Here we give information on how children and young people might receive additional help for their special educational needs (SEN). 

We talk about the code of practice, the role of a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO), what SEN support should be available and how to check your child’s progress

This support should also be made available to young people in further education

Special educational needs and disability code of practice

A special educational needs and disability (SEND) code of practice, published in January 2015, gives guidance and practical advice on how the new law should be applied. The SEND code of practice explains how local authorities and others should identify, assess and provide for children and young people with SEN.   

The SEND code of practice describes the level of support offered to children with SEN. In your child’s classroom, all work should be differentiated (set at an appropriate level for each child) but if an early education setting, school or college believes that a child has SEN, they will need to put in place extra support. This is called SEN Support and may include the use of professional services from outside the early years setting, school or college.

Local authorities are required to develop a local offer which gives information on provision for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) both in and outside the local area. 

For children who have special educational needs that are more significant, complex and that can’t be met through school resources, the local authority will need to make an assessment of their education, health and care needs and may draw up an Education, health and care plan (often referred to simply as ‘a plan’) which must be reviewed annually

A plan would have details of any transport needs your child may have and information on any personal budgets and direct payments that you may have chosen. 

Previously, this level of support would have been provided for by a statement of SEN. Local authorities and schools should be re-assessing children and young people with statements and arranging for details of their needs and support to be transferred into an Education, Health and Care plan.

Some children will be given support through school resources before they are offered an assessment. Others may be offered an assessment without having received support in school, depending on their level of need.

Special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO)

The SENCO is the teacher in your child’s school or nursery with day-to-day responsibility for SEN. All maintained mainstream schools, maintained nursery schools and academy schools (including free schools) are required to have a SENCO.

They are responsible for:

  • speaking to parents and professionals
  • helping the class or subject teacher to assess children’s strengths and weaknesses
  • making sure that any child with SEN has their needs identified and met
  • managing learning support assistants (LSAs), sometimes known as teaching assistants (TAs), who work as support staff for teachers and pupils in the classroom and around the school
  • organising or contributing to in-service training of staff
  • overseeing the school’s SEN policy
  • ensuring that records of all pupils with SEN are kept up to date.

In secondary schools, SENCOs may also manage the SEN teaching team and they must liaise with the local authority about the transition of a young person with SEN to adult life.

Early years settings

Early education is part of the foundation stage of education.  Early years practitioners must review the progress of all children between the ages of two and three. If your child is identified as having SEN, a graduated approach of assessment, planning and reviewing their progress should be adopted. All early education settings must have regard to the code of practice, have a written SEN policy and nominate a member of staff to act as their SENCO.

Read more about teaching young children

SEN support in schools

Most children and young people with SEN will have their needs met in mainstream education.  All state maintained nurseries, mainstream schools, academies and free schools that are not special schools, Pupil referral units, 16-19 & alternative provision academies and further education settings must do their utmost to make sure that the necessary provision is made for any pupil on roll, who has SEN.

Before your child is identified as needing SEN support in school, the class teacher and SENCO should make an analysis of their needs, using the teacher’s assessment and experience and evidence of their progress, attainment and behaviour.  Your views and your child’s views should also be taken into account.  You should always be consulted and kept informed of any action taken to help your child and of the outcome of this.

Areas of need

Communication and interaction – difficulties with speech, language and communication.  Children and young people may have difficulty taking part in conversations, either because they find it hard to understand what others are saying or meaning, or because they have problems with fluency of speech and sound production.  Children and young people on the spectrum have difficulty making sense of the world and may be easily distracted by certain stimuli, such as noise, bright lights or strong smells.  They will often have problems with changes to their routine.

Cognition and learning – difficulties in gaining basic literacy and numeracy skills or understanding concepts.  Children and young people may need more practical activities, tasks set out in smaller steps, or specific programmes to support development of literacy and numeracy skills.

Social, mental and emotional health – difficulties with emotional and social development, immature social skills and difficulty making and sustaining good relationships.  Children and young people may become withdrawn and isolated, or display challenging, disruptive behaviour or have meltdowns.  Some children on the spectrum may have additional diagnoses of attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). 

Sensory and/or physical needs – these needs can be wide ranging and may require adaptations to the curriculum, study programme or physical environment.  Many children and young people on the spectrum may also have sensory and/or physical needs.  For example, they may be hypo- (under) or hyper- (over) sensitive to noise, sight, smell and touch. They may also have fine and/or gross motor skill difficulties, such as difficulties with pencil grip, balance and awareness of personal space.

Children and young people on the spectrum may have difficulties in one or more of these areas of need.

Support for children with SEN

Once your child has been identified as having SEN, the school should take action to put effective support in place. You must be told about any special educational provision put in place for your child.  Four main actions form part of a cycle known as the graduated approach.

Step 1 – Assess

There should be a clear analysis of your child’s needs based on the teacher’s assessment and experience of your child as well as information about their progress, attainment and behaviour.  The assessment should be regularly reviewed.  In some cases, outside professionals who may already know your child will liaise with the school to help inform the assessments.

