The Directory - Things to do, places to
go and people to talk to in Hartlepool

The term ‘special educational needs’ has a legal definition.  Children with special educational needs all have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children of the same age.  They may need extra or different help from that given to other children of the same age.

Children with special educational needs may require extra help because of a range of needs, such as in thinking and understanding, physical or sensory difficulties, emotional and social difficulties with their speech and language or how they relate to and behave with other people.

 Many children will have special educational needs of some kind at some time during their education.  Education settings and other organisations can help most children overcome the barriers their difficulties present quickly and easily.  However, a small number of children will need extra help for some or all of their time in education.

For example, special educational needs could mean that a child has difficulties with: 

>> All of the work;

>> Reading, writing, number work or understanding information; 

>> Expressing themselves, or understanding what others are saying;

>> Making friends or relating to adults;

>> Behaving appropriately;

>> Organising themselves; or

>> Some kind of sensory or physical needs which may affect them in education

Help for children with special educational needs will usually be able to be organised in their local mainstream education provider, sometimes with the help of other organisations.

The Government has set out in the Early Learning Goals of the foundation stage the things that most children should be able to do by the end of their Reception year.  The National Curriculum for children from 5 to 16 years also sets out what most children will learn at each stage of their education.

Children make progress at different rates and some have different ways in which they learn best.  Teachers are expected to take account of this by looking carefully at how they organise their lessons, the classroom, the books and materials they give to each child and the way they teach.  So all teachers will consider a number of options and choose from the most appropriate ways to help each child learn from a range of activities.  This is often described as ‘differentiating the curriculum’

Children making slower progress or having particular difficulties in one area may be given extra help of different lessons to help them succeed but this does not necessarily mean that they have special educational needs.

Your child’s early years are a very important time for their physical, emotional, intellectual and social development.  When your health visitor or doctor makes a routine check, they might suggest that there could be a problem.  If you have any worries of your own, you should get advice straightaway.

If your child is not yet at school or nursery, you can talk to your doctor or health visitor who will be able to give you advice about the next steps to take.

If you think your child may have a special educational need that has not been identified by their school or nursery, you should talk to your child’s teacher, or ask to see the SENCO (this is the person in the school who has a particular responsibility for co-ordinating help for children with special educational needs) or Head teacher.  You will be able to talk about your concerns and find out what the school thinks. 

Working together with your child’s teachers will often help to sort out worries and problems.  The closer you work with them, the more successful any help for your child can be.

Remember—you know your child better than anyone

You might like to ask if:

>> The school thinks your child has difficulties;

>> The school thinks your child has special educational needs;

>> Your child is able to work at the same level as other children of a similar age;

>> Your child is already getting some extra help; and

>> You can help your child.

Other organisations you can get help from are:

>> The parent partnership service in your local authority

>> Child health services;

>> Social care services; and

>> Local voluntary organisations, mainly charities.

The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice gives guidance to all of the people that help to identify, assess and provide support for children with special educational needs. 

All early years settings, schools, academies and colleges are responsible for meeting special educational needs through teaching that is adapted and personalised for individual children.  Some children will need support that is additional to or different from what is provided for most of their peers.  This kind of help is called special educational provision and education settings must make every effort to ensure that this is in place for children who need it.

 You can download a free copy of the Code of Practice from the Department for Education website.

When a special educational need has been identified, the education setting should start a cycle of actions to make sure they put effective support in place.  This cycle is called the Graduated Approach and involves these stages:


The graduated approach recognises that children learn in different ways and can have different kinds and levels of special educational needs.  Using the action cycle ensures that specialist expertise is brought in step by step to help the school or college with the difficulties a pupil is having.

Children might need help through the graduated approach for only a short time, or for many years, perhaps even for the whole of their education.  Different education settings will use the action cycle in different ways.  However, no matter how they choose to take account of this guidance, if your child has SEN, you should be consulted at each stage.

There are lots of professionals that can help education providers to support children and they should be involved through the graduated approach, depending on your child’s needs.  For example, they might ask for help from a specialist teacher, an educational psychologist, a speech and language therapist or other health professionals.

What if you disagree?

If you disagree with what your child’s education setting are saying, you can get in touch with the parent partnership service.  They can help you to express your views and offer support whenever you need it.