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What are Special Educational Needs (SEN)?

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Section 20 of the Children and Families Act 2014 defines a child as having Special Educational Needs (SEN) if he or she... 

''(has)... a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for them.'' 

Or ''Their special educational needs may require extra or different provision in relation to thinking and understanding, as a result of physical or sensory difficulties, emotional or behavioural difficulties, difficulties with speech and language or how they relate to and behave with other people. Disabled children and young people may require extra or different provision, for example, if they are less mobile than their peers and require additional or extra provision so they can access the same learning opportunities.''

Special educational needs can have a strong impact on a child's ability to learn. It can also affect their behaviour as well as their ability to socialise. A lot of children find themselves struggling to make friends which can be a huge worry and concern to parents especially when their child doesn't get invited on playdates and spends the majority of their time in their own company at home. It can be extremely hard for the parents not to wonder why. 

For children with dyslexia, reading and writing can become draining. Those children who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) on the other hand may well be overactive, lack self-control, talk too much and not pay attention to what others around them are saying. Most cases of ADHD are noticed and diagnosed when a child starts school although some children may not fully diagnosed until they reach the age of 12 years. 


What constitutes a special educational need? 

To name a few SEN's: Dyslexia, dyscalculia, autism, dyspraxia, mood disorder, Asperger Syndrome and auditory processing difficulties. As you can see, the range is wide and varied. 

Does my child have SEN? 

If your child is pre-school age and you are concerned they have a SEN, there is no need to wait for their next routine health check. Make an appointment and speak to your GP or key worker if they attend pre-school. If your child is already attending school or nursery, have a talk with their teacher and ask to speak to the school's Special Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO), who will organise extra help for children with SEN. 

 A statement of special educational needs

If things begin to deteriorate, and it's considered that your child's needs are still not being fully met, then the LEA will perform assessments. They may even decide to record the information they have in a 'statement of special educational needs'. This statement (which is a legal document) will document the needs of your child and the special help they should receive. Any school will be legally bound to honour it. In truth, such statements are rare, and there are many gradual steps to take before things reach that stage. The vast majority children have their needs met long before a statement is written.

Schooling and children with SEN

Children who have been assessed as having special educational needs can have their needs met in either a mainstream school (sometimes with the support of a teaching assistant or SEN teaching assistant who will be there to support teachers help children with learning, behavioural or physical difficulties) or a 'special' school (one which specialises in helping children with moderate to severe special needs).

The vast majority of children with SEN are catered for quite efficiently within mainstream schools, without the need for much LEA input. If you're a parent of a child in this category, you'll be familiar with half-termly meetings to review progress, and of Individual Education Plans (IEPS) which set goals and put plans into place to meet that child's needs.

The Children and Families Act 2014 places a general duty on local authorities to identify children and young people with disabilities and SEN in their areas. It also requires local authorities to undertake a multi-professional, formal education, health and care assessment of a child or young person in its area if they believe that the child or young person has special educational needs that are such that the local authority will probably need to arrange provision over and above what is normally available in a mainstream school or college and, if necessary, set this out in an EHC plan, which is a legal document that describes a young person's special educational, health and social care needs.

Parents and teachers, you can download a free copy of 'A Guide to the SEND Code of Practice' by Douglas Silas by following this link.

The good news is that figures for SEN have been decreasing steadily since 2010 with 2015 seeing the biggest decrease of 2.5% when compared with 2014.

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