Special educational needs (SEN) is a legal term. A child or young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which means that they need special educational provision.
Special educational provision is provision which is different from, or additional to, that which is normally available to pupils of the same age.
Having a learning difficulty or disability means that a pupil has greater difficulty in learning than most pupils of the same age, or a disability which makes it more difficult for them to use the school facilities. For example, they may have problems with:
- Specific areas of learning, like reading, writing or number work
- Expressing themselves or understanding what others are saying
- Making friends or relating to adults
- Managing their emotions or behaviour
- Problems with seeing, hearing, or moving around
- Medical conditions that impact on learning
- Mental health difficulties, e.g. anxiety or depression
Having SEN is very common; in Sheffield, 16% of the school population (around 13,000 pupils) have SEN. Not all children with SEN have a formal diagnosis.
Children who struggle at school for other reasons – for example, because they have suffered a bereavement, or because English is not their first language – would not be regarded as having SEN. Support for these children is provided through different routes.
Behavioural difficulties are often a symptom of unidentified SEN, but they can also be caused by external factors, such as housing issues, trauma or family conflict. Schools should seek to identify and address the underlying causes of the behaviour in partnership with other agencies.
Identification of special educational needs
Class and subject teachers make regular assessments of progress for all pupils. If a pupil makes less than expected progress (see box below), the class or subject teacher, supported by the SENCO, should assess whether the pupil has SEN. This may involve observation, a range of assessment tools, and/or advice from external professionals. This initial assessment should include a discussion with you and your child. You should be given a short summary of this meeting.
In some cases, parents are the first to notice that their child may have SEN. This could be about something other than their school work. For example, you and your family may be concerned that your child has no friends, that they are increasingly anxious about school, or that they “explode” as soon as they get home. If you are at all worried, make an appointment to see your child’s teacher or the SENCO to discuss your concerns.
Once any concerns have been investigated, the school may decide that your child’s needs can be met through their pastoral support system or by making some changes to normal classroom teaching, without the need for SEN Support. If that is the case, they should set a clear date for reviewing your child’s progress.
If the school decides that your child does have SEN, they must take action to remove any barriers to learning and put effective special educational provision in place. This is called SEN Support, and you must be notified if your child receives this. More information about SEN Support
It may be appropriate to refer your child to a relevant health service for an assessment. More information about accessing health services
Information owner: SEND Assessment and Review Service (SENDSARS)
Less than expected progress is defined as:
- Making significantly slower progress than children in the same age group who started from the same baseline
- Failing to match or better the child’s previous rate of progress
- Widening the attainment gap, or failing to close it
This can include progress in areas other than academic attainment, e.g. social skills.
Slow progress and low attainment do not necessarily mean that a pupil has SEN; nor does attainment in line with chronological age (“hitting averages”) mean that SEN can be ruled out. Progress should always be measured against the child’s individual potential.