DES Circular 2/75 (1975)

This circular provided 'a fresh statement of what is involved in discovering which children require special education'.

The text of DES Circular 2/75 was prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 30 September 2017.

Circular 2/75 (1975)
The discovery of children requiring special education and the assessment of their needs

Department of Education and Science
London: 1975
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

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Circular 2/75
(Department of Education and Science)

Circular No 21/75
(Welsh Office)
17 March 1975

Joint Circular from





1. This Circular seeks to clear up uncertainties and confusion which surround the subject of ascertainment, and to provide a fresh statement of what is involved in discovering which children require special education* and in recommending the form it should take. The circumstances in which formal procedures are appropriate are examined. An improved series of forms also is introduced: replacements of Forms 1-5 HP, and a further form to serve as a summary and action sheet for use during the process of assessment and placement.


2. Special educational treatment is defined in Section 8(2)(c) of the Education Act 1944 as education by special methods appropriate for persons suffering from any disability of mind or body, and it may be provided "either in special schools or otherwise". The different categories of handicapped pupils are defined in the Handicapped Pupils and Special Schools Regulations 1959 made under Section 33 of the Act. Section 34 of the Act lays a duty upon local education authorities "to ascertain what children in their area require special educational treatment". The Section then goes on to lay down procedures for authorities or parents to secure the medical examination of a child, for giving the parents notice of such an examination

*Where the wording of the Education Act 1944 is not being quoted, use will be made of the term 'special education' which is now generally adopted in place of 'special educational treatment'. The treatment element in special education however is particularly relevant in certain parts of this circular and should not be overlooked.

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and an opportunity to be present, for communicating to the parents and the authority the advice given by a medical officer as a result of such an examination and for notifying to the parents any decision that a child needs special education. After such an examination, if the authority consider this necessary to secure the child's attendance at a special school or if the parents request it, the medical officer has to issue "a certificate in the prescribed form" to the authority and the parents, showing whether the child suffers from a disability and, if so, its nature and extent. Such a certificate can be cancelled by the Secretary of State on appeal or by a medical officer of the authority. The full text of Section 34 as amended by the Education Act 1946, is set out in Appendix A.

3. Some uncertainty has arisen about the circumstances in which medical examinations can be conducted without formal procedures and about the status of examinations by an educational psychologist. Moreover the prescribed certificate (Form 1 HP) has gone further than Section 34 required by calling on the medical officer to make what are really educational judgments, for example by certifying the category or categories of handicapped pupils in which in his opinion the child should be placed. These categories are defined in terms of educational needs.

4. In addition to Form 1 HP, there are 4 non-statutory forms in the same series - Form 2 HP ('report on child examined for a disability of mind'), Form 3 HP ('report by head teacher on a backward child'), Form 4 HP ('report on delicate or physically handicapped pupil') and Form 5 HP ('handicapped children of parents serving in the Armed Forces'). Form 2 HP was slightly modified in 1970 to delete references to children considered unsuitable for education at school but all the forms still reflect outdated assumptions. Forms 2, 3 and 4 HP also cover certain handicaps but not others, eg the maladjusted or children with impairment of vision or hearing.


5. There have also been developments in recent years which have materially affected the position. First, the number of cases in which formal procedures have to be employed to secure attendance at a special school has greatly diminished. Secondly, the importance of early discovery of disabilities, the interaction between assessment and special education, and the contribution of parents to their child's development are all being increasingly recognised. Parents more commonly bring any concern about their children to the attention of specialists. They should be involved in all stages of the assessment process, their opinions should be sought and their legal rights explained to them. In these ways, their morale will be raised, and their child should benefit.

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6. Ascertainment, the term used in Section 34(1), is the whole process of determining which children require special education. The first stage is discovery - finding out which children have disabilities which may call for special help. The second stage is diagnosis, which is the determination of the nature and causes of the disabilities. The third stage is assessment, which is the determination of the effect of the disabilities on the child's functioning and consideration of the nature of any special education required. While they are aspects of a single process, it may be helpful to consider discovery, and then diagnosis and assessment, in more detail.


7. Developmental screening of young children from birth until the age of 5 is now being practised in many areas. Its more extensive use and its introduction into medical examinations of school entrants could prove of the greatest value in alerting teachers to children who may experience particular difficulties in learning, provided that effective communication exists between the school doctor and the teacher.

8. All teachers of young children need to be able, as a result of training and experience, to detect as well as help children who show deviations from the wide range of normality; and there should be a clearly recognised channel for head teachers to refer such children without delay for investigation. Teachers need to be on the alert not merely in a child's early school years but throughout his school career to see whether he requires special help. They should always be able to turn for advice to an educational psychologist and a school doctor who work together and know their schools.

