter? If so, your child may need extra or different support, and/or a different school. If not, you can raise this with the school and LA that Special Education Provision is not being provided in accordance with the EHCP.

You should consider asking for an early review of the EHC plan or a re-assessment of needs, especially if your child’s mental health needs have arisen relatively recently and are not covered in the plan.

EHCP Applications

Sometimes schools will want to take the time to gather what they consider to be enough evidence to try and make the EHC application a success, however you do not have to wait around for this if you feel it is more urgent. You also do not have to wait to be seen by an Educational Psychologist (EP) – if your application is successful, an EP assessment will form part of the EHC process.

The legal test for granting an EHC assessment is whether the child has/may have SEN and may need special educational provision secured through an EHCP. (Section 36(8) Children and Families Act 2014) This is a really low threshold, so all you need to do in the application is provide evidence that your child might have SEN and might need an EHCP. Any additional requirements or imposing policies are unlawful.

You have the option to continue to work with the school and remain proactive in finding strategies and professionals to support your child and build up a body of evidence for school to apply for an EHCP. If your child is receiving special provision already, school should be reviewing this with you regularly which will give you chance to discuss progression and keep that dialogue open about applying for an EHCP. You could chase them up for this if it is not happening.

Or you can apply for an EHCP yourself at any time to get the assessment process started (the whole process takes 20 weeks). We have plenty of resources that can guide you through this. It would be worth at the very least gathering all the evidence you already have into one place. This should focus on your child’s difficulties in all areas of life (a “holistic” view), what strategies and adjustments have worked/not worked to support them, and what outcomes you want for them.

It is entirely up to you what you would rather do, and what you believe is the best for your child.

Applying to the Local Authority (LA) for an EHC Needs Assessment (EHCNA) is the route to obtaining an EHCP.

There is no legal prescribed format when applying for an EHCNA, although some LAs expect you to fill in their own application form for making a request.

Southampton City Council has an application form which can be found here

Once you have filled in your form, you will need to send it to the LA via email and/or post:

This method will give you better proof of submission. Make sure you get an ‘acknowledgment of receipt’ email from the LA to confirm that it has gone through.

Postal address: SEN Team, 0-25 SEND Service, Ground Floor, North Block, Civic Centre, Southampton, SO14 7LY

We advise you watch our webinar on “What is an EHCP and does my child need one?” to help you better understand things to consider before making an application and the process involved.

  • Information and examples on your child’s difficulties in life and how this affects them
  • Evidence and involvement from professionals
  • Information on your child’s learning – their progress, levels, in relation to age expectations
  • What has already been tried to help your child and whether it was successful
  • What you would like an EHCP to achieve for your child

You can use this Prompt Sheet to bring out the relevant information on to paper. See our EHC Request Parent Guide for further details on how to make an application. Use these resources to fill in the application form and gather evidence – make sure you include examples in your answers and refer to the evidence.


Organise your evidence documents together. We advise making use of our Blank Evidence List to catalogue them in order of date (newest first) to make things easy to find for the decision panel.

Make sure you address this: Why won’t school apply for the EHCP themselves? Do they support this? – It would strengthen your application to have their support, so a written statement from them to say they are in support would be useful evidence.

We suggest combining all the documents into one PDF file to make it easy for the panel. There are free websites/software online that can help you do this easily. For example:

In addition to the advice above, as your child is electively home educated, you will also need to fill out the “Setting” application form. This can be found here

This is intended for schools, so you will need to adapt this to make it relevant for home education. Please find further advice on doing this below:

  • There may be several parts you are unable to complete which is fine, you can just provide your own versions of evidence to complete these sections e.g. examples of completed work at different levels, or any home/informal assessment of cognitive ability.

  • For the section around needs, provision and impact, you can just copy across the needs written on the parent form for convenience.

  • Think about the everyday strategies you put in place to support your child’s needs and not just what the impact of this is, but the impact of not having this in place would be.

