Special Educational Needs (SEN) Support

This information applies to England.

Your child could get Special Educational Needs (SEN) Support at school if their condition means they:

  • find it harder to learn than other children their age
  • have a condition which means their school or the way they are taught is not accessible to them

SEN Support is available at all levels of education, from nursery to further education.

Your child can still get SEN Support without a diagnosis.

If SEN Support is not enough to meet the needs of your child, you can apply for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment.

Wales has a different process from England

Wales has Individual Development Plans (IDP), reviewed at least once a year.

Additional Learning Needs (SNAP Cymru)

Your child’s rights to SEN Support in schools and nursery

A child with SEN has the right to support to access education. Young people aged 16 to 25 will have a say in their own support.

Section 20 of the Children and Families Act 2014 says a child has special educational needs if:

“they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her”.

Special educational provision:

  • ‘educates or trains’ your child
  • and is additional to or different from the educational offer to others of the same age

For example:

  • individual support
  • speech and language therapy

By law, state schools and nurseries must provide SEN Support. This includes academies and free schools.

Each local authority and state-funded school will have their own process. This should follow something called the Graduated Approach.

Private schools are different

Private schools may manage SEN in a different way. They may not offer SEN Support.

The right to reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are things that the school changes so that your child can study. Reasonable adjustments are often part of SEN Support.

The right to reasonable adjustments at school comes from The Equality Act 2010. Schools must not:

  • refuse to admit a child because of their impairment or condition
  • discriminate against a child by not meeting their needs
  • allow harassment by teachers or students related to their condition

There is no set definition for what is ‘reasonable’. It depends on:

  • what your child needs and the difference it will make
  • cost
  • practicality and effectiveness
  • if the adjustment will affect other pupils

If the school does not make adjustments, it could be discrimination.

Disability discrimination and the law

Read IPSEA’s guide on making a claim for discrimination.

Things to consider before making a claim (IPSEA)

Your local support service can help you understand your child’s rights

Look for your support service in your local authority’s Local Offer.

Find your local authority (GOV.UK)

The service may have a different name depending on your area. They’re sometimes called:

  • Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS)
  • Information Advice and Support Service (IASS)
  • Parent Partnership Service

Your local support service will know about:

  • your local authority’s system
  • the processes
  • any barriers
  • the best ways to approach things

In some cases, your local support service may be able to support you at school meetings.

When your child can get support

SEN Support is available at all levels of education, from nursery to further education.

You can ask for SEN Support when your child:

  • starts a new school or nursery
  • is already at school or nursery

You should be involved throughout the SEN process and receive updates. Young people aged 16 to 25 will also have a say in their support.

Your school can refer you. Your GP or another professional may also refer your child for support.

Your rights: SEND code of practice

SEND stands for special educational needs and disability. The code of practice sets out how education professionals should support children.

SEND code of practice (GOV.UK)

SEND: guide for parents and carers (GOV.UK)

It is not a legal document, but there are several laws that back up the code of practice.

All children have a right to an education that enables them to make progress so that they:

  • achieve their best
  • become confident and have fulfilling lives
  • successfully transition into an adult (access to more education, training or work)

When making decisions, local authorities must:

  • listen to the views of the children and their parents
  • fully involve the child and their parents in decisions
  • support children and their parents to make sure the child does as well as they can in education
  • support children and their parents to make sure the child can prepare for adulthood

For example, the school must use their “best endeavours” to make sure your child gets the support they need. When they know your child has special educational needs, they must tell you what support they'll provide. This legal right is in paragraph 6.2 of the SEND code of practice.

Ask medical professionals about adjustments at school

When you’re trying to get a diagnosis, you may meet professionals such as:

  • speech and language therapists
  • eye specialists
  • child psychologists

Ask these professionals how your child’s condition will affect them at school. You might be able to use their answers to get your child the adjustments they need.

Get a referral if needed

If your child has already been diagnosed, ask your GP to refer you to a health visitor or paediatrician.