Step 2 – Plan

You must be notified if it is decided that your child needs SEN support.  You should also be consulted about the interventions and support to be put into place for your child, as well as the expected impact on their progress and when this will be reviewed. 
All staff working with your child should be aware of the approach and teaching strategies being used and of any additional support being provided. This should be recorded on the school’s information system.

Step 3 – Do

The class or subject teacher remains responsible for your child’s progress on a daily basis, working closely with any teaching assistants or specialist staff involved to plan and continually assess the impact of the support/interventions being put into place. In turn, the SENCO should support the class or subject teacher in further assessments, problem solving and advising on effective implementation of the support.

Step 4 - Review

There should be a clear agreed date to review the effectiveness of the interventions and support put into place and the impact it has had on your child’s progress.  You and your child (where appropriate) should be given the opportunity to present your views. The class, or subject teacher, working with the SENCO and any external professionals involved with your child, should revise the support in the light of your child’s development and progress made.

Involving specialists

If your child makes little or no progress following interventions and support put into place, they should consider involving specialists from outside agencies. This might be, for example, an educational psychologist, an autism outreach specialist or a speech and language therapist, who can give advice and provide more specialist assessments.

You should be consulted if a professional from outside the school is to be involved with your child’s education.  Any involvement of outside specialists should be discussed and agreed with you and the support your child will receive should be recorded and shared with you.  A date should be set for when progress will be reviewed.

Keeping records - school

The code of practice says that it is up to schools to decide how to keep records of the SEN Support being made for your child, but makes it clear that the provision made must be accurately recorded and kept up to date. These records should form part of regular discussions school staff will have with you about your child’s progress, outcomes and planned next steps.  We suggest that you also keep your own notes and records.

Discussing your child’s progress 

  • set clear goals
  • discuss the programmes and support that will help your child
  • review progress and clarify roles and responsibilities.  

These meetings should be led by a teacher who has a good knowledge and understanding of your child, their needs and attainments.  This will usually be the class or form tutor, supported by the SENCO.

You should be given the opportunity at the meeting to share any concerns and agree aspirations for your child.  The code of practice says that these meetings will need to allow sufficient time to explore your views and, where appropriate, your child’s views.  This could be achieved by your child attending all or part of the meeting, or by gathering their views beforehand.

After the meeting, the teacher will need to inform all appropriate school staff of the outcomes and agreed targets and should also update your child’s record.

Requesting a meeting

You may want to request a meeting with school staff because:

  • your child has learning difficulties
  • your child’s progress is delayed
  • your child’s needs aren’t being met.

You may find it helpful to ask if a friend or advisor can come to the meeting with you.

This draft letter may help. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of your letter to take with you to the meeting as a reminder of the concerns you’ve listed. 

Dear [insert head teacher’s name],

Child’s name and date of birth I am concerned that [insert child’s name] is not making adequate progress in school and may have special educational needs. In particular I am worried about:

[list your concerns e.g.

  • slow rate of progress in reading
  • difficulty in relating to others
  • possibility of being bullied
  • poor communication skills]

I would like to meet with you to discuss my concerns and what the school can do to help.

I would also like to bring my friend/advisor [insert their name]. The questions I would like to discuss are:

[list questions]

I would like a copy of my child’s school records and a copy of the school’s SEN policy.

I hope that we can work in partnership, so that [child’s name] can do as well as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

[Your name]

It’s useful to do some preparation before meeting school staff. The following questions may help you.

  • What extra help has your child received and how effective has it been?
  • Is your child’s progress reviewed regularly? Have you had the opportunity to comment on their progress?
  • Have any professionals, such as an educational psychologist, seen your child and suggested ways to help?
  • Does your child have a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder? If so, does the school have details of it?Are your child’s difficulties getting worse?What changes would you like to see?

SEN support in further education

Further education (FE) colleges and sixth form colleges must have regard to the SEND code of practice and must ensure that young people with SEN have access to a wide range of study programmes and support. Where available, colleges should use information from your child’s previous school about their SEN. Colleges may also want to undertake their own assessments of your child’s needs, and curriculum staff should work with specialist support to identify where your child may be struggling due to their SEN. Colleges should involve your child and, where appropriate you, in discussing what additional support is required.

Colleges should have access to specialist skills to support the learning of SEN students, either through partnerships, or by employing practitioners to help students with SEN to progress. There is no legal duty on colleges to have a SENCO, but colleges should ensure there is a named person in the college with responsibility oversight of SEN provision to ensure co-ordination of support.

Keeping records

As with schools, colleges can decide their own approach to record keeping, but the code of practice says that they should record details of additional or different provision being made to meet your child’s SEN and their progress towards achieving specified outcomes. This information should be used as part of the regular discussion with your child, and in many cases you, about their progress and expected outcomes from the support provided together with the planned next steps. Colleges should ensure that they have accurate information to show the SEN support that has been provided over your child’s time in college, and the impact it had.

Read about starting college or university

If you have further concerns

If your child continues to have problems you can request an assessment or their education, health and care needs, whether he or she is in a pre-school setting, primary or secondary school, sixth form or further education college. 

If an assessment for your child is refused there are ways to work with schools and local authorities to resolve disagreements.   

Further help from our charity

Further help for parents trying to obtain an appropriate education is available from our Education Rights Service.

Last reviewed: 14 December 2016.