What is a Special Educational Need?

A child or young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.

The term ‘Special Educational Needs’ is used to describe learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for children to learn than most children of the same age. Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are likely to need extra or different help from that given to other children of the same age.

Work at school may be differentiated for many children, and when a school puts support in place for a child with SEN, this is known as SEN support.

The SEND Code of Practice 2015 says:

A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she:

  • Has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, of others of the same age, or
  • Has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age.

SEN is not always about a child’s academic attainment; some children may have other barriers to participation in education.

The SEND Code of Practice 2015 says:

‘Slow progress and low attainment do not necessarily mean that a child has SEN and should not automatically lead to a pupil being recorded as having SEN. However, they may be an indicator of a range of learning difficulties or disabilities.  Equally, it should not be assumed that attainment in line with chronological age means that there is no learning difficulty or disability.  Some learning difficulties and disabilities occur across the range of cognitive ability and left unaddressed, may lead to frustration, which may manifest itself as disaffection, emotional or behavioural difficulties.(6.23)’

Broad areas of need

These are the four areas of need, a full description of each can be found in the SEND Code of Practice 2015:

  • Communication and interaction
  • Cognition and learning
  • Social, emotional and mental health difficulties
  • Sensory and /or physical needs