Diagnosing special educational needs (SEN) in children

Diagnosing special educational needs (SEN) in children


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It can be initially challenging to diagnose an SEN, as well as for parents to receive this news. However, a diagnosis should be seen in a positive light as it can help you understand your child better and make adjustments for them to be happier.

Diagnosing special educational needs (SEN) in children

Special educational needs (SEN) are not always easy to identify. SEN is spotted early on in some children, but in others, it might not be diagnosed until they are older. A later diagnosis could be picked up if a child has experienced problems in their personal or academic lives.

What makes a diagnosis difficult is that many of the characteristics of SEN can be put down to normal childhood because children develop at different rates. In general, parents tend to be the first person to spot any changes or differences in their children.

If you suspect your child might have SEN, this blog post is here to help. Here, we will cover what SEN is, how it is identified, and the steps you can take to get a diagnosis so you can help your child get the most out of education.

What are special educational needs?

Special educational needs can affect a young person’s ability to learn. A child has an SEN if they have a disability or learning problem that can make it more difficult for them to learn than other children of the same age.

If an SEN is spotted early on, children can receive additional support, and provisions can be made so they are not limited in any way.

Some signs of SEN in children include difficulties and frustration in the following:

Some examples of SEN are:

This is not an exhaustive list.

How are special educational needs identified in children?

Every child is different and will develop at a different pace. Not every child with the above characteristics will have SEN.

Early years settings like nurseries and schools have a responsibility to spot SEN. Healthcare professionals can also identify it. Your child might have special educational needs if they have a mental or physical impairment – including a learning difficulty, mental health issues and physical disability – that makes it harder for them to learn.

If a child has SEN, they might need extra help depending on their individual needs in the following areas:

Some children may only need additional support for a short time when at school, and others might need help throughout their school lives.

Diagnosing special educational needs (SEN) in children
A child with sensory processing challenges.

What steps can I take if I think my child has SEN?

If you are worried about your child’s behaviour or development, there are some steps you can take. Depending on what stage your child is at, you might wish to speak to your GP or the local council Information, Advice and Support (IAS) Service for advice about SEN and referral for assessment.

If your child is in school or nursery, it is advised that parents follow the steps below to voice their concerns:

Step 1: Speak to the teacher

Raise your concerns with the class teacher as early as you can. In this meeting, you can tell them how your child is coping and provide examples of where you believe they are struggling. The teacher may wish to share anything they have noticed and make suggestions for the support available to move forward.

Step 2: Meet with the Senco

Every school has a SEN Coordinator (SENCo) who ensures that special needs provisions are met. If you or the school is concerned about the progress your child is making, then a meeting with the SENCo will be arranged.

You can talk about whether the SENCo feels your child has SEN and the support the school can provide in response. Take note of everything discussed and agreed upon in the meeting so you can keep track of your child’s progress. If it is necessary, you can request that the school arrange assessments from specialists like a Speech and Language Therapist or an Educational Psychologist. The support your child receives at school should be regularly reviewed in line with their progress.

Meeting the Senco
Meeting the SENCo should be a priority.

Step 3: Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment

If your child is not progressing with additional SEN support through their school, you can apply to the local authority for an Education, Health and Care needs assessment. This application can be made by yourself or the school.

If the school does not agree to a further assessment, you can go private with an educational psychologist report, which costs around £500.

In the application, you will need to:

The local authority will assess your child to see if they have or may have SEN and outline what provision may need to be taken.

The assessment will determine if your child needs extra provision through an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). If an ECHP is issued, it will outline the budget for the additional support provided.

If an EHCP isn’t granted, you can appeal it.

How long does the process take?

Special educational needs (SEN) can be diagnosed at any time. Some children are diagnosed when they are born, while others are diagnosed at school. For some, it could be years before diagnosis, and others may never get one. If you make a formal request for assessment, the Education Authority must make a decision within six weeks.

Are there different processes for diagnosing different special educational needs?

Diagnosis for SEN usually starts with a referral from the school or your GP. After this, the above steps are taken. For some diagnoses it can be helpful to talk to SEN specialists in that particular area, however, this is only after seeing an educational psychologist.

