Skip to content Skip to footer

This advice applies to Wales. Change country

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.

Top tips

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 Code of Practice on Special Educational Needs, which you can find on the Welsh Government 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.

SEN is sometimes referred to as Additional Learning Needs.

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.

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 Tribunal for Wales. This is an independent tribunal which hears 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.

You can find information about how to appeal against a SEN decision on the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales website at

Complain to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales

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 Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. The ombudsman will not be able to look into a complaint about something which you could take to the appeal tribunal instead.

You can get more information about how to complain to the ombudsman from the website at They also have a useful factsheet on their website at

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 SNAP Cymru, can offer specialist advice, including how to prepare for an appeal.

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 the social services department of your local council. For example, you may be able to get support services or direct payments to help pay for extra help for your child. 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.

Did this advice help?