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Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)

Some children or young people may need more help to learn and develop than other children their age if they have a learning difficulty and/or a disability. This is classed as having Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). They can affect their:

  • Behaviour or ability to socialise, meaning they may struggle to make friends.
  • Reading and writing, for example, because of dyslexia.
  • Ability to understand certain things and concepts.
  • Concentration levels can be affected, such as ADHD.
  • Physical ability.

The SEND Code of Practice 2014 and the Children and Families Act 2014 gives guidance to health and social care, education and local authorities to make sure that children and young people with additional needs receive appropriate SEND Education.

SEND Education

Young people, with or without a learning disability, must now be in education or training until at least the age of 16. Every child deserves a quality education and every child should have the appropriate support to achieve one. If you have a child with SEND this is no less true.

The SEND system applies to all children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities aged 0-25, as long as they are in education or training.

The support received by a child or young person with a learning disability will vary significantly depending on their needs. It may involve a range of professionals across the education, health and social care systems.

Find information about your child's rights, the different provisions available and how to achieve the education your child deserves below.

Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO)

A SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) is a teacher who coordinates the provision and support for children with special educational needs or disabilities in schools. Many are also class teachers, and fulfil their SENCO duties on a part-time basis.

If your child has a special educational need, the school’s SENCO is likely to play a big part in his day-to-day life and learning. Some of what they would be involved in includes:

  • Assessing your child within the school environment.
  • Referring your child to a professional.
  • Arranging specific SEN support in school.
  • Liaising and advising other teachers with regards to how best to meet your child's educational needs.
  • Supporting with the EHCP process.
  • Coordinating meetings between involved professionals.
  • Sourcing and organises resources for supporting your child.
  • Reviewing your child's SMART targets for their SEN plan or EHCP.
  • Advocating on behalf of your child.

Education, Health and Care Plan

An Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) is a legal document which details a child or young person’s special educational needs. This includes the support they need and the outcomes they would like to achieve. If you are just getting started with EHCP's, you may like to check out our crash course in what they are and what they should do.

As a parent or carer, you want to make sure your child's EHCP covers everything they need.

EHCP's need to be specific – this is especially true with Section F, Education support. Any support in Section F (education support) of an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) must be so specific and clear. This is so that there is no room for doubt as to what has been decided.

You can read advice on this topic from SEN legal expert, Laxmi Patel in our Ask Our Experts feature The importance of specific information in EHCPs and why vague terms are not good enough.

Things to consider when deciding on a school

When you’re deciding whether a particular school is right for your child, it’s worth considering:

  • Whether the school has experience of children with similar needs.
  • How you as a parent, the SENCO, teaching and support staff will communicate about your child.
  • How your child will be supported in class.
  • To what extent you’ll be involved in their learning and development.
  • Talking to parents of children with SEND who already attend the school.

SEND Education in Primary School

Most children with special educational needs go to mainstream school and your child will get SEN support there. Children with special education needs (SEN) who either do not have or have not yet received an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) should have provision made for them in school through ‘SEN Support'.

SEN Support is based on a cycle of ASSESS, PLAN, DO, REVIEW. This ensures a good understanding of the child's needs and necessary support. As a result, each child's SEN Support will likely differ according to their individual needs.

This could be supporting pupils with dyslexia, speech and language needs, visual impairments, autism and learning difficulties.

Special educational needs support for children under five includes:

  • Written progress check when a child is two years old.
  • Health visitors carrying out a health check when your child is two or three years old.
  • A written assessment in the summer term of a child’s first year of primary school.
  • Making reasonable adjustments for disabled children, like providing aids and supportive equipment.

SEND Education in Secondary school

If your child has an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) you can name which school that you would like them to go to, and the school have a duty to offer them a place. If no EHCP is in place, you’ll need to apply through the usual route.

Most schools will also be happy to arrange a meeting with the SENCO before you apply for a place, so you can discuss your child’s needs and how the school would meet them.

To help your child settle into secondary school, the school should make sure they are proactive in planning for their admission, rather than waiting to see what their needs are after they start. They should:

  • Consider how they can make school accessible to your child, this could include timetabling classes on the ground floor if they have mobility problems.
  • Ensure they are aware of your child’s needs by reading their EHCP or SEN statement, alongside any materials supplied by you, their current school, or other professionals involved in their care.
  • Meet with you and your child to discuss how best to meet their educational needs.
  • Prepare all of the staff who will be involved with your child, so they better understand the child's needs and can make them feel included.
  • Observe your child on induction days to see how they're coping with their new environment and the school's teaching practices.

Other ways for secondary schools to help your child could include extra induction days or informal visits for children with SEND, allowing them to become more familiar with their new school.