It can take time to adjust to a SEN diagnosis. However, it is essential to ensure your child gets the help and support they need to get the most out of their education. A diagnosis should be looked at in a positive light as it can help you to understand your child’s condition better and celebrate the progress they make towards their goal and adjusting to their diagnosis. With the proper diagnosis and support in place, you can watch your child’s motivation and confidence around school grow.

Get in touch

We hope this blog was helpful. Please feel free to get in touch with us should you have any questions about support for your child. We enjoy talking with parents and helping our students by tailoring learning to their individual needs.

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What is an EHCP and how to get one

Woman frustrated with EHCP


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Bright Heart

We discuss EHCPs and EHC needs assessments and consider what the law says one is entitled to. We also cover when the process is delayed or refused and offer sources of help.

All about EHCPs

Many anxious parents ask for our help with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). 

We hope to help parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) by covering the main aspects of EHCPs in this blog.

Woman frustrated with EHCP
The EHCP journey can be challenging. Don't be afraid to seek help.

What is an EHCP?

An EHCP or Education, Health and Care Plan assists children and young people (aged up to 25) who have SEN, including disabilities. The government introduced these plans in 2014. They are used to improve the outcomes for children that require extra support and assistance in the current school system. 

EHCPs bring each aspect of health, social care, and education together to promote the best outcomes for children and young people. They replace the previous statement of special educational needs.

A child or young person requires an Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment to gain an EHCP. Local authorities (LAs) write these assessments.

Who can get an EHCP?

EHCP’s are available to children and young people up to 25 with SEN, whose needs cannot reasonably be provided through available resources at an early years provider, school or post-16 institution. Most children and young people with SEN are not expected to need an EHCP.

SEN definition

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice (the “Code”) defines special educational needs (SEN) as follows:

A child or young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.

A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she:

To also read more about SEN and SEND definitions, please have a look at this popular blog: What does SEN or SEND really mean?

What is the process for getting an EHCP?

A parent initiates the process by approaching their local authority (LA) with a request for an EHCP. The LA has 6 weeks to determine whether to advance the process by carrying out an EHC needs assessment. In considering whether an EHC needs assessment is necessary, the LA should consider whether there is evidence that despite the educational setting having taken relevant steps to meet the child’s needs, expected progress has not been made.

Note that young people over the age of 16 and certain other professionals, for example, a teacher, can also initiate the EHCP process.

The LA will determine whether or not an individual needs an EHC plan in place by carrying out an EHC needs assessment.

The EHC needs assessment may not result in an EHCP being issued. In this case, the report may decide that the child’s school or college can meet their needs without one.

What is an EHC needs assessment?

An EHC needs assessment is the first step to securing an EHCP, following a request for an EHCP.  The process of an EHC needs assessment involves collating information and advice on a child or young person’s needs. Your LA carries this out.  A school or college cannot undertake the assessment or ask for payment for any part of it.

There is a list of information required to be set out in Regulation 6(1) of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014. This includes:

If your child is hearing or speech impaired, you should seek advice from a qualified person.

If following an EHC needs assessment, it is necessary for special educational provision to be made through an EHCP, the LA must prepare one.

How long does it take to get an EHCP?

The process from the first request to a completed EHCP should take no longer than 20 weeks (other than in exceptional circumstances). A draft EHCP should be issued within 14 weeks to allow 15 days for a parent to study the draft and request a school or education provider to be named in it. The party named also has 15 days within which to respond to it being named in the EHCP.

The LA must respond within 6 weeks of an EHCP request to advise whether it believes an EHC needs assessment is necessary.

If following an EHC needs assessment, the LA determines not to issue an EHCP, it has 16 weeks from the EHCP request date to inform parents.

See a useful summary of the EHCP timeline below:

EHCP Process
Process for EHC application with statutory timescales (source: the Code)

What can I do if my child’s EHC needs assessment or EHCP is delayed or refused?


If your assessment is delayed, contact the LA to enquire about the reasons for the delay. If they fail to provide an explanation, contact your local SENDIASS (SEND Information Advice and Support Service) to seek advice.

The LA must send a draft plan within 14 weeks of the request for assessment and the completed EHCP within 20 weeks of the initial request. If it fails to do so, you may write a complaint addressed to the most senior person at the LA.

Refused EHC needs assessment

If a child or young person has or may have SEN and it may be necessary to have a special educational provision made in an EHCP, they are entitled to an EHC needs assessment, regardless of the level of attainment.  If the LA refuses the request for an EHC needs assessment, the parent or young person has the right to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal.

