Annual review
Meeting held to review a statement of special educational needs (SEN). This must take place within 12 months of the education authority making a statement or carrying out a previous review. The purpose of a review is to look at how well a statement is meeting a child or young person's needs.  A review may be called early if their situation has deteriorated significantly.

Appeals tribunals
Set up by the education authority. Parents may lodge an appeal with a tribunal if their child is expelled from school, or a school refuses to admit their child.

Copies of the reports and advice provided by professionals and collected by the education authority when it carries out a statutory assessment of a child or young person's needs. Appendices provide evidence which the education authority uses when deciding whether to issue a statement or not. They are also attached to statements and sent to parents.

Assessment (see also 'Statutory assessment')
General term that may be used to describe, for example, an observation by an educational psychologist to get information on a child's development or tests conducted by a health professional.

Careers Service
Provides information, advice and guidance on education, training and employment. A careers adviser with knowledge of SEN should be involved in a child’s transition plan meetings to help them have a successful move from school.

Case statement
Something that parents prepare if they are appealing to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST). It is a statement about the facts of the child’s case and may include any documents that supports their appeal.

Classroom or learning/behaviour support assistant
Role name for an assistant providing in-school support for pupils with SEN. The person will normally work with a particular pupil or pupils providing close support to them and assistance to those responsible for teaching them.

Clinical psychologist
Professional who studies how people behave. They can make an assessment with regards to behavioural and emotional issues and may implement a behaviour management plan. Clinical Psychologists are able to make an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.

Code of Practice
The Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs and Supplement provides practical advice to the education authority, schools and others on carrying out their statutory duties to identify, assess and make provision for children with SEN. The education authority, schools, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal and others such as Health & Social Care services must have regard to it. If they do not follow this guidance they must be able to explain why.

Controlled school
Nursery, primary, secondary, special or grammar school which is owned and funded by the education authority and managed by a Board of Governors. 

Curriculum Advisory and Support Service (CASS) 
Service provided by the education authority. It provides training for teachers and advice on the Northern Ireland curriculum. If a child has SEN, CASS can be consulted for advice on how those needs may affect children's learning in some subjects.

Department of Education (DE)
Department responsible for nursery, primary, post-primary and special education. Administration of the education system is delegated to the education authority, funded by this department.

Order by the president of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal which parents or the education authority must comply with.

Dispute Avoidance and Resolution Service (DARS)
Service to help prevent or mediate disagreements between parents, whose children have SEN and the education authority or school. They are designed to bring together the different sides in an informal way to try to sort out the disagreement through discussion. Each of the five regional offices of the education authority has a DARS Officer independent of the SEN branch decision-making. Using these arrangements is voluntary.

Letters or reports, including a statement of special educational needs.

Education Authority (EA)
Established under the Education Act (Northern Ireland) 2014 and came into force on 1st April 2015. The EA is responsible for the services previously delivered by the five Education and Library Boards. The EA has responsibility for the administration of schools, a duty to make arrangements for the special educational needs of children and young people and a responsibility for children below school age.

Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI)
Responsible for the inspection of all schools in Northern Ireland.

Education welfare officer (EWO)
Person employed by the education authority to help them to work with parents  so that they meet their respective statutory obligations in relation to school attendance.

Educational psychologist (EP)
Educational Psychologists are involved in the assessment of educational needs and the statementing process. They are usually employed by the education authority to advise and help staff in schools and make recommendations with regards to the needs of a child or young person. Some EPs work on an independent basis and can be commissioned by parents to assess and report on their child.

A pupil may be expelled from school for serious breaches of discipline. The use of expulsion may vary depending upon the type of school. There are strict procedures which schools must follow when considering or using expulsion. Parents have the right of appeal against expulsion.

Home education
Some parents choose to home educate their child rather than them attending school. This is a legally recognised form of education.

Individual Education Plan (IEP)
A IEP is a plan that is prepared for certain children and young people with SEN by their school. The plan should include details of their needs, how they can be met and will include targets, strategies, resources and details of support. Parents should be involved when the plan is being drawn up and advised on how their child can be helped at home.

Integrated school
Non-selective and non-denominational primary or secondary school. Controlled integrated schools are owned and funded by the education authority and managed by a Board of Governors. Grant-aided integrated schools are normally owned in part by trustees and managed by a Board of Governors. Integrated schools are supported by the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) and recurrent costs met by the Department of Education.

Irish medium school
School that provides education through the medium of Irish language. Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta (CnaG) is the representative body for Irish-medium Education.

Learning difficulty
A child has a ‘learning difficulty’ if they have significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of their peers and/or has a disability which either prevents or hinders them from making use of everyday educational facilities.

Mainstream school 
Ordinary school.

Maintained school Nursery, primary, secondary or special school owned by trustees, normally the Catholic Church, and managed by a Board of Governors. Schools are supported by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) who also employ teachers. Recurrent costs are met by the education authority, who also employ non-teaching staff. 

Named officer
Person from the education authority who liaises with parents over all the arrangements relating to statutory assessment and the making of a statement.

Northern Ireland curriculum
Sets out a clear, full and statutory entitlement to learning for all pupils, determining what should be taught and setting attainment targets for learning. It also determines how performance will be assessed and reported. It is split into 5 key stages: Foundation Stage (years 1 and 2); Key Stage 1 (years 3 and 4); Key Stage 2 (years 5 to 7); Key Stage 3 (years 8 to 10); and Key Stage 4 (years 11 and 12).

