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What is SEN?

What is SEN - girl speaking sign language

Since 2015, the percentage of students on SEN support in England has risen from 11.6% to 12.1%. The number of students in special schools has also increased, with 9.3% of SEN support students attending state-funded special schools. But what is SEN? In this blog, we’re going to explore the basics of SEN – some definitions and provision.

In essence, “SEN” stands for Special Educational Needs. This term describes learning difficulties that make it harder for children to learn than others of the same age.

It’s worth noting that another widely used term is “SEND” (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities). Whether a school or institution adopts the term ‘SEN’ or ‘SEND’ in their learning provisions generally depends on the types of needs their students have.



Why is SEN important?


All children deserve a broad, balanced and suitable education. Identifying Special Educational Needs in children with learning difficulties as soon as possible ensures that they are fairly represented in the classroom and receive the help they need from teachers.

SEN provision is important because:

  • It lifts learning barriers for specific students
  • It promotes individual learning
  • It supports the educational system
  • It teaches students to be mindful of the needs and requirements of others
  • It helps students make friends with children with a range of abilities and needs

In essence, it ensures that every child has any barrier to learning identified and provisions implemented that support them.


SEN in more detail – the legal bit


SEN is more than an industry acronym. It is a legal definition. More details of the legislation covering this are found in ‘Part 3′ of the Children and Families Act 2014.

There is also associated statutory guidance for organisations that support children and young people with special educational needs. This Code of Practice applies in England and covers the 0-25 age range.

The regulatory framework surrounding SEN places a clear focus on children and young people and parents’ participation in decision-making regarding a child’s education. A school’s approach to SEN has to be an inclusive one across all levels.


What is the SEN Code of Practice?


The SEN Code of Practice provides statutory guidance on duties, policies and procedures relating to SEN legislation. It is relevant to local authorities in education, governing bodies in education and the proprietors of academies.

Understanding the Code of Practice helps understand how SEN works in schools and how teachers are involved in decisions relating to child’s education and the provisions needed.

The guiding principles are as follows:

  • Children and parents should be involved in discussions and decisions about education support and provisions; as well as the planning, commissioning and reviewing of services for the support of a child’s learning
  • The special needs of children should be identified early, and interventions put in place as soon as possible to support them
  • Parents and children should have choice and control over which support and interventions are adopted
  • Those who make decisions, including educational, health and social care services, should work together where necessary
  • Barriers to learning should be lifted and inclusivity promoted

Children and young people with special educational needs should be supported across all education levels and into adulthood.  


What is SEN provision?


SEN provisions lift learning barriers with the aim that children with special educational needs will not be disadvantaged in the classroom.

SEN provisions are defined as anything that is offered additional to and different from what is provided to students through the curriculum.

Provisions are created to accommodate the following areas of need:


  • Communication and interaction
  • Cognition and learning
  • Social, emotional and mental health
  • Sensory and/or physical needs


Some students require provisions that are simple to implement (e.g. subtitles on videos due to hearing impairment), while others require a modified curriculum or learning environment because they have social and/or academic challenges.


For instance, a student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may find it challenging to stay focused during an hour-long PowerPoint presentation. A provision, in this case, could be to move them to the front of the class or change up the delivery method that includes all students.


To use another example, a student with dyslexia may struggle to learn words by rote. A provision could be to create memory aids (mnemonics) or look at oracy learning methods to aid retention.


Some learning difficulties require an individualised approach to teaching. For example, children with autism can struggle with sensory overload in everyday classrooms. One-to-one tutoring and smaller working groups are a helpful way of decreasing overload arising from a full and noisy classroom.


Provisions can go further than this. After school classes, assigning special needs teachers to help students during class, and hosting small extracurricular workshops inside lessons are all excellent examples of provisions for specific situations. Different educational approaches, such as oracy, can ensure that classes are more fully inclusive to a broader range of students within the classroom.


What are the first steps with SEN teaching?


Once a child or young person has been identified as having SEN, the school or other educational institution must provide special services (e.g. speech therapy, text to audio equipment, braille, extra tutoring) that meets their needs.


All mainstream schools must appoint a teacher to be their SENCo (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) who will oversee the school’s SEN policy.


The parents and SEN student should be included in discussions and decisions about support with teachers so that the provisions put in place are satisfactory.

When students are not able to be included in discussions, the parents, SENCo and teachers should make decisions that they believe are best for the student.


Many mainstream schools have a special education framework in place with provisions pre-available for various special educational needs. Pre-available provisions ensure students can be accommodated quickly. Other times, bespoke support is required.


Many students with SEN go to mainstream schools that are well-adapted for SEN, but a ‘special school’ may better serve students with significant learning difficulties. For instance, some schools cater specifically for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schools for visually impaired students.


Wrapping up


It is the right of every child to receive an education that enables them to make progress, and schools and teachers play a crucial role in facilitating this.


All children with special educational needs should have their needs met no matter how complex. If you are a teacher and want to talk to someone who can help you with how oracy can support SEN students in your classroom, please contact us.


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