What are special educational needs?
If your child has more difficulties than most children their age with schoolwork, communication or behaviour, plenty of help and advice is at hand from special educational needs specialists, teachers and voluntary organisations.
What 'special educational needs' means
The term 'special educational needs' (SEN) has a legal definition, referring to children who have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn or access education than most children of the same age.
Many children will have SEN of some kind at some time during their education. Help will usually be provided in their ordinary, mainstream early education setting or school, sometimes with the help of outside specialists.
If your child has special educational needs, they may need extra help in a range of areas, for example:
- reading, writing, number work or understanding information
- expressing themselves or understanding what others are saying
- making friends or relating to adults
- behaving properly in school
- organising themselves
- some kind of sensory or physical needs which may affect them in school
Your child's progress at school
Children make progress at different rates and have different ways in which they learn best. When planning lessons based around the National Curriculum, your child's teacher will take account of this by looking carefully at how they organise their lessons, classroom, books and materials.
The teacher will then choose suitable ways to help your child learn from a range of activities (often described as 'differentiating the curriculum').
If your child is making slower progress or having particular difficulties in one area, they may be given extra help or different lessons to help them succeed.
Just because your child is making slower progress than you expected or the teachers are providing different support, help or activities in class, this doesn't necessarily mean that your child has SEN.
Getting help for your child
Your child's early years are a very important time for their physical, emotional, intellectual and social development. When the health visitor or doctor makes a routine check, they might suggest that there could be a problem. If you have any worries of your own, you should ask for advice straightaway.
You should first go to your child's class teacher, the SENCO (the person in the school or preschool who is responsible for coordinating help for children with special educational needs) or the headteacher.
You could ask them if:
- the school thinks your child is having difficulties and/or has SEN
- your child is able to work at the same level as children of the same age
- your child is already getting extra help
- you can help your child
If your child's school agrees that he or she has SEN in some areas, they will adopt a step-by-step approach to meeting these needs.
- Special educational needs: a step-by-step approach
- Identifying special educational needs in under fives
- Getting help for special educational needs in under fives
Special educational needs: basic principles
There are a number of basic principles that all those involved in your child's education will consider. When talking to your child's teachers, there are some basic points to bear in mind:
- if your child has SEN their needs should be met and they should receive a broad, well-balanced and relevant education
- your views should always be taken into account and the wishes of your child should be listened to
- your child's needs will usually be met in a mainstream school, sometimes with the help of outside specialists
- you should be consulted on all the decisions that affect your child
- you have a vital role to play in your child's education
If your child has SEN, there are also a number of organisations that will be of help.
- Support for special educational needs: parent partnership services and other organisations
More useful links
- Caring for a disabled child (caring for someone section)
- Accessible technology products (disabled people section)
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