When considering an appeal from a parent or young person, the First-tier Tribunal must consider the Code. The tribunal will expect LAs and educational settings to explain any relevant departure from the Code.

Refused EHCP (following an EHC needs assessment)

The LA should give reasons for refusal. It should also inform parents of the right to appeal this decision and the timeline for doing so. Appeals are made in the SEND Tribunal under section 51(2)(a) of the Children and Families Act.

Before an appeal, it is advisable to speak to a mediation advisor. The LA refusal letter should include the advisor’s information. You should get a certificate to show you have done so. You can contact IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice) to ask them how to prepare for the mediation process. The deadline by which the SEND Tribunal must receive your appeal is two months from the date of the LA letter or one month from a mediation certificate.

You should state reasons for the appeal in your form and collect supporting evidence for your case. Such evidence can include teachers’ comments, documentation from school, previous assessments, advice from educational psychologists, or your own observations. This evidence can support your case that the appropriate educational help for your child relies on the provision of an EHCP and that without it, the child’s needs are unlikely to be met. You should submit the form as soon as possible. More information, together with email templates for information requests to build your case, can be found here.

How long does an EHC plan last?

Once received, an EHCP is reviewed annually to determine further needs or modifications to the plan.

A review meeting is organised between everyone involved in the child or young person’s education, including someone from the LA’s SEN department. The school may also invite other people, such as a speech and language therapist, advisory teacher, tutor or teaching assistant. The meeting will consider the progress made and include any recommendations for changes to the plan alongside setting targets. This process may also determine whether the child or young person still requires an EHCP.

The LA has 4 weeks following this meeting to make decisions based on the recommendations. It could either make amendments, leave it as it is, or end the plan.

What kind of support does an EHCP provide?

Personal budget

When you have an EHCP, your LA will set out the funding for your child, which is called a personal budget. Personal budgets are typically arranged with the school, and money is paid directly to them to provide extra support and assistance in the school setting. Extra provision is generally delivered by one-to-one in-person support or via online tuition. Additional help is available at all curriculum levels from Reception to A-Level.

The personal budget is an amount of money that covers the cost of implementing the support and outcomes, as noted in the plan. This money is not available unless you have an EHCP.

Direct payment

In some cases, LA’s may make direct payments to parents or caregivers to arrange this provision independently. The LA may determine which of the money to issue as a direct payment. Still, they can refuse this request if they deem the provision cannot be met appropriately. A refusal can also happen if the direct payment negatively affects other services provided by the EHCP.

Selecting an education provider

Parents have the right to choose an education provider to carry out the plan. They have the option to select a third-party provider that aligns with the EHCP and who can support them. This is a crucial part of the Code, which provides parents with a greater say in their child’s education and resource allocation. 

Bright Heart Education currently acts as an LA-approved education provider for some of its students’ EHCPs. Consequently, we can support parents during their difficult journey and in delivering the plans.

You can arrange direct payment by your LA to the educational provider as agreed in the plan. 

special needs support
An EHCP paves the way for funding and support for your child

What are the different parts of an EHCP?

The EHCP must follow the code set out by Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014. The plan must include specific sections, and if the child is in Year 9 or above, this plan must also contain strategies to help them prepare for adult life and independent living.

An EHCP must contain the following sections:

There is a legal requirement to keep everything in each section separate so that the provision of funding is clear. Section F of the EHCP is critically important, as it determines the key area of the provision. If this section is unclear, it may cause delays to funding or, in some cases, it may mean support is not received.

Checking a draft EHCP

When you receive a draft EHCP, it is essential to check the details and communicate any issues within 15 days.  It is crucial to ensure that the special educational provision in Section F meets all the needs outlined in Section B.

If you are not happy with any aspect of the plan, you can ask for areas to be changed, but only if you have a draft EHCP or an upcoming review. If a child or young person’s circumstances change dramatically (such as if they get worse and need additional provision), you can request an early annual review or a re-assessment of their needs. 

Where can I find advice and support to help me get an EHCP for my child?

Bright Heart's livestream - 'All about EHCPs'

EHCP topics covered on the livestream

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Questions (FAQ) about learning, schools and exams during lockdown

GCSE and A Level exams cancelled

In part 2 of our lockdown blog series, one of our directors provides answers to some common questions.    

