Extra support in school

The information on this page is for families in England only.
I live in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

The law says that schools must do everything they can to make sure children with special educational needs (SEN) get the extra support they need to achieve as well as they can.

In this article

What the law says

Most children with special educational needs (SEN) go to a mainstream school, where there are pupils with and without SEN.

Mainstream schools include local authority maintained schools and academies that are not special schools, alternative provision settings or Pupil Referral Units (PRUs).

Under section 66 of the Children and Families Act 2014, mainstream schools must do everything they can to meet a child or young person’s SEN.

The law and other school issues

There are other ways the law says that schools must support children with disabilities or special educational needs.

Under section 100 of the Children and Families Act 2014, all local authority maintained schools must make arrangements for pupils at the school with medical conditions. See our webpage on Help with medical needs for more information.

Many children with long-term conditions count as disabled under the Equality Act. Our page on disability discrimination explains what schools must do to make sure these pupils are fully included and not disadvantaged.

What extra support in school is available for my child?

Mainstream schools provide extra help for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) through a system called SEN support.

The SEND Code of Practice (section 6.27) suggests four broad areas of need that schools should plan for:

The Code of Practice (6.44) says that schools should use a “graduated approach” to support children with SEN. The graduated approach involves a four-stage cycle that the teaching staff must use:

Diagram illustrating the four-stage cycle schools must use to support children with SEN. 
Assess: Analyse your child's difficulties;
Plan: Identify what extra support is needed;
Do: Put the support in place;
Review: Check how well it is working and change the amount or kind of support if they need to.
Diagram illustrating the four-stage cycle schools must use to support children with SEN.

Examples of support

Examples of support your child may receive at this level:

The role of the SENCO

It is the responsibility of the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) at the school to arrange extra support for those who need it. The SENCO will work with teachers to ensure that their teaching is accessible.

The SENCO should give you clear information about the extra help your child is getting. They have a duty to keep a record of the support a child receives and their progress.

SEN support plan

If your child is receiving SEN support, the SENCO should draw up a SEN support plan involving you and your child. This should focus on the outcomes your child needs and wants to achieve and explain how the school will help them to achieve these.

SEN support plans can also be called different names, such as a My Plan, One Plan, Individual Education Plan (IEP) or Pupil Support Plan. The name used for SEN support plans in your child’s school should be in the SEN Information Report (see below).

The format of SEN support plans can vary between schools, but there is some general information that SEN support plans are expected to have. For example, they should use SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) targets to ensure outcomes are met.

SMART target example:

When in a situation of conflict or disagreement, Eve will recognise and articulate her feelings and positively communicate her needs to a teacher assistant on four out of five observed opportunities. This will be measured by teaching assistant observations and notes in weekly charts completed by the teacher. Eve will achieve this by the end of the summer term.

The SENCO may also create a provision map. A provision map outlines the extra help your child gets, measures the impact of this extra help and calculates the cost to the school.

The SENCO 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 also provide a report at least once a year on your child’s progress.

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.

The SEN Information Report

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

Every school must publish an SEN Information Report (SEND Code of Practice section 6.79). This must include:

What if I have questions about my child’s support?

It’s a good idea to ask for a meeting with the class teacher, form tutor or special educational needs coordinator (SENCO – see above) to discuss extra support for your child. If your child has had recent assessments or a diagnosis, it is important to share this information with the SENCO. This will help the school better understand how to support your child at school.

Local authorities in England must provide Information, Advice and Support Services (IASS) for parents of children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities. Your local IASS service may be able to provide support in meetings. You can search for details of the IASS service in your area on the Council for Disabled Children’s IASS network website.

Before the meeting

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

Write a list of your concerns. Include:

At the meeting

During the meeting, you may want to ask:

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. Emphasise that you hope you and the school can work together to support your child.

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

You or the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) can ask for an Education Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment. This is the first step to getting more support through an EHC plan. If you think you want to ask for an EHC assessment, you should talk to the SENCO about this first.

Pupils with an EHC plan may 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.

Support for different age groups

Mainstream further education (FE) colleges support young people over 16 with special educational needs (SEN) in a similar way to schools. See our webpage Education beyond 16 for more information.

Early years settings that receive government funding must take steps to include and support children with SEN and any medical condition they have. Local authorities must make sure that all settings that provide free early education receive additional funding to support children who need extra help. See our webpage Support in the early years for more information.

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