Profile information Account settings
Sign up Sign in

What are special educational needs and disabilities?

Under the law, a child has special educational needs if they have 'a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special education provision to be made for him or her'. 

Compulsory school-age children (typically after a child’s 4th birthday) are assessed as having SEND if they:

  • have significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or

  • have a disability that 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

In practice, SEND can affect children's concentration levels, physical abilities, comprehension, reading and writing skills and their behaviour or ability to socialise.

What support is available?

Under 5s

SEN support available for children under 5 years of age includes:

  • a written progress check for 2-year-olds

  • child health visitor conducting a health check for children aged 2 - 3

  • written assessment of the child's first year in primary school

  • a requirement for schools to make reasonable adjustments to take into account any disabilities

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework ensures SEND support amongst Ofsted registered nurseries, playgroups and childminders.

5 - 15-year-olds

Schools should have a teacher designated as an SEN coordinator (known as a SENCO). Parents can talk to the SENCO if they think their child requires:

  • extra help or encouragement from teachers - or a special learning programme

  • help with taking part in class activities - possibly by working in smaller groups - or extra observation in or out of class

  • assistance with communicating with other children

  • support with any physical disabilities (eg personal care)

Children 16 or above or those in further education

Parents can contact the SENCO (or most relevant person) at a college to discuss any requirements. The college and local authority may then talk to the child about any support they need.

For more information about education law in relation to children with SEN, read Laws on children’s education.

What is an Education, Health and Care plan?

Children and young people up to the age of 25 who need additional support to that which is provided as standard are entitled to an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. This essentially identifies any educational, health and social needs and sets out the additional support required to meet those needs. In particular, it may entitle the child or young person to a personal budget that helps with their needs.

There is no set format for an EHC plan, however, it must have the following, clearly labelled sections:

  • the views, interests and aspirations of the parents and the child

  • the child’s special educational needs (SEN)

  • the child’s health needs related to SEN

  • the child’s social care needs related to SEN

  • the outcomes, setting out how the extra help will benefit the child

  • the special educational provision and support

  • the health provision

  • the social care provision

  • the child’s placement (ie the type and name of the school or other institution)

  • personal budget arrangements

  • advice and information (ie a list of the information gathered during the EHC needs assessment)

Parents and young people aged between 16 and 25 themselves can request an EHC plan from their local authority. A request can also be made by other relevant parties (eg teachers, doctors or family friends). The local authority will then decide whether to make a plan within 16 weeks. An appeal can be made to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunal if a party wishes to challenge the outcome.

For more information on SEND, see the government's guidance.

Related Guides

Ask a lawyer

Get quick answers from lawyers, easily.
Characters remaining: 600
Rocket Lawyer On Call Solicitors

Try Rocket Lawyer FREE for 7 days

Start your Premium Membership now and get legal services you can trust at prices you can afford. You’ll get:

All the legal documents you need—customise, share, print & more

Unlimited electronic signatures with RocketSign®

Ask a lawyer questions* and get a response within one business day

Access to legal guides on 100s of topics

A 30-minute consultation with a lawyer about any new issue

33% off hourly rates or a fixed price if you need further legal help

*Subject to terms and conditions