Introduction to special educational needs (SEN)

Information for families in England

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.

A child who needs a lot of extra help in any of these areas has special educational needs (SEN). Some children may have SEN because of a medical condition or a disability. Other children may have SEN without a diagnosis or a disability.

How can schools help children with special educational needs?

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

In England, a child with SEN may go to a mainstream school, where there are pupils with and without SEN, or a special school, where there are only pupils with SEN.

In a mainstream school it is the responsibility of the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) at the school to arrange extra help for those who need it. Most children with special educational needs will go to mainstream schools, and the law gives parents a right to say that they prefer this option for their child.

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.

Understanding the SEN system in England

Use the links below for more information about education support for your child:

Information for families in Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales

If you live in Wales, browse our information about extra support in mainstream schools and the statementing process for children with special educational needs.

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? 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.


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