SEN agency director & education specialist

In part 2 of this blog series I address common questions students and parents have at this time.

Questions (FAQ) about learning, schools and exams during lockdown

The unprecedented actions of the government have left parents with many unanswered questions. In this, the second blog in a 3-part series, I attempt to answer some frequently asked questions (FAQ) about the consequences of the lockdown on education in the UK.

We attempt to provide guidance on some of these questions below and seek to address concerns where possible. This is based on current government guidance about lockdown / COVID-19, although it should be noted that things may change at short notice. If anything is unclear, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or one of Bright Heart’s other directors.

Can I still get tutoring for my child when the UK is effectively in lockdown?

Lockdown does not mean that schools have ceased to provide education to our children, as assignments are still pouring in and deadlines have to be met. Students no longer have the benefit of direct contact with teachers or peers, however.  Thus, many parents are seeking tutoring to help their families with the added pressure while still respecting the government orders of social distancing.  

Parents have a right to get some help for their children, with many tuition agencies now offering online tutoring. Some tuition agencies are still able to offer in-person tuition in limited circumstances.  Face-to-face lessons are approved by the government for students who are considered vulnerable, in situations where online tuition is not a viable option.

In this regard, the Department for Education classify the following children as vulnerable:

“Vulnerable children include those who have a social worker and those with education, health and care (EHC) plans.

Children who have a social worker include children in need, children who have a child protection plan and those who are looked after by the local authority. We will work with schools, early years, FE providers and local authorities to help identify the children who most need support at this time.”

Read more information about vulnerable children here.

Read more information about the closure of schools here.

How do I keep my child busy and still manage to work from home during lockdown?

We are sensitive to the challenges that are being faced by many parents who are trying to juggle work at home and helping children learn at the same time. To help you cope with these challenges, we have gathered a number of recommended activities and resources that address both the academic and emotional/social needs of your children, including our own top 10 recommendations, found in the first blog of this series. We have also written earlier about some fun activities for children here.

At the same time, despite the benefits of following a daily routine, child psychologists warn that parents should still leave some room for flexibility to avoid pursuing an over-controlled environment. This may lead to more stress and anxiety in children. It is therefore crucial to maintain a healthy balance, which can be achieved through the understanding of your child’s wants and needs. 

Mother walking with her child through a forest
Taking some time for a break in Nature can do much to alleviate stress.

Should I give my child an extended break, now that their GCSE or A level exams have been cancelled?

This period of lockdown and school closures will have a substantial impact on children’s education, as stated by the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof. Chris Whitty. While many children will celebrate this break from school and welcome respite from the anxiety of preparing for exams, the required levels of education needed for Key Stages 1 to 5 and university (Further Education), will not be changing. Parents therefore need to carefully consider the impact this 3-month period (potentially 6 months until September) will have on their children’s education.

Results will be given by the end of July, based on prior attainment such as mock exams, non-exam assessments and other criteria.  However, if students deem their grades unsatisfactory or not a true reflection of their proficiency, they may appeal and take an exam during the next academic year.  

The lockdown period may lead to a highly detrimental period of inactivity.  Keeping your children busy is crucial if they wish to retain their competitive advantage when they go back to school.

We encourage students to use this time wisely, for example, by focussing on core subjects such as Maths and English, as well as areas of improvement that are important for their future studies and / or career paths.

GCSE and A Level exams cancelled
Students and teachers will need to consider what will be the most effective path with exams being cancelled

Will a GCSE student struggle at A level in the same subject?

Most schools are in revision mode for their GCSE syllabi by the time they reach February. This means students should have covered the required material; however, the level of testing of their knowledge will only be based on internal tests and mock exams. Students and teachers use the latter to get an indication of their readiness and to see where further revision is required. This means the usually intense revision and focus, as well as the opportunity to iron out any conceptual gaps, will be left out for this cohort of students. To miss this period will put students at a disadvantage and it remains to be seen how this is accommodated at the start of A levels.

What does it mean for Y10 GCSE students?

