Drafting the S139a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA) for 16-25 year olds

All students with a statement of special educational needs (SEN) who are likely to leave school to move on to post-16 education and training are entitled to a Section 139a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA)…

The S139a LDA is a written report of the young person’s educational or training needs and the provision required to meet them… [It] helps the young person, their parents and Children’s Services staff to identify and agree the most suitable post-16 learning provider to ensure that their needs are fully considered when matching a placement to meeting their individual needs.  They can then put into place the support the young person needs to achieve new goals in life.

This is a direct quote from Y-Gen’s website.

The S139a LDA is a very important document, not least because it covers the young person up to the age of 25. It is at least as important, if not more so, than the Statement of SEN. Of course, all of this will change when the EHCP comes into operation and it will take the place of the Statement and the Learning Disability Assessment.

As shown above the role of igen/Y-Gen/Connexions should be to assist the student and parents. In reality many of these services cannot be wholly impartial because they have been taken over by county councils. This is where we parents have to become pro-active (don’t we always?) and get really involved in the formation of this important document.

Taking the Department of Education’s guidance to LAs as a starting point:

Early identification of those requiring a LDA is essential to allow time for the commissioning of any necessary provision and support to take place. If your child has a Statement of SEN it is likely that they will require a LDA. Start checking with your Connexions Adviser/SENCO whether your child will be getting a LDA at least by Year 10.

The LDA report must be specific about the level of need required and the support and learning provision required to meet those needs. If your child currently has 1:1 support, a Teaching Assistant, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, educational aids, etc. it is likely that they will continue to need such aids and support in their continuing education. Make sure that you get regular assessments and check whether targets are being achieved.

The LDA should have a specific focus on the learning programme that is required to enable the young person to progress towards greater independence and where appropriate employment. What sort of educational environment/teaching has worked best for your child? Check out what courses/placements/day services/work opportunities are available. Visit ‘Moving On’ workshops from Year 9-10.

The LDA should take account of the young person’s aspirations and views. Seems obvious, but start talking to your child and exploring the various options with them. Visit colleges and  try to imagine your child in that environment.

The LDA should build on the views, and where appropriate, expertise of other people who have already supported the person being assessed. If it is helpful and will support your case, garner as many reports as possible from, e.g. form teacher/SENCO, educational psychologist, SALT, OT, GP or school doctor, etc. I asked Action for Children to provide a report based on Harry’s attendance at Independent Support Group. Anybody who has had any recent dealings with your child may be able to provide useful information.

Unless the learner/parent/carer has expressly refused permission, the local authority should share the LDA with the college or other education or training provider and do so in sufficient time to ensure provision and support are in place from the outset. The LA must seek your permission before doing this. Make sure that the document you sign refers only to this aspect of sharing, not to signing the LDA itself.

The local authority should ensure that the young person and their parents/carers understand the Learning Difficulty Assessment process and the decisions that are made as part of that process. Find out when the LA panels sit in your area. Check how soon you will be informed of the decision. Be aware of your LA’s appeal process. Some students have missed the first few weeks of their college course because the appeals process was so lengthy.

The LDA should provide robust and impartial information. This is where the supporting reports are vital. They provide impartial, informed, recent, relevant information about your child. You must have copies of all the reports that are submitted to the LA. If you have any queries or there are mistakes in the reports you must get in touch with the writer and ask them to clarify and, if necessary, revise and resubmit their report. Go through each report and pick out the details which will help support your child’s choices, e.g. it was useful for me to be able to identify those professionals who had identified Harry as a socially vulnerable adult.

It is for the local authority to assure themselves that they have made fair and reasonable decisions and have met their responsibilities as set out in legislation. Can the words ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’ be applied to your LDA? If they can then you have done all you can to ensure that your child’s case will receive the best possible hearing.

My Top Tips, in no particular order:

