Special Educational Needs (SEN) is a term that covers a number of different difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for a child to learn compared to other children of the same age. These might include difficulties with schoolwork, communication or behaviour. Help for children with special educational needs will, most often, happen within mainstream schools, sometimes with outside specialist help. The local authority has responsibility for SEN provision. The school’s governing body has a duty to ‘make every effort to see that the necessary special arrangements are made for any pupil who has special educational needs’. It also has to make sure that parents are told about what arrangements are being made for their child.

Most nursery schools have a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) who you can talk to about any learning difficulties that your child might have. The SENCO will be able to identify what extra resources can be provided to help.

SEN diagnosis

It’s important to trust your own instincts about your child. Although he/she may not have a diagnosis, you are likely to sense if something is wrong. You can talk to your child’s teacher to see if he/she shares any of your concerns. You can also talk to the SENCO in school.

Getting a statement of special educational needs

If you believe that your child’s early education provider isn’t able to provide the extra help that your child needs or that he/she isn’t making the progress that he/she should and is falling further behind, you can ask the local authority to carry out what’s called a ‘statutory assessment’. This is a detailed investigation by specialists to find out what your child’s special educational needs are and what special help is required. The local authority may or may not agree to do so. If they do decide to carry out an assessment, this might result in them writing a ‘statement of special educational needs’ for your child. It will describe your child’s special educational needs and what special help he/she requires.

Some forms of SEN may be considered to be a disability and your child might be entitled to additional support under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

You can read the government’s Code of Practice on Special Educational Needs, written to ensure that children with special educational needs get the right help at the right time at school. A free copy is available from the DCSF publication centre on 0845 602 2260. The DCSF also publishes SEN: A guide for parents & carers in Bengali, Chinese, Gujarati, Greek, Hindi, Punjabi, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese. Albanian, Arabic, Kurdish, Portuguese, Spanish and Somali versions. It is available to download from www.teachernet.gov.uk/wholeschool/sen/parentcarers.

Schools must have a SEN policy and must tell parents how they can complain and how complaints will be dealt with.

If you’re not satisfied with a local authority’s decision about the assessment of your child’s needs, you can appeal to a SEN tribunal. You can find more guidance on the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunals website at www.sendist.gov.uk.

Getting help

It can be difficult to get a statement of special educational needs because there are limited funds available to local authorities. But if you believe that your child does require additional help, you might want to ask your GP for support and persist with the school’s SENCO.

Parent Partnership services provide support and advice for parents about SEN. You can find them through your local authority. You can also get help and advice from the Advisory Centre for Education (0808 800 5793).