What a Special Educational Need is

Information about Special Educational Needs (SEN)

A Special Educational Need means a child has learning difficulties that make it harder for them to learn than most children of the same age, or a disability which makes it difficult for them to use the facilities normally provided in mainstream schools or in a post-16 institutions.

Many children and young people may have Special Educational Needs (SEN) of some kind at some time during their education.

Education settings and other organisations can help most children and young people overcome these barriers. 

However, a small number will need extra help for some or all of their time in education. Special educational provision is any educational or training provision which is additional to, or different from, that made generally for other children or young people of the same age.

Some children or young people may need additional support which is not special educational provision; for example, they might need certain treatments or medicines administered at school because of a medical condition they have. In order to be classed as having SEN, they must require support with education or training which is different from that given to other children or young people of the same age.

Areas of need

The 0-25 SEND Code of Practice (2015) identifies ‘four broad areas of special educational need and support'. A child or young person may have difficulties in one or more of these areas.   

Communication and interaction

Children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) may have difficulty saying what they want to, understanding what is being said to them or they do not understand or use social rules of communication. 

Cognition and learning

Cognition and learning difficulties cover a wide range of needs, including:

  • Moderate learning difficulties (MLD) 
  • Severe learning difficulties (SLD), associated with issues in 
  • Profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD),
  • Specific learning difficulties (SpLD), includes conditions such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia

Social, emotional and mental health difficulties

Children and young people may experience a wide range of social, emotional and mental health difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways.

These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviours. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders, physical symptoms that are medically unexplained.

In some cases, there may be a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder and/or attachment disorder. 

Sensory and/or physical needs

Some children and young people have a disability which prevents or hinders them from using educational facilities generally provided. These difficulties can be age-related and may fluctuate over time. 

In some cases, the child or young person may need specialist support and/or equipment. 

  • Visual impairment (VI) 
  • Hearing impairment (HI)
  • Multi-sensory impairment (MSI) 
  • Physical disability (PD) 

If you think your child might have SEN then you should talk to someone in school who knows your child, such as the class teacher, SENCo or headteacher, and raise your concerns. They will be able to discuss your worries and address them appropriately.

Every school has a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) who is there to support you and your child and ensure that their special education needs are met. They will be able to offer advice and support if further measures are needed. 

Every school produces an annual SEN Information Report and has a SEN policy which is available on their school website and on the Local Offer. This gives up to date information on who to contact if you require further support as well as how the school meets the needs of their learners with SEN. 

You can find further advice and support from: