Education in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

In any classroom, children learn at different speeds and in different ways. Teachers will plan their lessons and choose different types of lesson materials to help each child learn best.

Some children need more help than this and may have difficulty with:

  • Reading, writing, numbers.
  • Talking and listening.
  • Developing social skills.
  • Physical skills.
  • Emotion, mental health and behaviour.

In Northern Ireland, a child who needs a lot of extra help in any of these areas is said to have special educational needs (SEN). In Scotland, these needs are called additional support needs (ASN), and in Wales, additional learning needs (ALN).

Who can help?

Schools, nurseries and colleges have to support children and young people who have additional needs and to treat them fairly. Schools must also support children with health conditions, including support to manage medications, personal care and to catch up after a period of absence.

If you think your child has difficulty with learning, talk to a professional who knows your child well. Most schools have a teacher responsible for SEN/ASN/ALN. In Northern Ireland they are called the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO), in Scotland they are called an Additional Support for Learning Assistant (ASL), and in Wales an Additional Learning Needs Coordinator (ANCO).

Tell the person you talk to what your worries are. Give them examples, and ask what support your child could have.

What help can a school offer you?

Most children with SEN/ASN/ALN will go to a mainstream school. There is lots of support a school can put in place to help your child. For example, a teacher or teaching assistant could give them individual help, or help in a small group. A visiting specialist teacher or professional like a speech and language therapist could help them too.

If your child needs more support, then the school or someone else can ask for a formal assessment. This could lead to a legal document that outlines all your child's educational needs and the extra help they will get.

If your child has complex needs, you might find that they learn best in a special school with extra facilities. Your child could benefit from specialist teaches and therapists, or special equipment.

More information about education support in Wales

We have more information on our website about the education system in Wales:

  • A child should get more intensive help - called School Action and School Action Plus - if they are making little or no progress with the help normally available in class.
  • For children who need more help than a mainstream school can provide, the local authority carries out a statutory assessment.
  • This is the first step to getting a statement of special educational needs. This is a legal document  describing a child's SEN and the extra help they will get.
  • The statement must be reviewed annually.
  • There is an appeal process if a parent is not happy with a local authority decision about a statutory assessment or statement.
  • A statement stops when a child leaves school. Young people going to a further education college have a learning difficulty assessment to decide what support they will need.

Visit SNAP Cymru for more information about the special education system in Wales.

More information about education support in Northern Ireland and Scotland

Find out about the system of support for children with special educational needs in Northern Ireland on the NI Education Authority website or Senac (special educational needs advice centre).

In Scotland, the system of support for children with additional support needs is called additional support for learning. You can read more about it on the Enquire website.


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