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SEN – the basics

All children learn at different rates. Children who have a lot more difficulty learning than most kids their age can be said to have special educational needs (SEN). This section explains how and when educational support may be provided to children identified as having SEN

The ABC of SENThe graduated approach

Children have a right to have their educational needs assessed and support set up to meet those needs. And the law says schools and colleges must use their ‘best endeavours’ to do this (Children and Families Act 2014, Part 3). The SEND Code of Practice sets out a graduated approach to meeting the needs of children with SEN and disabilities.

This means that though the support offered to children with SEN does not have to be everything a parent might wish for, it does have to be enough for your child to make reasonable progress. If they don’t make this progress, they should get a higher level of help. This is the ‘graduated approach’ as set out by The SEND Code of Practice and is relevant whether your child is in school, pre-school or further education.

Children who have been identified as having SEN can be on SEN support or go through a process called Education, Health and Care needs assessment and have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan. Some children will move through these stages as it becomes clear they need more support to make reasonable progress. Others will get all the support they need from SEN Support. Or they may move back and forth during their education.

Parents say it is useful to remember that the professionals are experts in education but you are the expert about your child. If you feel that your child has difficulties not fully recognised by the school, pre-school or college or that they aren’t getting the help they need, speak to your child’s teacher, the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) or the headteacher. One thing you can be certain about is that your child will  not be the only one with special needs. In Brighton and Hove, about one child in every 30 has an EHC Plan or Statement at present, but many more receive extra help on SEN Support.

For more information on SEN it is also worth looking at the council’s Local Offer.

Extra help rather than SEN?

Children make progress at different rates and have different ways in which they learn best. Teachers are expected to draw on different materials and activities to suit each child. This is known as ‘differentiation’ and some children get some extra help at times (e.g. a reading recovery group, a spelling booster programme) without being described as having special educational needs. However schools and pre-schools must tell you if they have identified that your child has special educational needs i.e. that they should give them more or different help from what they offer all children.

SEN Support

This is the first level of help once your child’s pre-school or class teacher or tutor has identified that they have special educational needs. Together with the SENCO they should consult you, gather information and find ways in which they can help. They should follow a cycle of action:

  • Assess – analyse what the child’s needs are.
  • Plan – work out what support to offer and how. This could be a special programme of work, particular equipment, time with a teaching assistant or teacher individually or in a group. The planning should include the outcomes they expect to see from this support.
  • Do – the pre-school staff, class teacher or subject teachers put the plan into action, supported by the SENCO.
  • Review – look at whether the support is working. Revise the plan in consultation with parents and the child.

The idea is that this cycle keeps happening for as long as the child needs SEN Support and if they do not make the expected progress, things should intensify, perhaps bringing in expert advice to help assess in more detail or planning more or different support. As the parent you should be involved at every stage. A record of the support to be given and the outcomes that support is meant to achieve should be shared with you. There are no specific rules about how a pre-school or school should write this record, but at school you must also get an annual report on your child and a face to face meeting at least three times a year. Children can get a significant level of extra help on SEN Support including one to one help for several hours each week if that’s what helps them best.  Only a small minority of children move to the next stage: being assessed to see if they need an EHCP

EHC Assessment and EHCPs

If your child has been receiving SEN support and isn’t making enough progress, the local authority (LA) can be asked to carry out a statutory EHC needs assessment. This request can come from you as parent, your child if they are 16 plus, or the school or college. Next, the LA considers whether your child needs an EHC assessment. If appropriate, they will go ahead, involving you, your child and a range of professionals. On the basis of this assessment the LA decides whether your child needs an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). The EHCP is centred on their educational needs but also includes their health and social care needs. It sets out the help they should get to meet these needs and the outcomes (long and short term) that this help should lead to for the individual. Brighton & Hove City Council has a strong commitment to working with parents constructively. Nevertheless parents can find the process of statutory assessment a bit daunting, so read our fuller section about EHC needs assessment and EHC Plans

Recent SEN developments

Many more resources have been moved to mainstream schools over recent years so that children will get the extra support from within their local school or from services that schools easily access (e.g. outreach from special schools or learning and behaviour support services). In 2014 there were major changes to SEN. Children and young people who currently have a Statement should transfer to an EHC Plan over the next three years.

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