Identifying special educational needs

On this page you will find information about special educational needs and the support you can get.

What are special educational needs?

Many children and young people have special educational needs (SEN) at some time during their education. A child or young person with SEN may find it harder to learn than other children of the same age.

Special educational needs may include:

  • behavioural or social, for example difficulty making friends
  • reading and writing, for example dyslexia
  • concentrating, for example attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • a medical condition which affects learning
  • a sensory or physical need which affects them in school, for example being blind or deaf.

By law, nurseries, schools and colleges must provide an education to all pupils or students whatever their abilities or special needs.

You can find out how we make sure disabled children can access education in our schools, nurseries, playschools and children’s centres in our accessibility plan 2015 - 2018.

We are currently reviewing and drafting the accessibility plan for 2019 - 2020

Independent schools including academies and free schools, and private nurseries have their own plans which you can find on their websites.

For a summary of SEN, go to the Government’s website.

Why it is important to identify SEN

The earlier that SEN are identified the better your child’s chances of reaching his or her full potential.

We pay for training for those who provide early education to help them to identify SEN early so that a plan can be made to support a child’s development from the start.

Identifying SEN and disabilities in young children

NHS services regularly check the health and development of all children from birth through to school age. It is these services which:

  • your maternity team when your child is born
  • your GP
  • a health visitor
  • a child development centre

will most likely identify any SEN or disability your child may have.

You can talk to your GP or health visitor if you are worried about your child’s development, behaviour or other needs. And if your child is in a nursery, you can talk to the nursery staff.

What happens next?

If your child is found to have special educational needs, your health team will tell you about the support your child may need.

This support will depend on your and your children's individual needs. To find out about this support, go to our pages:

Identifying SEN and disabilities in school-aged children

If your child is at school and you are worried about his or her development, behaviour or progress, talk to your child’s teacher and the school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO).

We train teachers in early education and schools to identify SEN, and every school will have a policy on identifying and supporting children with SEN. To find out more about your school’s policy, go to the school’s website.
You can find web addresses for individual schools on our Primary and Secondary school pages.

Other people, such as health professionals and foster carers may also identify problems. If they do, they should contact us directly.

What happens next?

Your child's teacher will work with you, your child, a SENCO and other professionals where necessary to develop a support plan.

To find out about support plans, go to our Support plans page.

Identifying SEN and disabilities in young people aged 16 and over

If you are a young person aged 16 or over, it is likely that your needs will already be identified by the time you get to college.

But sixth form and further education colleges will ask about your learning needs and/or disability when you apply. And there are staff at every college who will work with you to identify your learning needs and plan support.

Last updated: 24/03/2021

Skip back to top of page