Minimising the effects of additional learning needs: Part 1

The first in a four part series discussing parents’ common worries about education with special or additional needs.

Much is written about systems for identifying and meeting the educational needs of children with the most severe disabilities and learning difficulties, particularly at the moment with the new system in England.

However, many more children have additional / special educational needs without being at the greatest / most complex level calling for a Statement, Education Health and Care Plan (new, in England) or Co-ordinated Support plan (in Scotland).  This is the first in a series of articles about the support for this larger group of children. Each article will deal with a common worry parents have about their child’s education when they have special or additional needs.

Q.  “If they are not at the greatest level, will my child’s additional needs be met at school”

A.  It is true that in many ways, schools deal with special / additional needs informally.  However the legislation, guidance and codes of practice cover all children with additional learning needs and not only those needing the most concentrated levels of support.  Educational codes of practice are devolved, so that each area of the UK now follows a different code, but the principles followed in each one are similar.

England now has the SEND code of practice 2014, under which children not needing the most concentrated level are given “Settings-based SEN Support”. Under SEND, compared with the previous code in England, there is more of a continuum with the approach that is expected for all children, to identify and deal with anything that is reducing their potential benefit from education.  SEN Support also now applies to young people aged 16-25 and can begin, theoretically, at age 0.  The statutory guidance states the following, and this includes children who are currently on “Action” or “Action Plus” levels of support:  “The legal definition of SEN has not changed so that no child or young person should lose their support simply because the system is changing.  Special educational provision should continue for children and young people who need it because they need educational provision that is additional to or different from, that made generally for others of the same age in mainstream settings. It may change only if:

  • a child or young person’s learning needs have changed, or
  • the educational setting has changed its universal offer” (Dept for Education, 2014).

Parents of children needing Settings-based SEN Support should be involved in “regular review and discussion” of their child’s progress.  The class teacher is a key person in identifying and supporting children at this level, and the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) remains another point of contact for parents.  Whereas, for some children, the changeover from Statements (under the previous code) to EHC Plans (under this code) may take until 2018, the changeover from Action and Action Plus to SEN Support is expected to be achieved by September 2015.  Sections 8.5 onwards of the statutory guidelines (Dept for Education, 2014) describe how a similar system now has to be introduced into post-16 institutions as well.  The complete timetable is in Annex A of the guidelines.

education2The approach to learning needs at every level is described in the new code as a graduated and continuous process of “assess, plan, do, review”.

Each local authority in England publishes a “local offer” describing what SEND-related services are available in the area and how to access them.  At the time of writing, these offers are in a state of transition to the new system.  Some currently mention assessment for EHC Plans without mentioning Settings-based SEN Support, however as above, both are part of the new system.  Each school also has a special educational needs policy / “school offer”.

The new code suggests to me that potentially, there could also be more integration with non-educational services for children receiving Settings-based SEN Support, though not in the same manner as for those with EHC Plans.

In Scotland, the Code of Practice is “Supporting Children’s Learning” (2010), which applies between ages 3 and 18 years.  In this there is a staged approach to additional needs, moving through the support types and levels that might be required in response to concerns expressed by parents, teachers or others, broadly considering first the least extra support that might be needed.  Only some pupils with additional needs will prove to be at the level where a formal Co-ordinated Support Plan (which was the successor to a “Record of Needs”) is required, but this methodology should also identify and seek to meet the needs of the others.  Local authorities go into more detail for parents, for example the Children In the Highlands Information Point,  Scotland also has the concept of the Universal Child’s Plan, which is triggered when a child’s learning needs demand more than ordinary classroom teaching techniques (which do encompass additional needs to some extent), so that other services and an Individualised Education Programme (IEP) become involved.

Northern Ireland has the Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs (which also includes instructions for provision.  Dept of Education, Northern Ireland, 1998-2005).  Northern Ireland and Wales still use the three-level system of Action, Action Plus and Statementing levels of support.

The equivalent code in Wales (Welsh Assembly Government, 2004) approaches assessment and provision along similar lines, described as a “graduated response”, also like the other codes, stressing that any difficulties the child has should be picked up early.  The codes describe when Action and Action Plus are applicable and how assessment, provision etc. should occur, and they apply between the age of 3 years (and the time leading up to that), and an age between 16 and 19+ years.  Anyone with concerns about what provision should be made for a child can find useful details in the sections of these two codes and their associated documents relating to the applicable age-range (early years, primary school age or secondary school age.  There are also sections on transition from school age).

In all parts of the UK, there are local authority / board SEN specialists who can be called upon by schools to assist in respect of identification and provision.

Where there has always been a grey area, is in defining what are “significant” learning needs.  To many parents any learning need, or barrier to learning is “significant”, whereas there are schools and/or individual teachers who consider there are “no problems” beyond a threshold that is not necessarily defined.  For children, consistent difficulties and fallings behind can lead to frustration, lowered self-esteem, further educational difficulties and relationship issues with peers, however educationalists expect children to learn at different speeds and to have different learning styles, strengths and weaknesses, so when does this become “significant”?  In principle, the statutory codes and guidelines would seem to agree that any learning need should be picked up and supported as early as possible, yet they still use the term “significant” in some places.  In Scotland, the code and guidance include a discussion of the term in the light of Tribunal and Court decisions, and gives some examples (Scottish Government, 2010).


Code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs, and supplement (1998-2005), (Dept of Education, Northern Ireland).

Dept for Education (2014, England), Transition to the new 0 to 25 special educational needs and disability system. Statutory guidance for local authorities and organisations providing services to children and young people with SEN.

SEND code of practice: 0 to 25 years (2014), (Dept for Education and Dept of Health, England).

Special educational needs code of practice for Wales (2004), (Welsh Assembly Government).

Supporting children’s learning (2010, revised edition), Scottish Government.