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What does special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) mean?

What does special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) mean?

Children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) all have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children and young people of the same age. These children and young people may need extra or different help to others.

Many children and young people may have SEN of some kind during their education. Child care providers - like nurseries or child minders - mainstream schools, colleges and other organisations can help most children and young people succeed with some changes to their practice or additional support. But some will need extra help for some or all of their time in education and training.

Children and young people with SEN may need extra help because of a range of needs. The 0-25 SEND Code of Practice sets out 4 areas of SEN:

Communicating and interacting – Children and young people have speech, language and communication difficulties which make it difficult for them to make sense of language or to understand how to communicate effectively and appropriately with others.

Cognition and learning – Children and young people learn at a slower pace than others their age, have difficulty in understanding parts of the curriculum, have difficulties with organisation and memory skills, or have a specific difficulty affecting one particular part of their learning performance such as in literacy or numeracy.

Social, emotional and mental health difficulties – Children and young people have difficulty in managing their relationships with other people, are withdrawn, or they behave in ways that may hinder their and other children’s learning or have an impact on their health and wellbeing.

Sensory and/or physical needs – Children and young people with visual and/or hearing impairments, or a physical need that means they must have additional ongoing support and equipment.

Some children and young people may have SEN that covers more than one of these areas.

Disability

Many children and young people who have SEN may also have a disability. A disability is described in law (the Equality Act 2010) as ‘a physical or mental impairment, which has a long-term (a year or more) and substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.’ This includes, for example, sensory impairments such as those that affect sight and hearing, and long-term health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy.

The Equality Act requires that early years providers, schools, colleges, other educational settings and local authorities:

  • must not directly or indirectly discriminate against, harass or victimise disabled children and young people
  • must make reasonable adjustments, including the provision of extra aid services (for example, tactile signage or induction loops), so that disabled children and young people are not disadvantaged. This duty is known as ‘anticipatory’. People also need to think in advance about what disabled children and young people might need.

Where to go if you think your child has SEN or a disability

Children and young people with SEN or disabilities will usually be able to get help from their early education setting, school, or college, sometimes with the aid of outside specialists. When they do identify that your child has SEN, your school or other setting must contact you (or, if your son or daughter is over 16, they might contact them directly) and should discuss with you what support to offer your child. The setting must tell you if they are making special educational provision for your child.

If you think your child has SEN, you should talk to your child’s early education setting, school, college or other provider. They will discuss any concerns you have, tell you what they think and explain to you what will happen next. There are other sources of information, advice and support available too.  

  • Your GP or health visitor 
  • Charities or organisations that offer information, advice and support

You can find information about these by searching from our home page.

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