What are special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)?

This page tells you about special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and special educational provision.

It also explains how to know if your child has SEND and what to do if you think they have.

During 2022, the government is reviewing the SEND system. Changes are likely to come into effect in 2023.

On this page

What are special educational needs and disabilities?

Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is a term used to describe learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for a child or young person to learn compared to children of the same age.

Special educational needs (SEN) is a related term you’ll come across.

All children may have difficulties learning at some stage, of course.

For most children, the challenges can be overcome with support from home and teachers at school. 

However, if your child has SEND, they are likely to need extra support, or support in a different way, to make sure they are able to learn.

Your child may have SEND because of a diagnosed medical condition or a disability. Or they may have SEND without a diagnosis or disability.

How do I know if my child has SEND?

Your child has special educational needs (SEN) if they have:

  • Much greater difficulty learning something than most others of the same age.
  • A disability that makes it difficult for them to use the facilities that others of the same age use in mainstream schools or educational settings for young people over 16 years old. 

Your child has special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) if they also have:

  • A physical and mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

SEND can affect your child’s:

  • Reading and writing, for example, because they have dyslexia.
  • Ability to understand things.
  • Concentration levels because, for example, they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Emotional and mental health.

Your child may be identified as having special educational needs and disabilities early in their life or at the point they are diagnosed with a condition. Or it may not become obvious until they enter a later stage of their education.

What does special educational provision mean?

Special educational provision is any educational or training provision which is extra to, or different from, what other children or young people need at the same age.

For example:

What you can do if you think your child has SEND

If you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s learning and development, you can talk to:

  • Any of the professionals involved with your child’s medical or social care.
  • The special educational needs coordinator (SENCo) in your child’s nursery, school or college.

If your child is not in a school or nursery, you can get in touch with your local council.

Also, you can contact your local Information, Advice and Support (IAS) Service for advice about SEND.

This content was last reviewed in April 2022. We’ll review it again next year.