  • You could also describe, historically, what was in place when your child attended school and the impact of that.

  • It’s also worth contacting the previous school for data from them around attendance, attainment etc. As this will provide a baseline from which you can measure progress/change since being home educated. Consider a Subject Access Request to ensure you get all the information you need.

  • Supporting evidence is really key with Elective Home Education EHC requests, so make sure you collate evidence of home learning, progress etc.

What you can expect from us

We can support you with a parental EHCP application by giving you the relevant information and advice to empower you to complete this yourself. We cannot write the application for you. We do not know your child and so cannot pass judgement on what would be appropriate for them.

Asking others that know your child

You can ask others already involved to support you with using the information we give you. Do you have support from any other family members, friends, school staff, or professionals (such as a Social Worker, Family Support Worker etc.) that know your child and can assist you with writing the application?

Break it down

You will need to put the work in which isn’t always quick so do take your time with it. There is no expectation to complete and submit an application in one sitting. Breaking it down into smaller chunks and tackling one section at a time can help make it more manageable.

Access to technology

If you have limited access to technology such as a computer, no problem, there are options available that can help. You could ask your local library for computer use and printing/scanning services, there are also a number of Apps that you can download to your phone, for example a photo scanner app.

Further help

If you have had a go at filling in your application and need further advice before submitting it, you are welcome to email us a copy of what you have done so that we can read it and give further guidance.

If you are stuck on any particular parts of your EHCP application, feel free to email us with a clear list of questions and we will be happy to clarify and advise you further.

If you have any additional needs that we should be aware of when supporting you (e.g., dyslexia, low literacy, any illnesses, disabilities etc.), then please let us know what your needs are so that we can tailor our support appropriately.

EHCP Placements

School/College admissions works differently and goes through a different process with EHCPs. It is not necessary to also follow the usual admissions process on top. However, if you have started the regular admissions process, and have had an EHCP agreed during this, not to worry – the EHCP supersedes general admissions.

At Draft EHCP stage
Once you receive the draft EHCP, you will have 15 calendar days to request any changes. The draft EHCP will not name the school so this is the point at which you must provide the name of your particular school/college of preference to the Local Authority. You can also have a back-up choice. The Local Authority will then consult that school/college alongside other potential placements, then make a decision on where to allocate your child. Once any potential EHCP changes are made or comments are resolved, the EHCP and education placement are finalised.

At Phase Transfer stage
This is completed via the statutory Annual Review process of the EHCP. Discussions need to begin early in the autumn term the year before to allow plenty of time for the process to happen and placement to be allocated. The SEN team usually attend the Annual Review meeting. This is a similar process to the draft stage, you will be asked to provide your preferred placement, consultations will happen, and then the LA will finalise in the updated plan.

Deadlines for Annual Review completion for Phase Transfer:

To Secondary or Post-16 = 31st March

All others = 15th February

As we are an impartial service, we cannot recommend particular settings. We can give you the information and tools to help you investigate and decide for yourself.

  1. Choosing a Nursery/School/College Webinar
    Watch this for advice and considerations when choosing a placement for your SEN child including your legal rights

  2. Choosing a School Q&A Sheet
    Use this question sheet to compare potential schools, you can add questions to fit your individual situation and amend for different settings (e.g. nursery or college)

  3. List of education settings 
    This is a list of settings in the local authority area. Each listing has a link to the settings’ “Local Offer” and relevant contact details.

You will be able to determine what setting you think might be appropriate for your child by reading the schools’ Local SEND Offers, browsing their websites and contacting them to ask questions and/or arrange a visit.

The types of school you have a right to request

Set out in Section 38(3) of the Children & Families Act 2014 (CAFA 2014): 

• a maintained school, mainstream or special;
• an Academy (which includes free schools);
• an institution within the further education sector in England (i.e. an FE college)
• a non-maintained special school;
• an independent school as approved under Section 41 CAFA 2014

To find out what type of placement a particular school/institution is, you can simply ask them or search for their details on the GOV website here.

