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Special educational needs

If your child has a learning difficulty or a disability which is holding them back at school, they may have special educational needs (SEN).

Find out where you can get advice and help for your child and what to do if you're not happy with the support they're getting at school.

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You, your child's teachers, or someone else, for example, a doctor or social worker, may identify that your child has SEN. Once this happens, the school and local education authority must follow the government's Code of Practice on Special Educational Needs and Disability, which you can find on the GOV.UK website at

What are special educational needs?

Your child may have special educational needs if they have:

  • a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of pupils of their age, or
  • a disability which means that they cannot make full use of the general educational facilities provided for pupils of their age.

A child with special educational needs has a right to full time education that is appropriate for their needs. This would normally be in a mainstream school, if possible. Your local education authority is responsible for making sure this happens. Your child's school may be able to provide some extra support informally, but your child may also need a formal assessment of their needs to be carried out. The support your child can get will often depend on the outcome of this assessment. Statements of special educational needs say what your child’s needs are. They are reviewed every year.

From 1 September 2014, there are changes to the way children and young people receive support. Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans replace statements and learning difficulty assessments for children and young people up to age 25. An EHC plan sets out your child’s needs and how they should be met.

You may also be able to ask for a personal budget giving you more control over how money is spent on your child's needs.

If you think your child might have special educational needs, you should ask for a meeting with your child's teacher or the school's head teacher. The school has a duty to listen to any concerns you have about your child. If they refuse to meet you or you are unhappy with the outcome of the meeting, you can complain or appeal against the school's decision. You may want to get advice about how best to do this.

Many children with special educational needs are also covered by disability discrimination law. This means that a school shouldn't treat your child worse because of your child's disability, for example, by not letting them go on a school trip.

What to do if you're not happy with the local education authority's decision?

Appeal to the tribunal

If you have been through the school's complaints procedure, or a disagreement resolution, and are not satisfied with the results, you may want to appeal. You should appeal to The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. This is an independent tribunal which hear parents' appeals against certain decisions of the local education authority about a child's special educational needs. The Tribunal's decision is final. You normally have to appeal within two months of the date on the local authority’s letter giving their final written decision.

Complain to the Local Government Ombudsman

You may have a complaint about the way the local education authority has dealt with your child's special educational needs. This might be, for example, about delays in carrying out an assessment of your child, issuing a statement or putting agreed services in place. For this type of complaint, you can use your local authority's complaints procedure. If you are not satisfied with the outcome, you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman. The ombudsman will not be able to look into a complaint about something which you could take to the appeal tribunal instead.

Where to get information and advice about special educational needs

There are many organisations that can support you if your child has special educational needs. Some organisations, such as Contact a Family and IPSEA, can offer specialist advice, including how to prepare for an appeal.

You can also get useful information about special educational needs from the GOV.UK website at and a guide for parents and carers from the GOV.UK website at

Other help you can get

If your child has special educational needs because of a disability or other personal circumstances, you might be able to get help through your local council. You can find your local council on GOV.UK.

You may also be able to claim benefits on behalf of your child because of the extra help the child needs.

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