Children with special educational needs (SEN) need extra or specific help in school or nursery.

Here we talk about how children may get this help and how the school special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) can help. 

We also look at early years action and school action, early years action plus and school action plus, discussing your child’s progress and how to work with school and/or the local authority to resolve differences.  

Special educational needs code of practice

The Special educational needs code of practice was introduced in 2002. It recommends that children with SEN receive graduated support to help them learn more effectively. 

All local authority maintained schools and early education providers delivering partnership funded early education must pay regard to the code of practice. Independent schools can choose to follow its advice, but may use a different system of supporting and monitoring students with SEN.

The code of practice describes two main levels of support, 'Action' and 'Action Plus'. These can be offered to children with SEN who haven't been assessed as needing a statement of special educational needs.

In your child's classroom, all work should be differentiated (ie set at an appropriate level for each child) but if an early education setting or school believes that a child has SEN, they will need to put in place extra support which is different from that needed by other children. This is called Early Years Action or School Action.

Early Years Action Plus or School Action Plus involve a greater level of support and include the use of professional services from outside the early years setting or school (eg an educational psychologist, an autism outreach specialist and/or a speech and language therapist) who can give advice and provide more specialist assessments.

For those children whose special educational needs are more significant and can't be met through Action or Action Plus, the local authority will need to make what is called a statutory assessment of their needs and may draw up a statement of special educational needs (often referred to simply as 'a statement') which must be reviewed annually


Some children will be given support through Action and Action Plus before they are offered an assessment. Others may be offered an assessment without having received Action or Action Plus support, depending on their level of need.

Early year’s settings

Early education is part of the foundation stage of education for children aged three to five years. All early education settings, as well as schools, must have regard to the code of practice, have a written SEN policy and nominate a member of staff to act as their special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO).

Read more about teaching young children

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.

SENCOs are responsible for speaking to parents and professionals, assessing children's strengths and weaknesses, and making sure that any child with a special educational need has an individual education plan (IEP). Parents should always be consulted and kept informed of the action taken to help their child and of the outcome of this action. All nurseries, pre-schools, primary schools and secondary schools are required to have a SENCO.

SENCOs are also responsible for managing learning support assistants (LSAs), sometimes known as teaching assistants (TAs), who work as support staff for teachers and pupils in the classroom and about the school. In secondary schools, SENCOs manage the SEN teaching team. They're also responsible for organising or contributing to in-service training of staff and overseeing the school's SEN policy. In secondary schools the SENCO must liaise with Careers Wales about the transition of a young person with SEN to adult life.

Early Years Action and School Action

Your child may have been experiencing difficulties at school for some time, pointing to the need for a level of help above that which is generally available at school. In this case, make an appointment with the SENCO to discuss your child’s progress

You may find that your child has difficulties in the following areas: 

Once your child is identified as having SEN, the nursery or school should intervene through either Early Years Action or School Action. They will need to get evidence that your child's current rate of progress is inadequate and that additional support is required so that they can learn more effectively. 

Some strategies that might be used at the Early Years Action or School Action stages are:

  • different learning materials
  • special equipment
  • extra individual or group support
  • staff training
  • access to local authority support services for advice.

These strategies will probably be recorded in an IEP and include:

  • short-term targets set for your child
  • teaching strategies
  • provision and monitoring details.

Where possible, your child should be actively involved in these discussions and in planning the IEP. The IEP ideally should be reviewed every term with you, your child and school staff being involved.

Early Years Action Plus and School Action Plus

If your child makes little or no progress, the early education setting or school may  consult with you and decide that they need to move on to Early Years Action Plus or School Action Plus. Your child's teacher(s) should speak to you, your child and the SENCO about the situation and collect any relevant information, such as IEPs or other records of progress.

At this stage the SENCO will ask for help from one or more other professionals, such as:

  • an educational psychologist
  • a specialist teacher (eg an autism outreach teacher)
  • a health professional such as a speech and language therapist.

Now the initial additional help given at the early year’s action or school action stage should become more specific, using targeted strategies and interventions that have been highlighted in reports from external professionals.

A new IEP agreeing appropriate targets should be planned with strategies to be used to help your child recorded in it. This should include:

  • short-term targets set for your child
  • teaching strategies 
  • provision and monitoring details.

A date should also be set to review the IEP, and parents should be involved in the review.

Discussing your child's progress

Remember, you know your child better than anyone. If you have any concerns about your child's education, talk to their school. 


When trying to get extra help to meet your child's special educational needs, you'll need to discuss your child's progress and experience of school with teachers, the SENCO and others. For example, you may be concerned that your child has learning difficulties or that their needs aren’t being met and progress is delayed.

Requesting a meeting

If you'd like to discuss your concerns with staff at your child's school or nursery, it is best to write to request a meeting. You may find it helpful to ask if a friend or advisor can come to the meeting with you. This draft letter may help:

Dear [insert head teacher's name],

[Insert 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]

eg, 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 a good idea to keep a copy of your letter to take with you to the meeting as a reminder of all the concerns you've listed.

It's also useful to do some preparation before meeting staff. The following questions may help you:

  • What extra help has your child received and how effective has it been?
  • Do you know where your child is in the SEN process, for example are they on Action or Action Plus?
  • Does your child have an IEP and has it been reviewed regularly? Have you had the opportunity to comment on the IEP?
  • Have any professionals, such as an educational psychologist, seen your child and suggested ways to help?
  • Does your child have a confirmed 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?

Statutory assessment

If your child continues to have problems you can request a statutory assessment, whether they are in a pre-school setting, primary or secondary school. 

Working with school and/or the local authority to resolve differences. 

At times, getting your child extra support can be challenging and you may have to be their advocate and work with school to resolve differences

Further help from our charity

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

Last reviewed: 28 December 2016.