9. Special problems arise where children have a first language other than English, particularly in Wales where whole populations in some areas and substantial minorities in others have Welsh as their first language. There are also many parts of the country where immigrant children will be found in varying numbers. Problems can also occur with immigrant children who speak English in a dialect that is far removed from the standard form*. Special arrangements need to be made to bring in somebody with knowledge of the language and cultural background of the children concerned.

*See paragraph 6 of the memorandum attached to a circular letter to Chief Education Officers dated 1 November 1973 under the heading 'Educational arrangements for immigrant children who may need special education'.

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10. A decision on the nature of the special education a child requires will normally be sound only if it is based on a full diagnosis of his disabilities and an assessment of his skills and development. In what appear to be straightforward cases, teachers may help particular children by making minor adjustments to the educational regime of their schools. Where however full-scale investigation of a child's difficulties is called for, the first steps should always be to obtain a report from a teacher who knows him well, describing the child's progress and behaviour in school and indicating the problems as the teacher sees them, and to consult the parents. In addition, the health visitor and the general practitioner can often provide valuable information about the child and his circumstances. The next essential steps are to obtain the opinion of a school doctor and an educational psychologist, since both may have a contribution to make to diagnosis and to assessment. (More is said in paragraphs 11, 12 and 13 about the roles of the doctor and the psychologist). For some children investigation by other medical specialists, therapists or specialist teachers will be necessary; for others where home circumstances are thought to be exercising an adverse influence on development, there will be need to bring in a social worker.

11. If a child has been under constant medical surveillance, re-examination by the doctor may not be necessary. Where however a fresh medical examination is called for, it is preferable that it should precede the psychological investigation because it is important that the psychologist should be informed of the nature and extent of any medical disorder that may influence the child's response to his investigation. This principle should not preclude an educational psychologist from seeing a child at the direct request of a school or the parents.

12. A growing number of multi-disciplinary comprehensive assessment* centres are being established in district general hospitals. Whilst at present they mainly see children under the age of 5 and commonly those with severe disabilities, some older ones are also being referred to them. It is desirable that school doctors should be involved in the assessment of children at these centres. Since all assessment has an educational component, the centre staff should recognise that educational psychologists and a child's teachers have an essential contribution to make.

*Guidance on these matters has been given to area health authorities in paragraphs 24-27 and 37 of DHSS circular HRC(74)5, which was issued to LEAs with DES circular 1/74.

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13. Apart from assessment at these centres in hospitals, there is an increasing awareness of the value of assessing children, particularly young children with multiple disabilities, over a period in an educational setting. This provides a valuable background against which the psychologist and the doctor can observe children's responses to different learning situations. In addition to intelligence testing where appropriate (which should normally be carried out by the psychologist), learning programmes can be devised with the teachers concerned which may lead to a modified assessment of the child's needs for special education. Assessment, in short, is inextricably interrelated with treatment and with education and is a continuing process.

14. For some children special education may consist of long-term specialised education or short-term remedial provision in their own primary or secondary school. For others, special education in a special school, unit or class may be required. Though some children will prove to need to stay in a special school for the whole of their school life, no placement should initially be assumed to be final .. Special schools should be regarded as providing a highly specialised form of education designed to enable a handicapped child, whenever possible, to return to an ordinary school if this is considered beneficial.

15. For this reason, the progress of handicapped children, wherever they are placed, should be the subject of regular and systematic review. This should take place annually, and need not involve formal procedures which might unsettle the child and his parents and disrupt the work of the school. Teachers and other professional staff in close and regular contact with the children should be encouraged to bring forward for reconsideration any child in a special school who is thought to have progressed sufficiently for him to transfer to an ordinary school, or any handicapped child in an ordinary school who is believed to require to attend a special school. If investigation confirms this view, parents can be consulted and the transfer made at a suitable time without formality. To be effective, whatever arrangements for review are made will need to be clearly understood by those involved and carried out systematically.

16. At least two years before a handicapped child is due to leave either an ordinary or a special school - and possibly even earlier for those in boarding schools - teachers concerned with older pupils should begin working closely with careers advisory officers as well as with medical and psychological services, to determine the nature of the further education, vocational training and employment which will suit the individual. In particular, young people about to enter employment will require careful medical review, often in consultation with doctors in the employment medical advisory service.*

*Careers education for special school pupils is discussed more fully on pp37- 47 of Education Survey 18 - 'Careers education in secondary schools', published in 1973.

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17. Since Form 1 HP has required (as was pointed out in paragraph 3) the medical officer signing it to state the category of handicapped pupil within which in his opinion the child falls, it has been customary for the local education authority to turn to the school doctor for advice whether or not a child needed "special educational treatment". This course was encouraged by the old wording of Form 2 HP ('report on child examined for a disability of mind') when it was a statutory form: the school doctor was required to advise the authority whether or not the child was educationally sub-normal or unsuitable for education in school. Although this form is no longer statutory, it is quite common for authorities to continue to require its completion by the school doctor before providing special education in a special school for an educationally sub-normal pupil. Yet the recommendation whether a child needs special education, and if so where it can best be provided, is primarily an educational matter rather than a medical one. It is therefore more appropriate that an experienced educational psychologist or adviser in special education should, after seeing the child, after considering the -evidence and after consultation with medical or other professional staff concerned, assume responsibility for conveying to the authority a recommendation about the nature of the special education required and where it should be provided.

