11: Special Educational Needs (SEN)

What is SEN?

SEN doesn’t mean only those children with serious difficulties in school. The term applies to about one in five pupils who require some kind of extra support to make the kind of progress expected of an average pupil.

The draft legislation of 2014 defines this as progress which:

  • is significantly slower than that of their peers starting from the same baseline

  • fails to match or better the child’s previous rate of progress

  • fails to close the attainment gap between the child and their peers

  • widens the attainment gap”

Slow progress and low attainment do not necessarily mean that a child has SEN but can be seen as a possible indicator of learning difficulties or disabilities.

The Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC)

From September 2014, a new system of supporting young people with SEN was introduced. The purpose of the EHC is to “make special educational provision meet the special educational needs of the child or young person, to secure improved outcomes for them across education, health and social care and, as they get older, prepare them for adulthood.” In other words, it won’t focus only on educational needs but will also aim to encompass the young person’s health and social care needs too.

The new broad areas of SEN defined in the EHC are:

  • Communication and interaction – “difficulty in communicating with others. This may be because they have difficulty saying what they want to, understanding what is being said to them or they do not understand or use social rules of communication.” (e.g young people on the Autistic Spectrum or with Asperger’s Syndrome).
  • Cognition and Learning – “support for learning difficulties may be required when children and young people learn at a slower pace than their peers, even with appropriate differentiation. Learning difficulties cover a wide range of needs, including moderate learning difficulties (MLD), severe learning difficulties (SLD), where children are likely to need support in all areas of the curriculum and associated difficulties with mobility and communication, through to profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), where children are likely to have severe and complex learning difficulties as well as a physical disability or sensory impairment.”
  • Social, emotional and mental health difficulties – “children and young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other children and young people may have disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder or attachment disorder.”
  • Sensory and/or physical needs – “some children and young people require special educational provision because they have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of the educational facilities generally provided. These difficulties can be age related and may fluctuate over time. Many children and young people with vision impairment (VI), hearing impairment (HI) or a multi-sensory impairment (MSI) will require specialist support and/or equipment to access their learning.”

[1] (all passages in quotation marks in this chapter are taken from ‘Draft special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years’ from April 2014. It is available to view online here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/304534/Code_of_Practice_Draft.pdf)

Looked After Children and SEN

In 2012, 71.5% of the 29000 young people who had been looked after for at least a year were identified as having SEN, compared to around 20% of all pupils. Additionally, looked after children were over ten times more likely to have a statement of SEN than the general school population.

The reasons behind these statistics are complex but potential causes are frequent school moves, poor pre-care experiences, attachment issues, low expectations, placement breakdowns and delays in receiving the right type of support.

The process

You or your child’s teacher may be worried because:

  • your child may be making little progress compared to the majority of their peers
  • there are clear difficulties with reading, writing and/or mathematics
  • emotional or behavioural problems appear to be hampering any learning
  • physical problems may be preventing reasonable progress despite specialist equipment being used

At this point a discussion should take place between carers and the relevant school staff. This meeting should include the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) who is a member of the school staff with the responsibility for ensuring the best outcomes for pupils with SEN. It may also include the class teacher, the Designated LACT and the Head. The first step in responding to possible SEN is high quality teaching which is differentiated for individual pupils. If it is decided that the young person does extra support, then the school should begin what is called ‘The Graduated Approach’. “Where a pupil is identified as having SEN, schools should take action to remove barriers to learning and put effective special educational provision in place. This SEN support should take the form of a four-part cycle through which earlier decisions and actions are revisited, refined and revised with a growing understanding of the pupil’s needs and of what supports the pupil in making good progress and securing good outcomes. It draws on more detailed approaches, more frequent review and more specialist expertise in successive cycles in order to match interventions to the SEN of children and young people.”

This approach is in four steps:

  • Assess – a thorough analysis of the pupil’s needs including the views of the carer, pupil and external support services. The school should also study previous levels of progress.
  • Plan – “The teacher and the SENCo should agree in consultation with the parent/carer and the pupil the adjustments, interventions and support to be put in place, as well as the expected impact on progress, development or behaviour, along with a clear date for review.” If the young person is being taken out of the classroom and away from their teacher, the school have to provide a clear reason.
  • Do – the class teacher will implement the planning. “Where the interventions involve group or one-to-one teaching away from the main class or subject teacher, they should still retain responsibility for the pupil.
  • Review – the effectiveness of the intervention should be reviewed at the agreed date. The class or subject teacher, working with the SENCo, should revise the support in light of the pupil’s progress and development, deciding on any changes to the support and outcomes in consultation with the parent and pupil.”

If no progress has been made over a period of time and concerns are continuing to grow, the school should look to outside agencies for additional support. This should be discussed at a review meeting. The legislation states that, “The pupil’s parents/carers should always be involved in any decision to involve specialists. The involvement of specialists and what was discussed or agreed should be recorded and shared with the parents and teaching staff supporting the child in the same way as other SEN support.”

Examples of the external support that schools may be able to draw upon are services like Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), Educational Psychologists (EPs), therapists (including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists) and specialist teachers, for example those with a mandatory qualification for children with hearing and vision impairment.

After this point, if “despite the school having taken relevant and purposeful action to identify, assess and meet the SEN of the child or young person, the child or young person has not made expected progress, the school or parents/carers should consider requesting an (EHC) assessment. To inform its decision the Local Authority will expect to see evidence of the action taken by the school as part of SEN support.”

Once an EHC assessment has been requested, the LA must inform the child’s carers within 6 weeks. The LA will “consider whether there is evidence that despite the early years provider, school or post-16 institution having taken relevant and purposeful action to identify, assess and meet the special educational needs of the child or young person, the child or young person has not made expected progress.” If the LA decide not to go ahead with the EHC assessment, they must inform the carers of their reasons.

If the LA proceed with an assessment, they “must consult the child and the child’s parent or the young person throughout the process of assessment and production of an EHC Plan. The needs of the individual child and young person should sit at the heart of the assessment and planning process.”

If an EHC plan is agreed then a multi-agency meeting will be held to agree what type of support will best meet the needs of the pupil. Depending on the results of the assessment and the views of the carers and other professionals, the young person may be given a certain amount of extra help in school, typically using a TA. It may, for example, be ten hours per week or even full time support in the classroom. Alternatively it may be decided that attendance at a special school is required; that school will cater for pupils with a particular need in one of the four areas of SEN (communication and interaction, cognition and learning, social, emotional and mental health or sensory and physical needs).

The assessment may not necessarily lead to a plan. During the assessment process the LA will gather information from a range of services and people including the carer and young person. There is recognition in the documentation that “Local Authorities should be particularly aware of the need to avoid any delays for looked after children and carry out the EHC needs assessment in the shortest possible timescale. Addressing a Looked After Child’s special educational needs will be a crucial part of avoiding breakdown in their care placement.”

Help and advice

Don’t forget that you are not alone. Your young person’s social worker, school staff, VSH, LACES team, Capstone social worker and Capstone education team will all be able to assist. There are also independent and impartial charities such as Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA – http://www.ipsea.org.uk/) and SOSSEN (http://www.sossen.org.uk/) offering support and advice on any issues relating to SEN.

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