Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Special educational Needs (SEN)

Children and young people with SEN all have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children and young people of the same age. These children and young people may need extra or different help from that given to others. If your child’s first language is not English, does that mean they have a learning difficulty? The law says that children and young people do not have learning difficulties just because their first language is not English, although, of course, some of these children and young people may have learning difficulties as well. Many children and young people will have SEN of some kind at some time during their education. Early years providers (for example, nurseries or childminders), mainstream schools, colleges and other organisations can help most children and young people succeed with some changes to their practice or additional support. But some children and young people will need extra help for some or all of their time in education and training. Children and young people with SEN may need extra help because of a range of needs.

The SEND Code of Practice sets out four areas of SEN:

  • Communicating and interacting – for example, where children and young people have speech, language and communication difficulties which make it difficult for them to make sense of language or to understand how to communicate effectively and appropriately with others
  • Cognition and learning – for example, where children and young people learn at a slower pace than others their age, have difficulty in understanding parts of the curriculum, have difficulties with organisation and memory skills, or have a specific difficulty affecting one particular part of their learning performance such as in literacy or numeracy
  • Social, emotional and mental health difficulties – for example, where children and young people have difficulty in managing their relationships with other people, are withdrawn, or if they behave in ways that may hinder their and other children’s learning, or that have an impact on their health and wellbeing
  • Sensory and/or physical needs – for example, children and young people with visual and/or hearing impairments, or a physical need that means they must have additional ongoing support and equipment

Some children and young people may have SEN that covers more than one of these areas.


Many children and young people who have SEN may also have a disability. A disability is described in law (the Equality Act 2010) as ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term (a year or more) and substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.’ This includes, for example, sensory impairments such as those that affect sight and hearing, and long-term health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy. The Equality Act requires that early years providers, schools, colleges, other educational settings and local authorities:

  • must not directly or indirectly discriminate against, harass or victimise disabled children and young people
  • must make reasonable adjustments, including the provision of auxiliary aid services (for example, tactile signage or induction loops), so that disabled children and young people are not disadvantaged compared with other children and young people. This duty is what is known as ‘anticipatory’ – people also need to think in advance about what disabled children and young people might need

Where to go for help if you think your child has a special educational need or a disability

Children and young people with SEN or disabilities will usually be able to get help from their early education setting, school, or college, sometimes with the help of outside specialists. This is often where SEN are first identified. If they do identify that your child has SEN, your school or other setting must contact you (or, if your son or daughter is over 16, they might contact them directly) and should discuss with you what support to offer your child. The setting must tell you if they are making special educational provision for your child. If you think your child has SEN, you should talk to your child’s early education setting, school, college or other provider. They will discuss any concerns you have, tell you what they think and explain to you what will happen next. There are other sources of information, advice and support you can access such as:

  • your local authority’s Information, advice and support service
  • your doctor, or other local child health services
  • charities and other organisations that offer information, advice and support. You should be able to find information about these from your local authority’s Local Offer.


Any support your child gets from their school or other setting should meet their needs. If your child has SEN, they will be able to access help – called SEN support – from their early years settings, such as nurseries or childminders, schools  and further education institutions such as colleges and 16-19 academies. SEN support replaces school action/school action plus (in schools) and early years action/early years action plus (in early years settings). Children and young people with more complex needs might instead need an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. EHC plans replace statements of SEN and Learning Disability Assessments (LDAs). SEN support is part of what is known as the ‘graduated approach’ and in general should work as follows. (This approach varies in how it works depending on the age of your child – for example, it may work differently in a nursery than it will in a school.) You may be contacted – for example in schools, this will be by your child’s teacher or SENCO – if your early years setting, school or college think your child needs SEN support. Or you can approach your child’s school or other setting if you think your child might have SEN. You will be involved and your views will be needed throughout the process, and you will be kept up to date with the progress made. Young people aged 16 to 25 will be fully involved in designing their own SEN support and provision.

©Open Government Licence v2 Special educational needs and disability: A guide for parents and carers

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