Legal conditions for confirming placement

Section 39 CAFA 2014
The LA must secure your requested school unless they can prove by factual evidence that it is inappropriate: that it is unsuitable for your child, or your child’s attendance would be incompatible with the sufficient education of others, or the efficient use of resources. These are the ONLY conditions. It is based on the individual child and a school being “full” or in another council area are not lawful reasons to refuse a place. Once a particular school is named in the EHCP, they MUST admit your child, even if they object to it (Section 43, CAFA 2014). This means that you can request any school of your choice, unless it is an independent school, then you will need to obtain their permission first. See more details below.

Requesting an independent placement (Section 41 approved)

An independent school as approved under Section 41 CAFA 2014 means it is approved by the Secretary of State and makes themselves voluntarily subject to certain duties in CAFA 2014. This includes being referred to in the LA local offer of SEN support available, and a reciprocal duty to co-operate with the LA on arrangements for children and young people with SEN, and to have regard to the statutory guidance in the SEND Code of Practice.

You can find the Section 41 list of independent schools here

Requesting a wholly independent placement (not Section 41 approved)

Parents can make their wishes known by representations for placement, which the LA must consider (9.84 SEND Code of Practice). The LA have the power to name a non-Section 41 placement if they think it is an appropriate school. 

Under Section 9 of the Education Act 1996, LAs must have regard to the general principle that pupils should be educated in accordance with their parents’ wishes, so far as that is compatible with “the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure”. If the parents’ preference is more expensive, this doesn’t necessarily constitute unreasonable public expenditure, there should be consideration of whether the additional expense is justified by any advantages attending that school would have for the pupil in relation to their individual education, health and social care needs.

If there is a dispute, the parents will need to show that no other school under Section 38(3) CAFA 2014 can meet their child’s needs and the one they chose is the only one. They must also confirm that the preferred school are willing to offer a place, as the legal obligation to admit a child doesn’t apply to them, therefore it can’t be named by the LA or the SEND Tribunal in the EHCP unless there is the school’s consent.

The LA’s choice of placement will be named. If you are not happy with the school that the LA chooses and names in the EHCP, you can appeal this decision. Once a school is named in the EHCP, this opens your right to appeal. Please see our guide on appealing the school named in your EHCP in the first instance. If you have any follow up questions, please feel free to contact us.

You’ll need to consider whether this is a problem with the latest version of the EHCP, or the placement, or both. The idea is that Section B (needs) and Section F (provision) of the EHCP will indicate what type of placement should be named in Section I.

If your child’s latest presenting needs/issues are not currently detailed in their EHCP, this will need to be amended and updated. This can be achieved through a statutory Annual Review of the EHCP. There will need to be evidence that your child’s needs have changed and are no longer accurately described in the EHC plan, or that the provision in the EHC plan is no longer meeting their needs.

If your child’s latest presenting needs/issues are already written in the EHCP, and the placement are unable to meet these needs, then this will back up your argument for considering a change of placement. This can be asked for at EHCP Annual Review as well, where it is advisable to inform the LA and ensure they are invited to the Annual Review meeting, which is particularly important if changes are being requested.

So, either way, a Review may be needed to resolve the issue. Please see advisory actions below:

  1. To check that your child’s EHCP is up-to-date or whether anything needs changing, use our advice page on “Content of an EHCP” as a guide to check against their plan
  2. To ask for changes to the EHCP and/or placement, you can request this at the next Annual Review, or request an Early Review if you feel it is urgent. You can find a template letter for you to use and how to go about this on IPSEA’s page on “Asking for an early review of an EHCP
  3. To find out more about requesting changes and what your rights are, watch our webinar on “Annual Reviews and how you can be involved

    If you have any follow up questions after completing these actions, please feel free to contact us.

Skip to content