  1. Make sure your child’s Statement of SEN is up-to-date and accurately reflects current diagnoses and levels of support.
  2. Ensure that your advisor (the person compiling the LDA) is educated to at least NVQ Level 4 and has experience of working with learning disabled students.
  3. Keep a ‘Day Book’: dates (and times if necessary) of all correspondence, emails, phone calls regarding the LDA. Mine is in the form of a spreadsheet and dates back over a year including, e.g. dates of visits to ISPs, when agencies began working with Harry, etc.
  4. Get your paperwork in order: most recent statements, annual reviews, reports, assessments, etc. Mine are filed in a large A4 ring binder, tagged so that they are easy to find and refer to.
  5. Which agencies are involved in supporting your child? Don’t let SALT/OT/etc slip. If your child is discharged from a service is it because support is no longer required or is it due to a lack of resources/funding?
  6. Ask to be copied in on all reports written about your child. You should have at least as much, if not more informaton than the LA. Do not be afraid to query what is written and ask for revisions.
  7. If it would help your child’s case to have a Social Services Needs Assessment carried out then ask for one to be done. Reports need to be less than 12 months old to have weight at panel. Harry’s is detailed because we had had a great deal of input. It will be valuable at panel because it accurately reflects Harry’s needs and abilities.
  8. Be as informed as possible about the types of provision available to your child at 16-25: local FE colleges, ISPs, day services, work opportunities, placements, etc. Go to ‘Moving On’ events/workshops. Talk to other parents, professionals, agencies, anyone whose opinion you trust/value.
  9. Compile your own LDA. You are the person best-placed to provide information about your child. Get a copy of the LDA template from your advisor and make a start. Gather information relating to headings like: nature of SEN, background to learning difficulties, current level of educational attainment (draw attention to PIVATS if your child is working below Entry Level 1), post-16 objectives, language and communication skills, attention skills, equipment/aids required, what assessments and by whom (and when – must be within last 12 months). We are on draft 5 of Harry’s LDA which has been going backwards and forwards for 4 months.
  10. I am currently trying to get the following headings into the LDA: personal and social development, personal care and independence, fine motor difficulties. These sections contain factual material which is relevant to the LDA. I have challenged our advisor to put his objections to their inclusion in writing.
  11. Compile your own Learner Needs report and try to get it into the LDA. What is your child aiming for? Phrases like “vocational training” and “the desire to live independently” are what the LAs are looking for. Parents need to get across the future plans and aspirations of their child; their desire to make a valuable contribution to the community and to the economy. My 2 page report has also been rejected by our advisor, despite the Guidance for LA’s stating that “The LDA should have a specific focus on the learning programme that is required to enable the young person to progress towards greater independence and where appropriate employment”.
  12. Compile your own Local Provider Assessment Reports if necessary. Consult Ofsted reports, find out how many students drop out of the course your child is interested in and at what stage, ask what the outcomes are for students on the course, assess how your child will cope with the environment and what support they will need.
  13. If there is any information which has not been included within the LDA which you feel is relevant include this in your Parental Submission which can be listed as one of the reports/assessments.

Remember: there is no requirement for you to sign the LDA if you do not agree entirely with its contents. The only part which needs signing is the agreement to share information for Data Protection purposes.

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14 responses to “Drafting the S139a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA) for 16-25 year olds

  1. Hello!
    I also have a son J who I would like to get into a residential specialist college in September 2013. His Panel meets in early March. I wish I had come across your blog before. The tips look great.
    I wish Harry all the best and I hope he gets his place at Derwen. He is blessed to have such loving and assertive parents. Please let me know how Harry gets on. M

  2. I have just read your blog. Im am trying to get funding for my son to go to Beaumont in September 2013. Yesterday I recieved a phone call asking me to fill in the S139A over the phone because they ( some random woman who had been given my sons case load) where going to panel this week. You can imagine how shocked I was. She had just come back from visiting my son for the first time and was about to fill out the form. So may I please warn parents that this is happening now. Before the phone call I had never heard of a S139A. My son has Downs, Cp, Epilepsy, wheelchair bound and speaks Makaton……she didnt !!!!….. Im sure this report will make laughable reading.
    Good luck to every on out there trying to get their kids into College. If you get the same group dealing with my case you are going to need it!!!!

    • Anna I’m so sorry to hear about your situation. You’re right, all parents need to be aware of the S139a and what it can mean for their child. There are guidelines the council need to follow in order to come up with a fair and reasonable assessment for your son. The link should be on the blog page. You have a right to see all the documentation presented and you have the right to appeal if you disagree with the decision.
      I hope it goes in your favour. Wishing you all the best x

  3. My son is age 17 with a diagnosis of ASD, ADHD + Dyspraxia, receiving DLA because of these, but due to severe problems at several stages of his school career spent quite a few years being home educated, including from Year 8 onwards, therefore (and due to unwillingness/lack of funding as he is High Functioning, so not seen as priority, plus warnings that a Statement might stop us Home Educating) he never received a Statement from any of his schools. He had IEPs etc, but they were not worth the paper they were written on as the schools got his needs wrong & didn’t implement measures anyway. So, in order for him to get funding beyond 19, he needs this S139a (which I’ve only just found out about), but although we have a medical report from Guys with his diagnosis, no Statement. Is he still entitled to an assessment? How do we fight for one? (We are in Wales by the way). Any advice appreciated! Thanks

    • Hi Becky
      I’ve emailed you.
      Just because someone has not had a Statement of SEN or has been home-schooled does not mean that they cannot get a Learning Disability Assessment.
      I strongly recommend you get in touch with your local education authority as soon as possible.
      Best wishes
      Denise

  4. I am in practically the same situation as Becky! The theme of my experience with asking about statementing, ever since my son was in primary, goes ‘Oh… If you’d asked a year ago/six months ago/five minutes ago/whenever it was someone else’s responsibility ago, we absolutely would have supported that. But he doesn’t need it now.’

    Even when my son had been Home Educated for two years and had no educational options without statementing they refused. They said statementing a 14 year old who wasn’t likely to go back into mainstream education wasn’t ‘cost effective’. But he couldn’t go back into education without it! I never got anything in writing, I’m ashamed to say I was very naive and trusted that I was being told the truth each time!

