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 information about 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 second in a series of four articles about the support for this larger group of children. Each article deals with a common worry parents have about their child’s education when they have special or additional needs.
Q. What can I do if I am told that my child does not have a diagnosed condition, or that the condition is not recognised, therefore (s)he does not have additional needs – (s)he’s just naughty / lazy?
A. As in the article about meeting children’s needs in school, this touches on the question of “significance”, while also relating to education law. To take the England guidance as an example – please consult the code for your area of the UK – “A child or young person has a special educational need if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.” (Dept for Education England 2014 Social Care, and others).
“Children have a learning difficulty if they:
a) have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age; or
(b) 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 in schools within the area of the local education authority)”.
Disability is defined in two ways:
“A child is disabled if he is blind, deaf or dumb or suffers from a mental disorder of any kind or is substantially and permanently handicapped by illness, injury or congenital deformity or such other disability as may be prescribed.” (Children Act 1989); or “A person has a disability for the purposes of this Act if he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to day activities.” (Disability Discrimination Act 1995, later Equality Act 2010).
Therefore, if a child needs educational support in relation to any of these definitions, (s)he has a special educational need, regardless of what might be causing it (except that difficulties with learning relating to speaking a different language are dealt with separately). This need might be short-term, long-term or sporadic.
Other legislation also affects these definitions. For example the code in Scotland, reflecting the Education (Additional Support for Learning) Act 1989, states for most children: “A child or young person has additional support needs for the purposes of this Act where, for whatever reason, the child or young person is, or is likely to be, unable without the provision of additional support to benefit from school education provided or to be provided for the child or young person.” Definitions in Northern Ireland are affected by the Disabled Persons (NI) Act 1989. In terms of wider learning support, section 1.8 of the code for Northern Ireland describes the five-stage approach to identification which is expected to be used. The practical actions to be taken under this approach, by teachers and SENCOs, start at section 2.45 of the Code, for example finding different learning strategies for the child, as elsewhere.
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, Social Care), Social care: guide to the 0 to 25 SEND code of practice: Advice for social care practitioners and commissioners.
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.