What are Special Educational Needs?

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A child or young person has Special Educational Needs (SEN) if they have greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others the same age, or if they have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of normal educational facilities.

SEN is generally split into four areas. They are:

  • Communication and interaction
  • Cognition or Learning
  • Social, emotional and mental health (SEMH)
  • Sensory and/or physical needs

We’ll take a look at each one individually.

Communication and Interaction

This can include difficulties expressing themselves or understanding others. This could be because of difficulties forming particular speech sounds or because of difficulties organising information into grammatical structures.

Children with diagnoses of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have needs in this area, particularly if they find it difficult to engage in shared conversation or read social cues.  

If a child or young person has needs arising solely from speaking English as an additional language (EAL), they do not have SEN. But it can be more difficult to establish whether EAL children are also affected by a learning difficulty. This should be looked at closely if there are any concerns.

Cognition or Learning

This relates to difficulties processing information and includes needs arising from attention deficit disorder (ADHD) or specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyscalculia.

Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH)

Issues such as behavioural regulation are likely to come under this heading, along with any difficulties a child may face as a result of mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Emotional vulnerabilities, such as attachment disorders will also be SEN if it affects the way a child learns.

Sensory and/or Physical Needs

Difficulties with mobility, coordination and balance, or with handwriting (indicating issues with fine motor skills) will be considered here. Health conditions, if they affect learning or access to normal school facilities are likely to be considered SEN. This area of need also includes children and young people whose learning is affected by particular sensitivities around sight, smell, sounds, or touch.

Is a Diagnosis Needed?

You do not need to have a diagnosis to have Special Educational Needs.

The focus in the SEN Code of Conduct is on needs. Diagnoses can be helpful in illuminating the underlying reasons for particular behaviours or symptoms, can lead to better treatment if it is needed and can bring much needed certainty to the family. But, the Upper Tribunal has made it clear that needs can be assessed without knowing their precise cause.

What to Do If Your Child Has SEN

Schools must use their best endeavours to support children with Special Educational Needs. This is known as the ‘best endeavours’ duty.

Parents can also approach the Local Authority directly to ask for an Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment (EHCNA) if they think their child may have SEN.

If the Local Authority agrees to undertake an EHC needs assessment, it may decide to issue an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP). The EHCP should set out the child or young person’s needs, and the provision required to meet them. This can be enforced legally if the school or Local Authority is refusing to provide what is in the Plan.

If your son or daughter has Special Educational Needs or you think they might and they’re are not getting the right support, get legal advice from our Education Solicitors and SEN Lawyers as early as possible.

The process of getting an EHCP is not always straightforward, and can take a long time, particularly if statutory deadlines are not met by the Local Authority.

If your child has SEN, early intervention can help to minimise problems further down the line so take action as soon as possible.

For legal advice call our Education Solicitors

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