Special Schools

Most children with SEND are educated in mainstream schools, but depending on the severity of your child’s needs, you may want to consider a special school.

Deciding on whether to apply for a special school place depends on a number of factors. This Includes your child’s social and educational needs; their age and stage of education; the schools that are available; distance and transport arrangements and so on.

Some of the benefits of sending your child to a special school are:

  • Smaller class sizes and a higher staff to pupil ratio.
  • Experienced and specialist teachers, able to tailor work to your child’s needs.
  • Opportunities for your child to mix with other children with similar needs
  • Facilities and resources designed to support your child’s SEN or disability.
  • More effective communication between staff and parents.

Although there may also be disadvantages, such as:

  • A more limited curriculum, and fewer opportunities to gain recognised qualifications like GCSEs.
  • Distance from home, which may require private transport.
  • Fewer opportunities to socialise more widely with pupils of the same age and with different abilities.

You can find Special Schools in your area by browsing the education section of our Directory.

Regardless of the type of school, by law, they have to have a special educational needs policy. These must be available for parents to look at. These policies, which apply to academies and free schools, as well as maintained schools, set out the school’s approach to SEND. Reading them through is a good place to start when you’re choosing a school.

School transport

If a young person cannot walk to school because of their SEND or mobility issues, they may be entitled to free transport.

Access to free school transport can be somewhat of a postcode lottery so the best way to find out about it is by finding out if your local council can help.

Reasonable adjustments

Schools are obliged by law to make reasonable adjustments for disabled children. These can include:

  • Physical changes to the inside or outside of the school, including ramps.
  • Changes in the assessment of learners.
  • Providing extra support and aids. This could include one-to-one support, assistive technology such as Ipad or lunchtime aids.

What to do if my child isn't getting the right support?

What can I do if the SEN Support is not provided?

With the school being responsible for SEN Support, your first step should be to discuss this with them. You may want to contact the class teacher or the SENCO first, and if you don't receive a satisfactory response, you could consider making a complaint to the school. The school will have a complaints policy, which sets out the process you will need to follow.

What can I do if the school’s plan does not include the support my child needs, or if my child is not making progress under SEN Support?

You could raise your concerns with the school as set out above. If this doesn't achieve a result, it's unlikely you would be able to take legal action against the school in relation to the SEN Support. The only exception would be if the school is discriminating against your child. In this case, you should seek legal advice.

Consider carefully whether your child’s special educational needs are best met under SEN Support, or if an EHCP would be more appropriate. An ECHP is a higher level of support than SEN Support for children with special educational needs, and not all children are entitled to one.

College and Higher education

Universities and colleges are increasingly aware of the needs of students with disabilities and learning difficulties. As a result, they now have to make reasonable adjustments for them. Colleges can also offer a wide range of vocational courses leading to work.

Colleges and Universities should have a disability advisor or learning support coordinator on staff that will help your child get the most out of their time in higher education.

Some of the support available through colleges and universities can include:

  • Providing tailored course materials in accessible formats.
  • Encouraging flexible teaching methods.
  • Support during exams.
  • Additional time to complete courses.
  • Support with studying.
  • Specially adapted accommodation for students with disabilities.
  • On-site professional care staff.
  • Volunteers who may provide support.

Remember that there may be additional financial help for disabled students, including Disabled Students’ Allowances.

Home education

Parents can choose to educate their child at home, either full-time or part-time. This can be called homeschooling or elective home education. It is important to recognise that the choice may not always be entirely elective and some parents feel like they have no other option than to educate their child at home because they can’t be supported at school.

Parents have a responsibility to ensure their child receives a full-time education from the age of 5, but they do not have to follow the national curriculum.

If a child attends a special school, parents need to get their local council’s permission to educate them at home. No permission is needed to homeschool a child attending a mainstream school, regardless of whether the child has an EHCP. Parents can be sure of their legal responsibilities when it comes to education by visiting the Gov.uk website.

It's worth reading our columnist Carly's article on why she chose to Home Educate, and the benefits its had for her children in terms of both grades and their mental health, as it has some interesting points you might not have considered.

It's important to note that if you are looking for an EHCP in order to get additional help while you are still home educating, you could be disappointed.

Many local authorities will argue that parents have opted out of the system by home educating. Some home educating parents want EHCPs because they hope it will bring the option of Personal Budgets and Direct Payments. These are extremely rare and will be heavily dependent on individual circumstances.

Speech and language therapist

A speech and language therapist can be really important to help students thrive socially and emotionally as they study.

If a child is at pre-school age, then it may be best to speak to your Health Visitor who can make a professional referral. If your child is at school, then their SENCO will be the best person to make the referral.

Parents can also find a private speech and language therapist, although this will have to be paid for. To search for one in your area, visit the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice.

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