Rights and conditions
02 November 2016
As many as one in five children may at some time need extra help with their education because they have special educational needs (SEN).

SEN arise if a child has significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age, or has a disability which prevents or hinders him/her from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of the same age in schools within the local authority area.

Children are not regarded as having a learning difficulty solely because the language or form of language of their home is different from the language in which they will be taught.

Special educational provision means educational provision which is additional to, or otherwise different from, the educational provision made generally for children of their age in LEA-maintained schools (excepting special schools) in the area.

Basic information about the duties of schools and colleges, the nature of special educational needs and strategies for meeting them are set out below; for more detailed guidance, see ATL's Achievement for all publication.

This page provides general per-sector advice, and more specific advice on classroom practice.

Maintained schools

The SEN code of practice provides practical advice to local authorities, maintained schools, early years education settings and others on carrying out their statutory duties to identify, assess and make provision for children's special educational needs.

All these parties are required to have regard to this code, which provides the main guidance on how they might interpret their duties. Governing bodies of schools are required to use their 'best endeavours' to ensure that appropriate provision is made for children with special educational needs. SEN responsibilities are coordinated within the school by the SEN Co-ordinator (SENCO).

The code includes new rights and duties introduced by the SEN and Disability Act 2001 and Regulations. It strengthens a child's right to be educated in a mainstream school, and places a duty on LEAs to provide advice and information to parents and a means of resolving disputes.

The code also gives schools the right to request a statutory assessment of a child, and obliges schools and nursery education providers to inform parents when special educational needs provision is made for a child. It proposes a 'graduated approach' to provision, with assessment seen as a continuing process rather than a single, time-consuming event.

Further guidance is available in the form of a non-statutory SEN Toolkit, which suggests different kinds of action that schools might take to support children with SEN, and Inclusive schooling: children with special educational needs.

The Disability Rights Code of Practice for Schools

The Disability Rights Code of Practice for Schools is also a key document for local authorities and maintained education settings.

Part 2 of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 amends the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to prohibit all schools from discriminating against disabled children in their admissions arrangements, in the education and associated services provided by the school for its pupils or in relation to exclusions from the school.

The reasonable adjustments duty on schools does not require the provision of auxiliary aids and services or the removal or alteration of physical features. Decisions about the provision of educational aids and services for children with SEN will continue to be taken within the SEN framework.

Since September 2002, schools are required not to treat disabled pupils less favourably for a reason relating to their disability and to take reasonable steps to ensure that they are not placed at a substantial disadvantage to those who are not disabled. A Disability Rights Code of Practice for schools, published by the Disability Rights Commission, provides guidance on the operation of these anti-discrimination duties in practical situations in schools.

"A person has a disability for the purposes of this Act if he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities." Section 1(1), Disability Discrimination Act 1995

A child may fall within one or more of the definitions given above. The SEN code of practice helps early education settings, schools and LAs meet their responsibilities for children with SEN. The DRC Code of Practice and guidance relating to Part 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 will help them meet their responsibilities for disabled children.

Further education

The Learning and Skills Council and LEAs are responsible for meeting the cost of full-time education for people up to the age of 19. If the Learning Skills Council decide that a young person's needs can only be met by going to a specialist residential college, they have a duty to fund a place there.

If a young person has a statement of SEN, their LEA must work with social services as part of their 'transition plan' when they approach leaving school.

It is not a statutory requirement for an FE college to have a special educational needs co-ordinator or someone with a similar title to oversee special educational needs provision, but government guidelines recommend it and most colleges will have one.

The same is true of staff to support students with special educational needs in mainstream teaching sessions. Although these are not statutory, FE colleges must 'have regard to' the special educational needs of students, and in some instances this will mean providing support staff in mainstream teaching.

For advice about students with special needs, lecturers' first point of reference should be the SEN co-ordinator (SENCO) or their equivalent at the college. Most FE colleges (except very small institutions) will also have a college nurse who can give some advice on medical aspects of special educational needs.

Since FE colleges have become incorporated and independent of local education authorities (except in Northern Ireland), they are no longer entitled to look to LEA advisers for specialist help and support, although formal or informal arrangements with LEAs may exist in some areas.

The main external sources of support and advice on special needs for FE colleges will be local Learning and Skills Councils (in England) or the Further Education Funding Council for Wales.

SEN in the classroom

Children have special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for them. These can include emotional and behavioural difficulties, sensory and physical impairment, difficulties with communication and interaction, as well as attention deficit and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, Tourette's Syndrome and autism.

Emotional and behavioural difficulties

The term 'emotional and behavioural difficulties' is used in relation to children/young people who have difficulty controlling their behaviour and emotions. Their ability to learn is affected, and they may also find it hard to operate in a social setting.

Children with emotional and behavioural difficulties can make it hard for school/college staff to build up relationships with them, yet opening positive channels of communication is the main way of reaching them.

It takes time and patience to communicate with an uncommunicative pupil/student, or to try to understand the disturbed pupil/student who disturbs the whole class.

Try to find out if there are reasons why the pupil/student behaves as he or she does. A greater understanding may help you and your colleagues to empathise rather than perceiving him or her as a nuisance.

Try to be consistent in your approach and, where appropriate, work with colleagues to ensure that the same parameters are laid down for him or her, whatever the lesson or occasion.

