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Information & advice

What are Special Educational Needs?

The thought of having to appeal against a decision made in your EHC Plan by your Local Authority can seem daunting. This guide will take you through the process to help you understand what to expect.

What are Special Educational Needs?

Special educational needs, often referred to as SEN or SEND (Special educational needs and disabilities), is a term used to describe learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for a child to learn compared to children of the same age.

All children may experience challenges with their learning at some point and for most children, these difficulties overcome with support from teachers and home. However, children with SEND are likely to need extra or different help to be able to learn.

Some children may have SEND because of a medical condition or disability, other children may have SEND without a diagnosis or disability.

Children are not considered to have SEND just because their first language is not English. Although some children for whom is English is a second language may also have SEND.

How do you know if a child has SEND?

A child or young person has SEN if:

  • they have significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of other children and young people the same age
  • they have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 provisions

A child or young person has a disability if:

  • they have a physical and mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

What types of difficulties are SEND?

Children may have difficulties in one or more of these areas:

  • Cognition and Learning: a child may find all learning difficult or have difficulties with specific activities such as reading or spelling. A child may have trouble understanding instructions and carrying out tasks. A child may have memory difficulties.
  • Communication and Interaction: a child may have difficulty in talking to others or understanding what others are saying to them. A child may have difficulty with interactions with others, such as not being able to take turns.
  • Physical and Sensory: a child may have hearing or vision loss. A child may have difficulty with sensory processing, being under or over-sensitive. A child may have a medical condition which affects them physically.
  • Social, Emotional and Mental Health: a child may display behaviours such as having very low self-esteem or being very anxious. A child may display challenging, disruptive or distressing behaviours. A child may have underlying conditions which affect their mental health.

What is special educational provision?

Special education is any educational or training provision which is extra to or different from what is needed by other children or young people the same age. This covers many different things including communicating through sign language, having worksheets in a larger font and needing one-to-one or small group support.

Some children and young people may need extra help which is not special educational provision such as having medication at school. As this is not support with education or training it would not be classed as special educational provision.

We have more information about about SEND support in School on this website.

What can I do if I think my child has SEND?

If you are worried about any part of your child’s learning or development, you can talk to your child’s class teacher or school SENDCo (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator). You can also talk to any other professionals involved with your child such as medical or social care professionals.

This website has lots of information and resources related to SEND and support available, you can search or browse all our topics.

What are learning difficulties?

Children with SEND related to cognition and learning often have a learning difficulty. Learning difficulties are classified in the following ways:

  • Moderate Learning Difficulty (MLD): a child with MLD may take longer to learn skills than the majority of their peers and are likely to require extra support in school.
  • Severe Learning Difficulty (SLD): a child with SLD will have significant learning impairments which will impact their ability to learn without high levels of specialist support.
  • Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty (PMLD): a child with PMLD will have complex learning needs. In addition to severe learning difficulties they may have physical difficulties, sensory impairment or a severe medical condition. A high level of specialist support will be needed at all times.
  • Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD): specific learning difficulties include Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia. A child with SpLD may require some support in school targeted to their specific area of difficulty such as spelling or numeracy.

There are lots of abbreviations used when talking about SEND, you can find an explanation of the most common ones in our Glossary.