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Introduction to special educational needs (SEN)

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

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.

In this article

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 Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Read our information about education in Wales.

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.