Sensory and/or physical impairments

As children with a sensory or physical impairment may be dependent on others for some of their needs, it is important that they have opportunities to excel at something.

Aim to allow each child to emerge in his/her own right so that he or she is not seen just as someone who is 'disabled'. Give him or her every chance to join in, to express opinions and to interact with the peer group.

Whatever the sensory or physical difficulty involved, the first support strategy for a teacher or teaching assistant to adopt is to become as well-informed as possible. Read any medical or other records the school holds, and then find out who is available to help.

Almost inevitably, some children with serious sensory and/or physical impairments will be highly dependent on others. It is therefore all the more important to create opportunities for some degree of independence in terms of learning as well as living.

Give the child time and opportunity to initiate and/or complete an activity he or she is carrying out as independently as possible. If the child has a dedicated teaching assistant, he or she should step back occasionally to facilitate this.

Opportunities for the child to be amongst his/her peers, independent of the assistant, should also be encouraged. Always be on the lookout for informal as well as formal opportunities for recognising achievement.

If a child has difficulty getting about, the school will need to assess the extent to which classrooms and corridors are wheelchair friendly. Issues to consider include:

  • the layout of the classroom (aim to maximise space)

  • the position of the child in the classroom and whether resources are accessible

  • the best route from one area of the school to another, and the time the child needs to get around

  • whether another child should be asked to help push a wheelchair (if the user does not control it) or be available to lend a hand or carry a bag

  • if the wheelchair user can transfer in and out of it - eg to sit at a desk, or lie on a PE mat.

If a child's hand control is weak, consider using:

  • jumbo pencils, wax crayons, thick felt pens, paintbrushes held in the teeth or velcro-ed to the hand

  • non-slip mats or even sellotape to hold paper, books, plates etc in place

  • foam rubber around cutlery handles

  • rimmed, rather than flat plates

  • specially-adapted computer switches and concept keyboards

  • different ways of recording work, such as wordprocessing, talking into a tape-recorder, and dictating to a friend.

Difficulties with communication and interaction

There are many different kinds of speech and language difficulty, but all of them affect communication. Such difficulties may arise from an inability to cope with some aspect of the structure of language, or with the way language is used to communicate.

There is much that can be done in the classroom to help children with delayed language development, and these strategies will also benefit the class as a whole.

Children with disordered language are also likely to need some support from the speech and language therapy service, so that the nature of their difficulties can be investigated and ways of helping them identified.

This is a specialised field, and both school and child should be able to draw on outside expertise.

Attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affect at least two per cent of the population. These disorders cause children and young people to behave poorly and to underachieve academically, often despite having a good intellect and good home support.

Children and young people with ADD/ADHD need to be taught how to structure their work, pace activities and manage their emotions. A structured behaviour programme should:

  • build in reminders of what tasks need to be done and by when - tick-lists, diaries, work-plans, etc

  • include self-monitoring of completed tasks and behaviour within clearly defined rules

  • be consistent

  • teach social integration skills

  • teach anger management skills.

Tourette's Syndrome

Tourette's Syndrome is one of a number of 'tic' disorders. A 'tic' is an involuntary movement or sound that is repeated over and over again. It is often worse during times of stress or excitement.

Strategies to help an affected child or young person include:

  • preventing teasing by making sure peers know and understand the condition

  • providing 'time out' when tics become disruptive

  • allowing the pupil/student to sit at the back of the class so he or she doesn't feel 'stared at'

  • have a discreet signal so that the child knows he or she can leave the room to release ticks in private.


Autism is a developmental disorder which affects social and communication skills and impairs the natural instinct within most people to relate to their fellow human beings. A child or young person with autism shows little curiosity or imagination, frequently seems uninterested or indifferent, and often has an accompanying learning disability.

Not all of the following strategies can be put into practice simultaneously, nor are they all appropriate to every individual. They include:

  • maintaining good relationships and open lines of communication between school, carers and the family

  • using pictorial instruction and physical prompts to ensure that the child/young person succeeds with new tasks

  • making eye contact easier for the child/young person by getting down to his or her level when working or playing

  • giving the child/young person longer to do something you have asked before you repeat what you say or give the answer

  • starting your instructions with the child's/young person's name, as people with autism often has difficulty in realising that you are addressing your comments and instructions to them

  • actively teaching social as well as cognitive and language skills.

Recording of SEN

Pupils with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties cover the full range of ability and a continuum of severity. Their behaviours present a barrier to learning and persist despite the implementation of an effective school behaviour policy and personal/social curriculum. They may be withdrawn or isolated, disruptive and disturbing, hyperactive and lack concentration, have immature social skills or present challenging behaviours.

Pupils with a range of difficulties, including emotional disorders such as depression and eating disorders; conduct disorders such as oppositional defiance disorder (ODD); hyperkinetic disorders including attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD); and syndromes such as Tourette's, should be recorded as BESD if additional or different educational arrangements are being made to support them.

Where the only additional provision is routine medicine pupils should not be recorded as having SEN.

See also

Need further advice?

Your first point of contact is your ATL/AMiE rep in your school or college. Your local ATL/AMiE branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact AMiE's member advisors on tel: 0345 8118111 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.