Year 10 students cover important material from February to June (or July) so there will be a substantial impact on their education. It is likely that schools and teachers will consider this in September (Year 11) to help them catch up. However, doing no schoolwork for possibly 6 months will affect retention and practice of concepts. Work potentially provided by schools for homeschooling over this period will also need oversight by parents and / or a tutor. We would recommend that parents take a proactive approach during this time to ensure their children maintain their level of education – see our blog covering 7 homeschooling tips. Another avenue of support is through online tuition  – see more about this in part 3 of our blog series.

It is important to maintain learning and revision during the lockdown period
It is important to maintain learning and revision during the lockdown period

What will happen regarding GCSE and A level exam marks?

GCSE, A level and AS level students will be awarded a grade by Ofqual which reflects their current school performance. There will be an option to sit an exam early in the next academic year for students who are not happy with this awarded grade. The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead.

To effect this, teachers will consider a range of evidence and data, including performance on mock exams and non-exam assessments – clear guidance on how to do this fairly and robustly will be provided to schools and colleges. The exam boards will then combine this information with other relevant data, including prior attainment, and use this information to produce a calculated grade for each student, which will be a best assessment of the work they have put in.

The plan is to provide these calculated grades to students by the end of July. In terms of a permanent record, the grades will be no different from those provided in other years. The distribution of grades will follow a similar pattern to that in other years, so that this year’s students do not face an inherent disadvantage due to the current circumstances.

For some students, producing extra course material and assignments will be better than facing the anxiety of exams. However, some schools have already started planning for a mock exam in the summer term (should schools reopen) to provide further evidence of their students’ grades. Click here for more details about grading policies.

What will happen with International Baccalaureate exams?

IB exams will be cancelled for the first time in their history. Assessment scores will be considered, using predictive analytics tools and engaging the 15,000 examiners. The IB intends to release results as planned on 5 July. All student coursework and associated predicted grades will need to be uploaded by 20 April, if not sooner, in order to guarantee delivery of results by 5 July.

For further details regarding International Baccalaureate exams please click here.

International Baccalaureate

My child is not interested in doing Maths or Science for A levels – is there still a need to get to grips with the rest of the GCSE curriculum, now that a guaranteed grade is being offered?

Most schools would have covered the GCSE curriculum, so they should not be covering any new content by February of this academic year. However, students who know already that they would like to do a numerical or scientific related discipline at university should take stock of any concepts that they did find tricky. This may mean doing some revision during the lockdown period. For many students who did not enjoy these subjects, this will be a welcome relief. 

exam revision
Students will need to take stock of possible gaps and how this could affect their education journey.

Is there any news from universities?

University representatives have confirmed that they expect universities to be flexible and do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to higher education. In general, the government’s stance is to ensure affected students can move on as planned to the next stage of their lives, including going into employment, starting university, college or sixth form courses, or an apprenticeship in the autumn.

However, we do advise those students who have chosen their university course to examine the module requirements if they did not complete their A level syllabus in the associated discipline.

Cambridge University
Cambridge University is working to better understand the effects of exam cancellations on new applicants.

Should I still be sending my child with an EHC Plan to school during this period?

Children with education, health and care (EHC) plans, along with those who have a social worker, are classed as vulnerable (up to the age of 25).

Those with an EHC plan should be risk-assessed by their school or college in consultation with the local authority (LA) and parents. This is to determine whether they need to continue to be offered a school or college place to meet their needs, or whether they can safely have their needs met at home. This could include, if necessary, carers, therapists or clinicians visiting the home to provide any essential services. Many children and young people with EHC plans can safely remain at home.

Where parents are concerned about the risk of their child contracting COVID-19, the school or social worker should talk through these anxieties with the parent, following the advice set out by Public Health England.

Local authorities will work with trusts and education settings to ensure that settings are kept open, but in some cases this will not be possible. Local authorities and education settings will make the most appropriate arrangements and talk to parents about this. It may not always be possible for children to attend their usual setting in order to ensure that children and staff are kept safe.

How many hours a day should my child devote to academic activities until he or she goes back to school?

We are the first to recognise that each child has a unique learning style and will therefore devote a different number of hours to any given task.  There are, however, some general guidelines that can be followed, based on my own experience and various other experts:  

2-3 hours a day for EYFS and Key Stage 1

3-4 hours a day for Key Stages 2 and 3

5-8 hours a day for Key Stages 4 and 5

homeschooled boy
Homeschooling can be more effective than school contact time with the right support.

When do schools go back?

