Special Educational Needs (SEN) and statementing

Legal definition of SEN and information about your child's statement

What does Special Educational Needs (SEN) mean?

The term Special Educational Needs (SEN) has a legal definition. Children with special educational needs have learning difficulties or impairments that make it harder for them to learn, than most children the same age.  They might need additional or different help from that given to other children the same age.

Children with SEN might need additional help with a range of needs, such as:

  •  thinking and understanding
  •  physical or sensory difficulties
  •  emotional and behavioural difficulties
  •  difficulties with speech and language
  •  how they relate to and behave with other people

Many children have additional or special educational needs of some kind at different times during their education. Schools and other organisations can help most children overcome these difficulties easily and quickly, but a few children will need extra help for most or all of their time at school.

SEN Code of Practice

It is important to refer to the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice. This is an easy-to-read guide on how and when a child will need additional support. It can be downloaded free from the Department of Education website.

The Code of Practice governs the process of assessing and meeting special educational needs. Local authorities and schools must consider the Code when deciding how to meet your child’s needs and they must not do less than is set out in the code.

What is a statement or statementing?

Some children with SEN will go through a formal process of assessing their educational needs and will receive what is referred to as a “Statement”. You should be told if the Local Authority decides not to assess your child and why.

Your child will be assessed and tested by a range of professionals, in addition to information from the school. You will be asked to talk about your child’s needs and difficulties, including how they are at different times of the day. You should also be asked to attend any assessments with medical or educational professionals. A document will then be produced detailing your child’s needs and how these will be met.

Read the government's full Guide to SEN Assessments.

How will you know if the Statement is a good one?

Get support from a local Parent Partnership Scheme (your Local Education Authority should be able to give you contact details).

  • Read the reports
  • Check the recommendations
  • Check if these recommendations appear in the Statement.

Remember everything your child should have in school to support his or her education should be in Section 3 – Educational Provision.

If the Statement does not reflect the reports, is vague, names a different school or has put vital therapies in the Non Educational Provision section you may be able to challenge the decision through the First-Tier Tribunal (SENDisT). It is a good idea to seek advice from your local Parent Partnership Scheme or specialist organisations.

Annual reviews

You might already have a Statement but may be concerned about annual reviews. These are a legal requirement. They should review progress against the targets in the Statement and decide one of three things:

  • The child has attained all the targets and no longer requires a Statement.
  • The child’s needs have changed and the Statement needs to be modified.
  • The child still needs the provision set out in the Statement.

The annual review will recommend one of these to the Local Authority (LA). If the annual review recommends that the Statement should finish or change, the LA has to consider that and decide what action to take. If the decision is that the child no longer needs to be “statemented” they should inform parents in writing and give details of appeal procedures at tribunal.

If the decision is to change, an amended Statement will be issued and again parents will be informed in writing. Again the whole statement can be appealed.

It is advisable that you seek advice from your local parent partnership scheme or specialist agency such as IPSEA.

Useful SEN links.


The law says that children do not have learning difficulties just because English isn't their first language. Of course, some of these children could also have learning difficulties.

Call our free helpline

Woman speaking on the phone

We provide free and impartial support and information on the issues that matter to disabled people and their families. 

Call us free on 0808 800 3333, weekdays 9am to 5pm.

Talk about education

For anything about education and learning, talk to others in our online community. If you have a specific question, you can also talk to one of our community advisors.

This link will open in a new window.

Join our online community