Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) in mainstream schools: what you need to know

picture written special educational needs

by Samantha T (Newman Tuition SENDCo)

In this article, I describe the Special Educational Needs landscape in the UK and give parents some tips about how to navigate it.   

   Did you know that …….?

Around 1 in 6 children in UK schools (15.5%) have Special Educational Needs.

(Source: Department for Education https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2020.  Published July 2020). 

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice 0-25 Years, 2015 – the key document for local authority schools, states that: 

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.

And that:

A pupil has SEN where their learning difficulty or disability calls for special educational provision, namely provision different from or additional to that normally available to pupils of the same age.

Special Educational Needs are categorised into these four areas:

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

All schools should have a clear approach to identifying and responding to SEND. The benefits of early identification are widely recognised – identifying need at the earliest point and then making effective provision improves long-term outcomes for the child or young person.

If the school has recognised that your child has SEND, they will either be on SEN Support or will have an EHCP (Education, Care and Health Plan). 

SEN Support

12.1% of pupils are currently on SEN support.  (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2020.)

Did you know that…..

The most common need for pupils with SEN support is Speech, Communication and Language Needs (SLCN) (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2020.)

If your child is on SEN Support they will be given extra or different help from that provided as part of the school’s usual curriculum. This will normally involve adjustments to their learning such as seating position, resources to support them such as a writing slope or group support in class from a Teaching Assistant, or learning interventions such as Social Skills or targeted Maths sessions.  There are a huge number of commercial intervention programmes available e.g. Read Write Inc Phonics, as well as government-led programmes and those devised by relevant staff or outside specialists such as Occupational Therapists.  

Children on SEN Support will not have an Education, Health and Care Plan.  However, if they are not making the expected progress given the SEN support provided in school, it may be decided that they need one. 

The SEND Code of Practice states that schools should adopt a graduated approach, taking action to remove barriers to learning and put in effective provision. This is a four-part cycle:

  • Assess: the child’s current performance is analysed, with information from teachers, parents, other supporters and professionals.
  • Plan: the teacher and the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENDCO), in consultation with the parent and the pupil (if appropriate), agree on the adjustments, interventions and support as well as the expected impact together with a clear date for review.  These will be written into an IEP (Individual Education Plan).
  • Do: the teacher and teaching assistants (TAs) put the plan in place, with SENDCO support.
  • Review: regularly assess how the plan is working. When the child also has an EHCP, there is an Annual Review.

Education, Health and Care Plans

3.3% of all pupils in England currently have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2020.)

Did you know that…..

The most common type of need among pupils with an EHC plan by far is Autism Spectrum Disorder – around 30%of all pupils with an EHC plan (about 83,000 pupils). (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2020.)

An EHCP is a working document given to a child by the local authority. Prior to the 2014 Code of Practice, this was known as ‘a statement’.

The first step in the EHCP process is to request an assessment by the local authority.  Most often, this request is made by the school’s SENDCo (Special Educational Needs and Disability Coordinator), but it can also be made by anyone who thinks an assessment may be necessary, including the young person if they are aged 16 – 25, their parents/carers, doctors, health visitors, teachers, parents and family friends. 

Next, the local authority decides whether to make a formal assessment, taking into account the views of parents, professionals and school staff, included in the request. This involves a detailed investigation to find out more about the child’s special educational needs, and what provision is needed to meet those needs.  If the LA decides that the child’s needs are more complex than can be handled by their school alone and there is a need to work with other providers to offer integrated support, they will agree to an EHCP.  This will set out the child’s needs and the extra help they should receive. 

The EHCP may suggest an alternative school placement, for example a special school (which could be a specialist independent school) or a specific choice of school for secondary transfer.  Parents/carers and the young person are able to request their choice of school, which may be agreed to in the EHCP.  This school must be on the Section 41 government approved list.  Almost all children in special schools have an EHC plan. 

Children with an EHCP are entitled to a personal budget. Money is provided by the LA to meet some of the needs in the EHCP, and the family can be involved in choosing how it is spent. The EHCP is reviewed annually and parents and their child must be consulted about how they think the support is working out, and what they would like to happen next.

In January 2019, almost half of children with an EHC plan attended mainstream schools and almost all others attended a special school.

Independent Schools

  • State schools are required to take their allocation of places from their catchment area and also to accept SEN children and offer adequate, appropriate provision. They can only refuse to accept the child if they apply to the LA showing why they cannot do this for the specific child.
  • However, for independent schools, it is only those schools or relevant early years providers that are on the government approved list that must have regard to the Code of Practice.  These are independent special schools which have been approved by the Secretary of State under Section 41 of the Children and Families Act as schools which a parent/carer or young person can request to be named in an EHC plan. The local authorities must be clear about the institutions on the approved list.
  • Some independent schools that are not on the Section 41 list may have a considerable number of SEN children.  However, they will generally tend to only accept those with a lower level of SEND needs, who they consider can keep pace with some or all of the other children. 

Tips for Working with Your Child’s School

If you are concerned that your child is experiencing difficulties with their learning:

  • Express any initial worries to the class teacher and discuss what can be done to support them in school and at home.  
  • You can then decide whether to talk to the SENDCo – who is usually very knowledgeable and wants the best outcomes for your child. 
  • Meetings: Keep notes of all meetings and actions so you can refer to them. Write down any questions you have and make sure you understand everything discussed.  It can be helpful to bring a named person with you – a friend, relative, or professional.  Local authorities have a list of trained volunteers who can help.
  • If you have any complaints, the school’s SEND policy should describe what you can do. 
  • If you feel you need to talk to someone else in school, you can arrange to meet the Head Teacher.
  • If you are unhappy with the school’s approach, contact the school governors.  
  • If you now want to talk to someone outside the school about your child’s needs, contact the Local Authority.

You should always feel confident to ask questions and have high expectations for your child.  School staff are looking to achieve the best outcomes for their students.


Finding out that your child has learning difficulties can be the beginning of what seems a daunting journey through the world of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.  However there are many professionals who can guide you and lots of support available, from professional organisations and parent groups to resources such as assistive technology.  Remember, you are a powerful advocate for your child, so don’t be afraid to ask. 

If you need advice or support, our friendly team has the experience and knowledge to help you on your way.  Click here to see how our SEND Consultancy Team can help.


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