Extra support in school

Information for families in England

Most children with special educational needs (SEN) go to a mainstream school.

The law says that schools must do everything they can to make sure children with SEN get the extra support they need to achieve as well as they can. Mainstream schools do this through a system called SEN support.

The school must publish information about how they support pupils with SEN. It must also have a policy setting out how it supports disabled pupils to be included in school activities.

Every mainstream school has a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) who is responsible for organising extra help for pupils with SEN. The SENCO works with the class teachers and subject teachers to plan the help each child needs.

The school must tell you if they are giving your child this extra help. It should work with you and your child to plan their support and regularly check how your child is progressing.

What kind of support can my child's school provide?

In England (see further down for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales), every school must publish an SEN Information Report (SEND Code of Practice section 6.79). This must include:

  • Arrangements for consulting parents of children with SEN and involving them in their child's education.
  • Arrangements for assessing and reviewing children's progress towards outcomes.
  • Arrangements for children and young people moving between phases of education and in preparing for adulthood.
  • Approach to teaching, the expertise and training of school staff and how specialist expertise will be available.
  • Support for improving emotional and social development, including listening to the views of children with SEN and measures to prevent bullying.
  • How children with SEN are supported to access activities in the school that are available to pupils without SEN.
  • How the school involves health, social care and local authorities to provide support for families.
  • Arrangements for handling complaints from parents of children with SEN.

Your child's school must tell you if your child is receiving special educational provision through SEN support.

The SEN support plan

The school should draw up an SEN support plan, involving you and your child, focusing on the outcomes your child needs and wants to achieve and detailing how the school will help them to achieve these.

The school should give you clear information about the extra help your child is getting. The school should meet with you at least three times a year to review how your child is progressing and what the next steps will be. This should be in addition to scheduled parents' evening meetings. The school must provide a report at least once a year on your child's progress.

The SEND Code of Practice says that schools should use a 'graduated approach', or four-part cycle (Assess, Plan, Do and, Review) to support your child with SEN. This means that the SENCO and teaching staff should:

  • Analyse your child's difficulties.
  • Identify the extra support your child needs.
  • Put the support in place.
  • Regularly check how well it is working so that they can change the amount or kind of support if they need to.

The school can ask specialist support services, for example, educational psychology, behaviour support or speech and language therapy to carry out assessments and provide further advice and support if necessary.

What if my child needs more help than their school can give?

A small number of pupils may need more help than a mainstream school can normally give at the level of SEN support. Such pupils will need an Education Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment to decide what help they need. This assessment can lead to an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan.

Pupils with an EHC Plan can go to a mainstream school or a special school, depending on their needs. In a special school there are only pupils with special educational needs, and they will usually have needs that are more complex. The school may have specially trained teachers, therapists or special equipment to support them.

What if I have questions about how the school is supporting my child?

See below if you live in Wales or the bottom of this page if you live in Northern Ireland or Scotland.

In England, it's a good idea to ask for a meeting with the class teacher, form tutor or SENCO (see above) to discuss extra support for your child. If they have had recent assessments or a diagnosis, it is important to share this information with the SENCO so that the school can better understand how to help your child at school.

You might want to ask someone who teaches your child and knows them well, such as the class teacher, form tutor or head of year, to attend the meeting as well.

Before the meeting

Look at the school's policies on SEN, equality and behaviour to see how pupils with SEN and disabilities are supported in the school. Collect your own evidence to show your child's difficulties. For example:

  • Examples of schoolwork and homework, school reports, test results.
  • Individual education plans, SEN support plans, behaviour support plan.
  • Letters you have written to the school, home/school book entries.
  • Any professional reports, or if school may already have them.
  • Information about support they had in a previous school.

Write a list of your concerns. Mention:

  • Progress, schoolwork, concentration, physical skills, relationships.
  • Behaviour at school.
  • Behaviour and mood at home.
  • How your child feels about school.
  • Other issues such as bullying, and any action taken so far.

At the meeting

During the meeting, you may want to ask:

  • Is my child on SEN support?
  • Can I see my child's individual support plan?
  • What assessments have the school done to find out about my child's difficulties? 
  • Does my child get extra help from a teacher or another adult? What do they help him/her with? 
  • Is the help given in a group or individually? Is it every day? How long is that for?
  • How do you measure my child's progress? Is he/she making the progress you would expect?
  • Have the school referred my child to specialist services - for example, educational psychology?
  • What can I do at home to help my child?
  • What will the next steps be if my child needs more help?
  • Will the school request an EHC needs assessment, or will they support me to make a parental request?

It is a good idea to make sure that at the end of the meeting, you and the school agree what will happen next. Ask for this to be put in writing. Agree a future date for another meeting to see if anything has changed. It's helpful to end the meeting on a positive note by emphasising that you hope that you and the school can work together to support your child.

Information for families in Wales

I am worried about my child at school. What should I do?

First, talk to the class teacher or form tutor. It's a good idea to write a list of your worries, including your child's behaviour at home. Ask whether the teacher shares your concerns and what the school can do to help your child. If you have done this, and you're still worried, make an appointment to speak to the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) at the school about your worries. Listen to this podcast on how to approach the school and how a SENCO will work with parents. It may help if you take a summary of what your concerns are including:

  • evidence of your child's difficulty: incomplete schoolwork, reports, individual education plans (IEPs)
  • your own record of child's mood and behaviour at home
  • any reports about your child from specialists or medical professionals such as a paediatrician or occupational therapist
  • ask what support your child is getting, and what the next stage will be if they need more help. If you do not already know this, ask the SENCO to confirm if your child is on School Action or School Action Plus.

What is School Action?

Your child should get more intensive help on School Action if they are making little or no progress with the help normally available in class. Depending on your child's needs and the school's resources, help could include:

  • individual help for maths/literacy from a teaching assistant
  • small group support to help develop social and communication skills
  • special equipment to help with writing
  • a particular teaching programme.

What is School Action Plus?

This is an increased level of support for pupils who need more help than they can receive on School Action. Some children with more complex needs may move straight to this level. Help may include:

  • a higher level of individual support from teacher or teaching assistant
  • support from educational psychologist, speech and language therapist or specialist dyslexia teacher.
  • a programme to help child manage their behaviour

If your child is getting extra help at school action or school action plus, their progress should be recorded in an individual education plan (IEP) - reviewed at least every six months. The school must tell you about the support your child is getting and involve you and your child in reviewing the IEP. This is a document which lists three or four targets, the help which will be given to achieve these and how success will be measured.

What if my child's needs change?

Your child may need more or less additional support as time goes on, and so may move between School Action and School Action Plus, or may no longer have special educational needs, if they have made enough progress and no longer need the extra help. If a child needs more help than a particular school can give at School Action Plus, they may need a statutory assessment. This is the first step to getting a statement of special educational needs.

The SEN code of practice

The special educational needs code of practice gives detailed practical guidance on how to identify and help pupils with SEN. Maintained schools and local authorities must always consider what the code says, when they make a decision about a pupil with SEN. The code says that a child with SEN should have their needs met, and that parents have an important role to play in supporting their child. If you have a child with SEN and you want to know what kind of help they should be getting, you might find it helpful to look at parts of the code of practice yourself. Download the SEN code of practice.

Information for Scotland and Northern Ireland

We also support Northern Ireland and Scotland. Give our helpline a call on 0808 808 3555 and we can provide information or signpost you to alternative sources of advice in those nations where appropriate. Find out our local office details in the In your area section.

Call our helpline

Any questions about support at school? How to get an EHC plan? What kind of school is best for my child? Call our freephone helpline on 0808 808 3555 and talk to one of our education advisers.

Related information

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