Note in lieu
Document that may be issued to the child's parents and school when, following a statutory assessment, the education authority decide not to make a statement. The note in lieu will usually follow a similar format to a statement of SEN but does not carry the same legal rights The note should describe the child's SEN, explain why the education authority does not think it is necessary to make a statement and make recommendations about appropriate provision for the child. All the advice received during the assessment should be attached to the note sent to the parents and, with their consent, should also be sent to the child or young person's school.

Occupational therapist
Assesses motor, sensory, perceptual, social, emotional and self-care skills.  Working with the child and their parents and teachers, the occupational therapist will use therapeutic techniques (advising on equipment and environment adaptations) to improve a child or young person's ability to access the physical and learning curriculum. Purposeful activities and play are used to help a child attain maximum levels of functional performance which can improve self-esteem and independence.

The decision given once an appeal has been heard by the Special Educational Needs and DisabilityTribunal (SENDIST).

In education law, a parent includes any person who is not the birth parent of a child or young person but has parental responsibility, or who cares for them.

Therapy designed for problems with movement posture and balance. A physiotherapist's main aim is to help a child function and move normally, preventing abnormal positions or movements. They will make an assessment, decide on treatment and then recommend therapy to help.

Pre-school education
All children are entitled to apply for one year free education before they start school at a range of settings, including nursery schools and playgroups.

Proposed statement
Statement issued by the education authority in draft form. It is issued after a statutory assessment or re-assessment or when an amendment has been made to the statement. Parents can negotiate with the education authority with regards to what is written on the proposed statement. A school in Part 4 will not be named on a proposed statement. A proposed statement needs to be issued before you receive a final statement

The law gives parents the right to 'make representation' to the education authority if they are unhappy with the description of their child's needs in a proposed statement or with the provision made to support their child. Parents can ask for meetings with their named officer or any of the professionals involved in the statutory assessment process that led to the statement. More than one meeting may take place

Special educational needs (SEN)
A child has special needs if they have learning difficulties that need help which is additional to, or different from, that which is normally available to children of their age in a mainstream school.

Special educational needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) 
Member of staff of a school or early education setting who has responsibility for co-ordinating special educational needs (SEN) provision within that school.

Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST)
Independent tribunal, which hears parent's appeals against certain decisions of the education authority about a child’s special educational needs.

Special educational needs register
Register maintained by a school which includes details of pupils with special educational needs and what stage (1-5) they are at.

Special educational provision
Provision which is additional to, or otherwise different from, the educational provision made generally for children of the same age.

Special school
School which is specially organised to make special educational provision for pupils with SEN.

Special unit
Specialist unit that is attached to or in a mainstream school that supports pupils with SEN, including autism spectrum disorders.

Speech and language therapist
The role and aim of speech and language therapy is to enable children with speech, language and communication difficulties to reach their maximum communication potential. The NAS maintains a small list of Independent Speech and Language Therapists with experience of autism spectrum disorders on our autism services directory

Stage/five stage approach
Different 'stages' or levels used to help identify, assess and provide for pupils with SEN. The approach recognises that, where necessary, increasing levels of specialist input should be used to meet the educational needs of a child or young person. A child does not necessarily have to move up or down one stage at a time or have to progress through each stage to reach the level they need. 

Read more about getting extra help in school, including the five stage approach. 

Statement of special educational needs
Document made and maintained by the education authority that sets out a child's needs and the extra help they should get. Read more about statements of special educational needs.

Statutory assessment
Formal procedure undertaken by the education authority. It is a detailed investigation to find out what your child's SEN are and what provision is needed to meet those needs. A number of professionals such as an educational psychologist will be involved. It may lead to a statement of special educational needs. Read more about statutory assessments

Statutory re-assessment
Statutory assessment carried out for a child who already has a statement of special educational needs.

A pupil who is presenting with serious difficulties in school may be suspended. This should be after all reasonable adjustments to try and modify behaviour have been made and proven unsuccessful.

Schools have procedures which they must follow when suspending a pupil. Suspensions are for a specified period of time with an initial suspension for no more than five days. Subject to formal procedures, this can be extended to a maximum period of 45 days in any school year. 

Parents must be given written notification of the reasons for suspension. There is no such thing as 'voluntary suspension' and ‘informal suspension’ is unlawful. There are no appeal rights against a suspension.


Transition is a process of changing from a familiar routine or environment to a new, strange one may be difficult for children and young people with special educational needs. In education, this means starting school, moving from primary to secondary and leaving school. Support should be provided at transition to reduce anxiety.

Transition plan
Plan devised at the first annual review following a child’s 14th birthday and updated at subsequent reviews. The purpose of the plan is to draw together information from a range of individuals within and beyond the school, in order to plan coherently for the young person's transition to adult life.

Tribunal hearing
Meeting at which a SEN appeal or disability discrimination claim is considered.

Voluntary Grammar school
School that is owned by trustees and managed by a Board of Governors but funded by the Department of Education.

Witness summons
Document that orders a witness to go to a tribunal hearing.

Further help

Further help for parents trying to get an appropriate education for their child is available from our Education Rights Service on 0808 800 4102: press option 5. Specific help for appealing to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal is available from our Tribunal Support Line on the same number by pressing option 6


Useful documents and reading

Code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs. Department of Education (1998). 

Supplement to the code of practice. Department of Education (2005). 

Special Educational Needs: A guide for Parents. Department of Education (1997).


Department of Education
Tel: 028 9127 9279

Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST)
Tel: 028 9072 4887