18. At the same time, satisfactory placement and arrangements for securing different forms of treatment depend, as in assessment, on continuing close collaboration between educational psychologists and medical officers, involving other staff such as therapists and social workers as required. In all cases, the general practitioner should be notified of decisions regarding special education.


19. Parents normally recognise the need for special education for their child, provided they are involved in discussions from an early stage. In such circumstances the formal procedures laid down by Section 34 are not necessary. These were designed for situations where parents either objected or might be expected to object to their child attending a special school; but these procedures have been adopted in some areas even where there was no reason to believe that parents would object to such a placement. Parents should be brought into consultation even before - and certainly not later than - the time when initial medical and psychological investigations take place; these can be arranged quite informally without reference to the legal basis for the medical examination. Parents should also be encouraged to visit the special school, unit or class suggested for their child. In these ways any questions or problems which they have can be brought into the open and dealt with.

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20. Only if parents seem likely to object to their child attending a special school should the authority arrange a formal medical examination, giving the parents notice of the time and place under Section 34(3). Although not required by the Education Acts, it is desirable that the parents should similarly be given an opportunity to attend an examination by an educational psychologist.

21. Occasionally, parents who have initially seemed prepared for their ch ild to attend a special school change their minds after an informal examination has taken place. If the authority then decide to enforce attendance at a special school against the parents' wishes, a second and formal medical examination will be necessary. This however occurs now so infrequently that the occasional inconvenience of repeating the examination is far outweighed by the advantage of proceeding informally from the start as the norm.


22. If one of the regular reassessments of the needs of children in special schools indicates that a child could now manage satisfactorily in an ordinary school, with or without some form of special education there, a transfer can be arranged without formality after discussion with the parents.

23. Section 38(2) and (3) of the Education Act 1944 make provision for appeals to the Secretary of State if parents are aggrieved by a refusal of the authority to allow their ch ild to be withdrawn from a special school. A formal medical examination and the issue of a certificate in the prescribed form are then required unless these procedures have been carried out previously. The number of such appeals under Section 38 has declined greatly.


24. A description of the six new forms and suggestions about the use of some of them are given in Appendix B. Copies of the forms are enclosed.

WD Pile

Leslie Jones

To Local Education Authority
and Governing Bodies of non-
maintained special schools

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(1) It shall be the duty of every local education authority to ascertain what children in their area require special educational treatment; and for the purpose of fulfilling that duty any officer of a local education authority authorised in that behalf by the authority may by notice in writing served upon the parent of any child who has attained the age of two years require him to submit the child for examination by a medical officer of the authority for advice as to whether the child is suffering from any disability of mind or body and as to the nature and extent of any such disability; and if a parent upon whom such a notice is served fails without reasonable excuse to comply with the requirements thereof, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five pounds.

(2) If the parent of any ch ild who has attained the age of two years requests the local education authority for the area to cause the child to be medically examined as aforesaid, the authority shall comply with the request unless in their opinion the request is unreasonable.

(3) Before any child is so medically examined as aforesaid, the authority shall cause notice to be given to the parent of the time and place at which the examination will be held, and the parent shall be entitled to be present at the examination if he so desires.

(4) If, after considering the advice given with respect to any child by a medical officer in consequence of any such medical examination as aforesaid and any reports or information which the local education authority are able to obtain from teachers or other persons with respect to the ability and aptitude of the child, the authority decide that the child requires special educational treatment, they shall give to the parent notice of their decision and shall provide such treatment for the child, unless the parent makes suitable arrangements for the provision of such treatment for the child otherwise than by the authority.

(5) The advice given with respect to any child by a medical officer in consequence of any such medical examination as aforesaid shall be communicated to the parent of the child and to the local education authority; and the medical officer by whom the examination was made shall, if required by the parent or by the authority so to do, issue to the authority and to the parent a certificate in the prescribed form showing whether the child is suffering from any such disability as aforesaid and, if so, the nature and

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extent thereof:

Provided that a local education authority shall not require the issue of such a certificate in respect of any child unless the certificate is, in their opinion, necessary for the purpose of securing the attendance of the child at a special school in accordance with the provision of this Act relating to compulsory attendance at primary and secondary schools.
(6) Any certificate issued under the last foregoing subsection may be cancelled by the Secretary of State or by a medical officer of the local education authority; and upon the cancellation of such a certificate the local education authority if they are providing special educational treatment for the child with respect to whom the certificate was issued shall cease to provide such treatment for the child and shall notify the parent accordingly.

