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If your child has a condition or impairment, they can get extra support and adjustments at school. This is called Special Educational Needs (SEN) support.

Your child might need SEN support at school because 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

If your child does not have a diagnosis yet, you can still ask for SEN support.

Warning Wales has a different process to England

The Special Educational Needs (SEN) system in Wales is changing to Additional Learning Needs (ALN).

The additional learning needs transformation programme (gov.wales)

Types of SEN support

There are usually 2 levels of support for children with additional needs:

  • SEN support, which mainstream state schools must always provide
  • Education, health and care (EHC) plans, sometimes called EHCPs, for when SEN support is not enough to meet your child’s needs

Your child’s rights to SEN support

Your child has the right to support to access education.

Section 20 of the Children and Families Act 2014 says a child has SEN if:

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

Special educational provision is anything that “educates or trains” your child. This could be anything from individual support to speech and language therapy.

By law, every state school and nursery must provide SEN support. But each local authority and state-funded school will have their own process. This includes academies and free schools.

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

Reasonable adjustments

The Equality Act 2010 says that schools should not treat disabled students unfavourably. This means that they are not allowed to:

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

Schools must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that your child can study. There is no set definition for ‘reasonable’ adjustments. It depends on:

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

Reasonable adjustments are often included as part of SEN support.

Asking for reasonable adjustments

When your child can get support

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

The school may identify your child’s special educational needs. Legally, they must contact you about what support is available. Your GP or another professional may also refer your child for support.

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.

Talking to medical professionals

During diagnosis, you may meet speech and language therapists, eye specialists, child psychologists and other professionals.

You may want to ask questions about how the condition will affect your child at school.

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.

For example, if your child has a visual impairment, you may wish to know what adjustments will help with reading the whiteboard and using textbooks.

An eye specialist can give you a general idea of how your child may be best helped at school.

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

Talking to your child’s school

The first person to talk to about your child’s needs is their head teacher and the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO). All schools have a SENCO. It is the SENCO’s job to 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, Child and adolescent mental health (CAMH)?

If the SENCO says that they expect your child to catch up, you could ask:

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

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 one-to-one 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
  • adaptations at home and school to make personal care easier

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

Getting a SEN support plan

If your child needs extra support, the SENCO and your child’s teacher create a support plan with you, and if possible, your child. This will include details of the adjustments and the support your child will get.

SEN support

Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans

If your child has a SEN plan and they need more support that this allows, an Education, Health and Care plan can help.

An EHC plan, also called an EHCP, is a legal document. They:

  • 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

To get an EHC plan, you apply to your local authority for an EHC needs assessment. The local authority then decides if SEN support is enough to meet your child’s needs or if they need an EHC plan.

Education, Health and Care plans

Talk to your local support service

Talk to your local authority’s independent parent support service. They will know:

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

They can also help you understand your and your child’s rights. The service might be able to support you at school meetings too.

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

You should be able to find your support service in your local authority’s Local Offer.

Find your local authority (GOV.UK)

Last reviewed by Scope on: 30/07/2021

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