    Now I’ve found a course for him that he really likes but the transport is tricky, taxi provision would be fantastic. He will not speak to people he doesn’t know when I am not there, including bus drivers. So I’m faced with having to accompany him on two buses there and back every weekday, and sit in a library all day until it’s time to collect him, for a year.

    He does has a plan for his future now, he actually wants to study for a degree and it’s a great choice for him, but my heart sinks at how many hurdles are in the way.

    Should I contact the LEA directly or seek advice elsewhere (I can’t access Connexions in Oxfordshire because they only work through schools!), and is there a template letter to follow? I know they tend to take notice when you quote legislation at them! Any advice is very welcome!

  5. Julie sandiforth

    Hi I’m Julie I’m 19 I’m in need of help with learning I have dislexia and learning problems it has problems with maths and English but with my eye sight not being good as I’m visual impaired and having too touch type this can be a problem if help can be then can I have a phone call or email 78993@shipley.ac.uk
    07811915334
    Thanks

    • Hi Julie
      I notice you have an email account at Shipley College. It would be a good idea to speak to Student Services (01274 327281) and the College Additional Learning Support Team (01274 327260) about your learning disabilities and they should be able to help you further.

  6. Hi there, my name is Nadia – new to this website, which I discovered by chance today. Anyway, was interested in reading all the various comments and posts related to a s139 Learning Dificulty assessment, I too have reservations about this entire process. To explain, my son is age 16 (17 in April), he has ASD & ADHD & Conduct Disorder (ASD not diiagnosed until May 2012 – so he has had no help or intervention with this, despite my constant battle with Social Services/LA). Anyway, his compulsory term of education ceased in June 2012, however he made little/no progress academically in all his secondary school years. Attended a string of inappropriate schools, suffered bullying & Social difficulties – all of which caused him to be out of school more often than in. The last 2 years have been extremely stressful and difficult, as he became involved in criminal justice system and it is only due to his obvious, lack of ‘criminal intent/know how’ that he is not serving custodial sentence. He is not receiving any education now, for almost 18months and his last Psychiatric Assessment recommended he attend a 52 week residential/therapeutic ASD School/College, it has taken a year already for Social Services to declare, there are no residential placements open to him. ie: all the places rererred to felt they could not meet my son’s needs. I have been approached for my son to have s139a LD Assessment – whilst I agree in principle – I do not understand how this could be carried out with most appropriate resources, requirements and overall accuracy, in relation to my sons Educational Needs. As mentioned before, the last psychiatric involvement was over 1 year ago now and that was more for diagnosis and therapeutic intervention recommendations, that were never implemented. Who therefore can state what my sons current educational needs are and how best they can be supported?? I fear any assessment of this nature, would fall short of specific complexities in his educational needs, as nobody currently working with him on an educational level/basis. If anybody can throw any light on this situation I would be eternally grateful, its all a bit dull and cloudy from where I am sitting – so please any ‘light’ on the subject would be a god send.
    Thanks and sorry this is so long ……………………….. bye for now. Nadia X

    • Hi Nadia
      I’m not an expert but an Educational Psychologist, amongst others, would probably be involved to assess your son’s needs and identify an appropriate placement. You could ask for reports from any of the services which have worked with your son, if you feel they would be helpful. The more detailed a picture you can build up for the S139a the better.
      Best wishes
      Denise

  7. Hi,
    Looking for some help / advice regards my child. My child is 18 now, did a level 3 Btec in schools 6th Form, now doing a level 2 Btec in different subject at out of area FE College, and wants to progress to the 2 year Btec at level 3 in same subject. However college are saying that he won’t get any funding for a progression course as he has already done a level 3 before.
    He has had a statement throughout school and has a current S139A. He was diagnosed with Autism just after he was 18 years old. I thought people with disabilities could be funded upto 25 if it is in their best interest to progress forward.

    • Hi Kevin
      The big issue is, of course, funding. Very much is dependent on your local authority and the terms of your S139a. Does it mention the college concerned, the course and the requirement that your son ‘progresses’ as far as he is able? Does it state somewhere that your LA will not fund more than one level 3 BTeC course?
      I’m not an expert but could put you in touch with someone who works as a consultant on such issues.
      Best wishes
      Denise

      • Hi Denise,
        Thanks for your reply. I will look out the S139A and read again. We are just in the process of asking for it to be updated as his positive diagnosis of Autism is’nt detailed on the S139A, only that at the time of completing it he was going through the lengthy process of being tested. Connexions did the original report and it appears they will liase with college to ammend. As he has communication issues ( never had any speech therapy or confidence building type of therapy ), we are very much of the opinion that he is not ready for employment, as I understand things the LA are still responsible to facilitate his progression towards his goals upto the age of 25, if that were necessary. I can’t recall seeing any evidence that the LA would only fund 1 level three course, only that, that is the ‘norm’ as a general rule, because education / funding is free upto 19years ( ie. Level 3 ), although I have seen Dept of Ed papers that would suggest the ‘norm’ may not apply to young people with disabilities, due in part to the issues that affect them, and that it may take them longer to get to where they want to be. It’s looking like we may be going into another of those ‘grey areas’.
        Thanks again,

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