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1. Copies of 6 new forms are attached as follows:

Form SE1, for completion by the child's teacher(s)
Form SE2, for completion by a school doctor
Form SE3, for completion by an educational psychologist
Form SE4, a summary and action sheet describing the needs of a child requiring special education
Form SE5, containing the essential elements of Form 1 HP
Form SE6, an up-to-date version of Form 5 HP.
2. FORMS SE1-3 take the place of Forms 2-4 HP. Standard forms are still desirable in the interests of handicapped children moving from one area to another and, above all, to ensure that the insights of doctor, educational psychologist and teachers are made fully available when the needs of a handicapped child for special education are being considered. The three forms record the educational, medical and psychological data and recommendations that an authority requires before deciding about any child's needs for special education which may entail placing him in a special school, unit or class, or arranging for help from outside his present school (eg from a peripatetic teacher of the deaf).

3. The teachers who will be responsible for teaching a handicapped child, whether he remains in his ordinary school or is transferred to a special school, have often in the past not been given sufficient help in working out appropriate educational measures. Forms SE1-3 are intended to be passed to these teachers and are designed to give them information that will be helpful and constructive. Where the head teacher considers that he needs more information about a particular child than appears on the forms, he should obtain this through his school's professional advisers.

4. The normal order in which the 3 forms should be filled up is: SE1, SE2, SE3. The child's head teacher first raises the question of his possible need for special help. For the reason given in paragraph 11 of the circular, the medical examination normally then precedes the psychological investigation. The school doctor and the educational psychologist should each have with

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them when they carry out their examination the previously completed form (SE1) or forms (SE1 and SE2).

5. Form SE4 is completely new. As explained in Report on Education No 77 - "Special Education: A Fresh Look", the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Handicapped Children* had been inclined to favour the abolition of statutory categories of handicap, but before a firm conclusion was reached asked the Department in 1972 to see whether a few local education authorities would be willing to conduct an experiment. The idea was to introduce for a trial period, alongside the statutory categories, a descriptive list based on educational needs rather than diagnostic labels. It was hoped that this list would make it easier to find educational provision to match the needs of individual children. Form SE4 is the descriptive list, revised in the light of the successful experiment which took place in five areas in 1972-73.

6. There are several stages at which it may be helpful to complete, or to have available, a summary of a child's needs such as the form provides. Examples are: when a conference is held to discuss a complex case, attended by the professional advisers who have examined the child; when a recommendation has been made about the special education required by a child and the authority's office staff are considering a suitable placement; and when a periodic review is held of a child's case. It should be possible to derive all the information on Form SE4 from Forms SE1-3, though some interpretation may be necessary. It seems appropriate that the form should be completed and signed by an experienced educational psychologist or adviser in special education, preferably the same person who will convey, or who has conveyed, to the authority a recommendation about the nature of the special education required and where it should be provided (see paragraph 17 of the circular).

7. It will be helpful to draw on authorities' experience with the form when the Committee of Enquiry into Special Education seeks to reach conclusions about the statutory categories and, if they are to be abolished, about the descriptive system required in their place.

*This committee has since been suspended for the duration of the Enquiry into Special Education under Mrs Mary Warnock.

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8. Form SE5 no longer calls on the school medical officer to certify the category or categories of handicapped pupils in which in his opinion a child falls; paragraph 3 of the circular mentions the misleading impression of the role of the school medical officer which has been given by Form 1 HP. The necessary amendment to the Handicapped Pupils (Certificate) Regulations 1961* has been made by amending regulations which have been laid before Parliament and will come into operation on 5 April 1975†. A medical examination to determine the nature and extent of a disability remains essential - as part of the pattern of investigation described in paragraph 10 - in deciding whether special education is required and, if so, the form that it should take. When however an opportunity for amending legislation occurs, the statutory provisions for the issue of a certificate in a prescribed form to the authority and the parent when either require it will be reviewed.

9. Form SE6 replaces Form 5 HP, which was introduced in 1960 to ensure that the educational needs of children whose parents were serving in the Armed Forces were not overlooked when the family was posted overseas. The Ministry of Defence considers that a form of this kind is still most useful; and the opportunity has merely been taken to remove reference to the possibility of children being found unsuitable for education at school and their care becoming the concern of health authorities.

10. Supplies of the new forms will be available in time for them to be taken into use by 7 April 1975. From that date no more copies of the old forms will be distributed by the Department. Applications for the new forms should be made to:

English authorities

Publications Despatch Centre
Government Buildings
Honeypot Lane
Welsh authorities
Welsh Education Office
31 Cathedral Road
Cardiff CF 1 9UJ
*S.1. 1961 No. 476
†S.1. 1975 No. 328