Print this page

What if My Child Has Special Educational Needs

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 SEN 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'. They also have to make sure that parents are told about what arrangements are being made for their child.

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 Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) in school. You can try to get an assessment by an educational psychologist.

Getting a statement of special educational needs

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

Some forms of special educational need may be considered to be a disability and your child might be entitled to additional support under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 2005.

You may want to read the government's Code of Practice on Special Educational Needs, written to ensure that children with SEN get the right help. A free copy is available from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCFS) publication centre on 0845 602 2260. The DCSF also publishes SEN: A guide for parents & carers in community languages (

Incorrect assessments

You may feel that your child has been wrongly diagnosed as having special educational needs. Research has shown that Black Caribbean and dual-heritage Caribbean pupils are 1.5 times more likely to be identified as having behavioural, emotional and social difficulties than White British pupils.

Children who have not been identified by the school as being of Traveller heritage may be thought to have SEN when they have simply missed periods of schooling or have moved around different schools. Discuss concerns with the SENCO (take a friend with you, if necessary).

If your child speaks English as an additional language, this should not be confused with SEN. He/she may simply need extra help with English. Also, if your child has experienced trauma (this may be particularly relevant to refugee and asylum-seeking families), it's worth telling the school. They may be able to access specialist help.

You might also need to check if your child has previously unidentified difficulties with hearing or sight as these can cause problems with hearing what the teacher says or in reading from boards or from computer screens.

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

Getting help

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).