Help with education after a brain injury

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An acquired brain injury (ABI) is an injury caused to the brain after birth. It can be caused by a fall, a road traffic accident, stroke or a tumour or meningitis. The initial focus after all brain injuries is medical help. Once this has stabilised, for children and young adults (CYP), the family will make plans for the CYP to return to school. Sometimes to the same school with, perhaps, additional support but sometimes, if the effects are more severe, a new school will be sought.

How a brain injury can affect education

The physical effects of a brain injury can often be clear to see and are sometimes, therefore, more straightforward to provide support for. But the cognitive effects may not be as clear and may be difficult to describe or identify. A brain injury can affect all of the following:

  • Memory – short term and working  memory so a child cannot remember a set of instructions or multiplication tables
  • Aphasia (language loss) – receptive and/or expressive language difficulties. Specific problems with reading, writing or spelling may also occur
  • Visual-perceptual skills – making sense of visual information. This impacts many areas of development and function including fine and gross motor skills, self-care skills etc.
  • Reduced concentration – difficulty multi-tasking
  • Reduced ability to process information
  • Reduced motivation to start tasks or stay on track
  • Impaired reasoning skills – difficulty following a discussion or to follow rules
  • Reduced empathy – affecting socialisation and confidence
  • Reduced executive functioning – affecting planning, problem solving, reasoning, decision-making and self-monitoring. For example they may lose their train of thought and go off at a tangent or be very rigid in their thinking.

Hidden disabilities can be difficult for others to understand and the CYP could be mistakenly labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘attention-seeking’ and parents could be thought of as over-protective. Therefore, care needs to be taken when planning a return to school.

Planning a return to school after an ABI

Communication and planning is key. All mainstream schools will have a Special Educational Needs and Disability Coordinator (SENDCo) with who you can discuss your child’s brain injury and how it may affect their learning. The aim is to get them involved early on and share relevant medical reports with them.  This should be done even where the symptoms do not appear significant as sometimes the effects of the injury become more apparent later and it will be important for the school to be prepared for this. The SENDCo may need to take a lead in training/arranging training for school staff and your CYP’s peer group and in the purchase of specialist equipment. Any planned return to school should be carried out with parents’ (and the CYP’s) full involvement.

If it is likely that your CYP’s difficulties are going to be significant when they return to school, then parents or the SENDCo should consider requesting an Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment. This should, ideally, be started before the CYP returns to school so that support is in place from the beginning.

Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment

This is a 20 week process that involves the CYP’s home Local Authority (LA) collating expert evidence and considering whether they need to carry out a more detailed assessment to fully understand the CYP’s learning difficulties and additional support that they will need for their education. If a full assessment is agreed, the LA will collate evidence from:

  • Parents
  • The school
  • Educational Psychologist
  • Therapists (Speech and Language, Occupational, Physiotherapists)
  • Teacher of the visually and/or hearing impaired, if appropriate
  • Medical professionals (parents should share relevant reports and details of key medical professionals so they can be contacted)
  • Social care
  • Other professionals who may be involved

The LA should also seek the CYP’s views.

If the LA decides that the CYP will require support above that which a mainstream school should be able to provide from its own resources, then it should issue an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). This is a legally binding document that enshrines the CYP’s right to receive educational support that is set out in the Plan. This is an important consideration for parents in today’s environment of LA cuts to budgets.

The type of support that can be agreed is: full time 1:1 support; input from a speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, input from a teacher of the hearing impaired, time-out room etc. The LA is required to apply legal tests when considering whether or not to conduct an EHC needs assessment, issue a Plan and when agreeing the level of support in the Plan.

Sometimes, after discussions with the school, parents may feel that the ‘old’ school will no longer be able to meet their CYP’s needs and a new school will be sought. This may be a smaller school or special school. If a suitable local school maintained by the LA (or neighbouring LA) cannot be found, then parents may seek a place in an independent or non-maintained (charity status) school. Legal tests apply, but generally, if the LA’s preferred school can be shown not to be able to meet the CYP’s needs, then the parent’s preferred school will be named.  The LA has a duty to fully fund educational support set out in the EHCP and this includes the payment of school fees if an independent or non-maintained school is named in the Plan.

If parents disagree with the level of support set out in the EHCP or the school that is named, then they can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. Read here for more information.

To talk to one of our specialist team about your child's special educational needs contact us by email at

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