Special educational needs and or disability

Links to FRG online advice for family and friends carers about education

Getting extra help for a child with SEN(D)
Assessments of a child's SEN(D)
Appealing against SEN(D) assessment
Unfair treatment of disabled children

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A note about terminology: the term Special Educational Needs (SEN) has been used in legislation, including regulations and guidance, until the Children and Families Act 2014, when the term Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) was introduced, although the term special educational needs has not stopped being used. You will find either term being used here, according to context, and the term SEN(D) is used when either would be appropriate. The legislation and guidance also now refers to 'the child or young person', and not just 'the child', since it covers the whole 0-25 age range, instead of stopping at age 18.

If the child or young person you are raising has special educational needs, a disability, a medical condition and/or emotional and behavioural difficulties, they may need extra help at school. All maintained schools are required to have in place systems which provide extra help and support to those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Independent schools are not covered by the SEND Code of Practice and receive no extra funding for providing places for children and young people with SEND, so if they can't provide additional support from their own resources they may well charge extra for it. However, there are some independent schools which specialise in teaching children and young people with SEND.

As a result of the Children and Families Act 2014 there have recently been major changes to the systems for dealing with children and young people with SEND. The changes include the introduction of a new 0 to 25 education, health and care (EHC) plan pathway, which should be implemented by the education, health and social care services working together. It is mandatory for the support identified in the plan to be provided. The transitional arrangements to introduce this new way of working began on 1st September 2014. All new referrals to assess whether a child or young person has SEND are being dealt with under the new Code of Practice(ii). Children and young people who already have statements of SEN under the old system will be gradually transferred to the new system, with the transfers being completed by 1st April 2018 at the latest.

When is a child considered to have special educational needs/disability?

Children have special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for them.

Children have a learning difficulty if they:

  1. have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age; or
  2. have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age; or
  3. are under compulsory school age and fall within the definition at (a) or (b) above, or is likely to do so if special educational provision was not made for them when they reach compulsory school age.

Children must not be regarded as having a learning difficulty solely because the language or form of language of their home is different from the language in which they will be taught.

Special educational provision means:

  1. for children of two or over, educational provision which is in addition to or different from the educational provision made generally for children of their age in local state schools
  2. for children under two, educational provision of any kind(iii).

A child or young person with special educational needs might include those who have:

  • moderate or severe learning difficulties
    physical, neurological or sensory disabilities, such as hearing, motor and visual disabilities
    Autism (including Aspergers Syndrome)
    Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADHD/ADD),
    specific learning problems such as dyslexia,
    speech, language or communication needs,
    Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD),
    medical needs such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy
    mobility difficulties, or
    sensory impairments such as those affecting sight or hearing

NB: this list is not exhaustive.

An education, care and health plan can be requested for a child or young person aged 0-25. The people who have a right to make this request are the parents of a child who is under 16, the young person if they are between 16 and 25, and someone who is acting on behalf of a school, pre-school or post-16 institution. This piece of legislation does not specifically state that the term 'parent' includes any person who is raising the child, although this is the recognised definition in education law since 1996(iv). Family and friends carers can make a request for an EHC plan for a child they are raising, and they should be treated as the child's parents.

If a local authority becomes responsible for a child or young person, they must also decide whether to assess for an EHC plan.

What does the SENCO do?

Each school will have its own Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO). This is a member of staff who is responsible for the school's SEND policy, and works to ensure that the school meets the needs of its pupils with SEND. Along with the class teacher, the SENCO is likely to be your main contact within the school for discussing the special educational needs of the child you are raising, and the school's provision for meeting them. However not all SENCOs work directly with parents, and other members of staff may be your main contact, so you should discuss how things are done in the school that you will be dealing with.

Further information

Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA)
Coram Children's Legal Centre Special Educational Needs
The Information, Advice and Support Services Network (IASS Network)
Parents for Inclusion
Council for Disabled Children
ACE Education Special Educational Needs
SEND: Guide for parents and carers 2014
SEND code of practice 0 to 25 years: Statutory guidance (2014)
Special Education Needs: Code of Practice (2001)

(i) Legislation, regulations and guidance until recently has used the term Special Educational Needs (SEN). However the Children and Families Act 2014, and associated regulations and guidance, uses the term Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in most circumstances.
(ii) DfE (2014) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years: Statutory guidance for organisations who work with and support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.
(iii) See Section 312, Education Act 1996
(iv) Section 576, Education Act 1996