If your child has a diagnosis, you can also ask a specialist or consultant to refer you.

The process and services provided will vary depending on where you live.

For example, if your child has a visual impairment, you want to know what adjustments will help them to read the whiteboard and use textbooks.

An eye specialist could help you to know what might help at school.

Talking to your child’s school

The first people to talk to about your child’s needs are the head teacher and the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO). All schools in England have a SENCO.

SENCOs work with teachers, parents and health professionals to meet pupils’ special educational needs:

  • Ask for an appointment with the SENCO.
  • Explain why your child needs extra support.
  • If the school is unaware of your child’s needs, ask for a SEN assessment.

You could ask questions like:

  • Where is my child academically?
  • How is my child coping in school socially?
  • Is my child getting any extra support?
  • Is the school making any specialist referrals for things like occupational therapy (OT) and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS)?

If the SENCO says they expect your child to catch up

The SENCO may say that they expect your child to catch up.

If they do this, you could ask:

  • How are you going to support my child to catch up?
  • When will you review this?

Example adjustments and support for children with SEN

The adjustments will depend on:

  • how your child interacts with other people
  • their social, emotional and mental health needs
  • their sensory and physical needs
  • cognition and learning

For example:

If your child has a hearing or visual impairment, they may sit at the front of the class nearest the teacher.

If your child has difficulty writing, they may have a note-taker or learning support assistant.

Support could also include:

  • equipment to support physical and sensory impairments
  • extra training for staff, such as learning sign language or training on how to manage seizures
  • support staff for individual sessions
  • lessons on how to communicate with other people
  • touch typing lessons
  • a laptop with voice recognition software, including support on how to use it
  • regular tests to check hearing and how well hearing aids are working
  • sessions with a physiotherapist or speech and language therapist (SLT)
  • adaptations at home and school to make personal care easier

Education, health and care plans: Examples of good practice (Council for Disabled Children)

SEN Support plan stages

If your child needs extra support, ask about getting a SEN Support plan.

Making a SEN Support plan usually includes:

  • the SENCO
  • your child’s teacher
  • parents or carers
  • your child, if possible

The plan will talk about the adjustments and support your child should get. These should help your child to meet outcomes in the plan.

The Graduated Approach

SEN Support plans have 4 stages:

  • assessment
  • plan
  • do
  • review

The school must involve you and keep you up to date.

Plans can run in a cycle. Your child might need another assessment after their review.


Evaluating your child’s needs and the support required. Teachers and other professionals will work with you and your child to look at the support they need.


You and your child agree with the school what support they will do.


The school will support your child, as agreed in the plan.


The school will review how your child is progressing. You and your child can say how things are going and if your child is getting the support they need.

Apply for an EHCP if SEN Support cannot meet your child's needs

An Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) is different from SEN Support.


  • are more specific
  • can include support in education, health and social care funded by your local authority
  • mean that you have legal rights to the support in the plan

It can be easier to apply for an EHCP if your school supports you. But you can still apply directly to your local authority if they do not fully support you. If you ask the school for an EHC assessment, they must ask the local authority.

Most children who have an EHCP:

  • have SEN Support first
  • need to show how SEN Support is not enough for them

Applying for an EHCP

The school writes a SEN plan with you.

The plan includes regular support from a teaching assistant in a group. The assistant is guided by a speech and language therapist.

The plan talks about the difference that the support should make (outcomes).

After reviewing the SEN plan, your school agrees that:

  • your child is not making expected progress
  • your child needs specific help that the school cannot provide through SEN Support

The school helps you to apply to the local authority for an EHCP assessment. After the assessment, your child gets an EHCP.

The EHCP has funding for a speech and language therapist in it. Each week they will spend:

  • 1 hour giving ‘direct’ support to your child
  • 1 hour giving ‘indirect’ support to your child’s teacher

Last reviewed by Scope on: 23/08/2023

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