What is a Special Educational Need?

A ‘Special Educational Need (or SEN)’ means help that is in addition to, or different from the support generally given to all children of the same age.

Teachers make adjustments so that they can meet the wide range of needs for all the children in any given class and this is known as ‘differentiation’.

A child has a Special Educational Need (or SEN) if they need further adjustments or support on top of ‘differentiation’. A child does not need a medical diagnosis to be recognised as having SEN. A disability which creates barriers to education may also be the trigger for additional support.

SEN is not always about a child’s academic attainment. Some children may have other barriers to learning.

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.


Broad areas of need

These are the four broad 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

The SEND Code of Practice 2015 says:

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. (xiii)

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, 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 in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions (xiv)

How are children with SEN supported?

When a school puts in place support for SEN this is known as SEN Support. Mainstream schools must:

  • use their best endeavours to make sure that a child with SEN gets the support they need – this means doing everything they can to meet children and young people’s SEN
  • ensure that children and young people with SEN engage in the activities of the school alongside pupils who do not have SEN
  • designate a teacher to be responsible for co-ordinating SEN provision – the SEN co-ordinator, or SENCO
  • inform parents when they are making special educational provision for a child
  • prepare a SEN information report

Watch our recording ‘What is a special educational need or SEN’
Read accessible script of recording (opens PDF)
Watch our recording ‘What is a disability according to the Equality Act 2010?’
Read accessible script of recording (opens PDF)