Special Educational Needs (SEN) could be one of the most contentious elements of our education program. For a very long time there has been considerable debate regarding the excellent places in which to educate children with Special Educational Needs and what ‘inclusion’ should mean in practice. Nonetheless, amongst majority of the practitioners there is an agreement developing: that ‘inclusion’ is not an issue of place and that what really is important is the level of the education gotten, in spite of the setting. There is still an argument regarding how decisions are reached on regarding where we educate some children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), but there is also an important need to focus on the standard of the education these children really receive.

One important reason for the under-accomplishment of these children, and the insufficient functioning of the SEN system as a whole, is the lack of key or primary understanding of SEN amongst the teaching personnel. A second, and an associated reason, is the lack of teaching skills and specialism in Special Educational Needs (SEN). It has become a maxim that no education system can be appropriate than the quality of the teachers who work within it and this stands if we look specifically look at SEN.

Regardless of the fact that the matters surrounding teacher training and SEN are not really new, governments have indicated inability or unwilling to get to understand the level of the challenge. According to one professional, “successive governments had done very little to improve the nature of training in respect to Special Educational Needs (SEN) issues.” Majority in the sector believe in the fact that the situation can be compared to “groundhog day”, with the authority continuously recognizing the importance of action, and doing nothing about it.

Every child deserves a fair start in life, with the very best opportunity to succeed

Currently, life chances for the approximately two million children and young people in around the world who are identified as having a special educational need (SEN), or who are disabled, are disproportionately poor. Disabled children and children with SEN say that they can feel frustrated by a lack of the right help at school or from other services. For children with the most complex support needs, this can significantly affect their quality of life. Hundreds of thousands of families have a disabled child or a child with SEN, and parents say that the system is bureaucratic, bewildering and adversarial and that it does not sufficiently reflect the needs of their child and their family life.

Whilst the circumstances of children, young people and their parents differ greatly; from young people requiring a few adjustments in class to children with life-limiting long-term conditions, families have many shared concerns. The system to support children and young people who are disabled or who have SEN often works against the wishes of families. Children’s support needs can be identified late; families are made to put up with a culture of low expectations about what their child can achieve at school; parents don’t have good information about what they can expect and have limited choices about the best schools and care for their child; and families are forced to negotiate each bit of their support separately.

According to the Special Educational Needs (SEN) Code of Practice, a child is defined as having SEN when “he or she has a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.”1 A child is considered to have a learning difficulty if they have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age or have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of the same age.

The definition of special educational provision is provision which is additional to or otherwise different from that made generally available for children of their age in schools, other than special schools, in the area. This broad definition means a significant proportion of pupils are identified as having SEN at any one time. There are currently around 1,656,000 pupils in UK identified as having SEN. This is equal to 20.5% of children in our schools and represents a significantly higher proportion of children identified as having SEN than that identified in other countries. The proportion of children identified as having the most severe needs does not differ much, with each country identifying around 3% at this level.

The vision for educators should be to have a new approach to identifying SEN in early years settings and schools to challenge a culture of low expectations for children with SEN and give them effective support to succeed. A new single early years setting- and school-based category of SEN will build on our fundamental reforms to education which place sharper accountability on schools to make sure that every child fulfils his or her potential; and a new single assessment process and ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’ by 2014 to replace the statutory SEN assessment and statement, bringing together the support on which children and their families rely across education, health and social care.

Services will work together with the family to agree a straightforward plan that reflects the family’s ambitions for their child from the early years to adulthood, which is reviewed regularly to reflect their changing needs, and is clear about who is responsible for provision. The new ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’ will provide the same statutory protection to parents as the statement of SEN and will include a commitment from all parties to provide their services, with local assessment and plan pathfinders testing the best way to achieve this.

In an attempt to recognize this breadth of needs the education system is designed to provide a graduated response. There are three levels of provision for children with SEN: School Action, School Action Plus and a Statement of SEN. School Action requires schools to provide additional help and/or interventions for an individual child from within their own resources, drawing on expertise and specialism within their school. If this fails to work, the child can be put on School Action Plus, at which point the school accesses external help from the Local Authority or other agencies.

For some children, this will still not be enough support and the school or parents can request a statutory assessment of needs on the part of the Local Authority. If the Local Authority then decides that the child’s needs are of a magnitude or severity that the school cannot reasonably be expected to provide adequate support for him or her through the usual means available through School Action or School Action Plus, the child will receive a Statement of SEN. This statement will specify the provision to which that child is now entitled and the requirements which the Local Authority has a duty to meet. Included in this statement will be a decision as to which school the child will attend.


Alborz, A., Pearson, D., Farrell, P. & Howes, A. (2009) The impact of adult support staff on pupils and mainstream schools. Technical Report in: Research Evidence in Education Library. EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

Allen MP, G. (2011) Early intervention: the next steps. an independent report to her majesty’s government. Cabinet Office graham%20allens%20review%20of%20early%20intervention.pdf.

Aston, J., Dewson, S., Loukas, G. & Dyson, A. (2005) Post-16 transitions: a longitudinal study of young people with special educational needs (wave three). DfES Research Report No. 655. Institute for Employment Studies, University of Manchester

Audit Commission (2003) Services for disabled children. A review of services for disabled children and their families. Audit Commission for Local Authorities and the National Health Service in England and Wales.