The short answer is that no clear date has been set and predicting one would be pure speculation on my part.

There was speculation in the Sunday Times (19 April) that senior ministers had drawn up a three-phase plan to lift the coronavirus lockdown that would see schools reopen as early as May 11. It was suggested that the first pupils invited back would include primary school children and those in years 10 and 12 who are due to sit GCSEs and A levels next year. However, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, issued a statement shortly thereafter that he could not give a date for when schools will reopen.

The Department for Education (DfE) published a blog on 21 April addressing the question, entitled Schools reopening conditions. It explains that the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), sent a letter to the Secretary of State setting out five conditions to be met before schools should reopen – including social distancing guidelines, access to PPE /  employment protections for teachers and a recognition of the “depleted” teacher workforce.

The DfE has also reiterated its position in the blog about the matter:

“Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has not set a date for schools reopening.

They will remain closed, except for children of critical workers and the most vulnerable children until the scientific advice changes, and we have met the five tests set out by Government to beat this virus.

We will work in close consultation with the sector to consider how best to reopen schools, nurseries and colleges when the time is right so that parents, teachers and children have sufficient notice to plan and prepare.”

With regards to the five tests that need to be passed in order to avoid a second peak of COVID-19, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has summarised them in the following manner: ‘First, that the NHS can continue to cope, second, that the operational challenges can be met, third, that the daily death rate falls sustainably and consistently, fourth, that the rate of infection is decreasing, and most importantly, that there is no risk of a second peak.’

Thus, reopening schools will be a slow and challenging process for all parties involved, under the principle that safety must come first.

What is Bright Heart doing to help during lockdown?

At Bright Heart, we have been closely monitoring developments with respect to the coronavirus (COVID-19) in order to keep our tutors, clients and students safe and well informed.

Our policy since early March has been to encourage the adoption of online tuition to ensure that our student’s one-to-one tuition is not disrupted during this period. We took the decision before Boris Johnson announced lockdown to require tutors to provide online tuition where possible and supported this adoption by offering clients a 10% discount for online tuition. The government does still permit in-person tuition where a student is described as vulnerable, for example, when a student has an EHC plan, but this is still only possible where the tutor is able to travel safely to the student’s home, and nobody in either the tutor’s or student’s household has any COVID-19 symptoms.

For those who are less familiar with online tuition, part 3 of this blog series discusses some of the pros and cons of online tuition and tips for parents using an online tutor.

Did you find this helpful? Please share your thoughts on our Facebook post or get in touch if you prefer!

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Fascinating insights from the TES SEN Show


The Bright Heart directors attended the TES SEN Show, which is the UK’s largest special needs show, on 5th and 6th October in London.

SEN Agency co-founder

Simon McQueen

SEN Agency Director & Co-founder

Ryan Stevenson

In this post, the directors share what they experienced and learnt at the annual TES Special Educational Needs Show.

Fascinating insights from the TES SEN Show

The Bright Heart directors attended the TES SEN Show, which is the UK’s largest special needs show, on 5th and 6th October in London. The show was packed with exhibitors and delegates and included many interesting presentations and seminars, including a heart-warming opening keynote panel discussion focused on social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) difficulties in education, with the highlight being a brave young student sharing his positive personal experiences at a special school.

The start of the TES SEN Show at the business design centre [photo: TES SEN Show]

A common theme highlighted at the show was the struggle for parents and teachers in the current education climate.

In addition to the keynote address, the directors attended a number of excellent seminars focused on specific topics, which included:

SLCN and SEMH - understanding the links

Wendy Lee demonstrated the high correlation between speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) issues. Some interesting statistics presented included:

A major finding was that language is key to emotional literacy, as behaving appropriately is related to the ability to think through situations and anticipate the emotions generated. Those with SLCN generally have difficulties with interaction, self-awareness, problem solving and self-control. Ms Lee highlighted that there is massive under identification of children with SLCN which affects their emotional health and well-being. To improve language skills is to provide a protection factor against mental health challenges and anxiety, and it is therefore better to focus on preventive health with appropriate language intervention

Identifying SEN: how can we be sure that a pupil has special educational needs?

Jane Friswell spoke passionately about this topic as she drew upon her personal family experiences. Some key points from the SEND Code of Practice highlighted were:

Once it has been determined that a pupil has SEN, SEN support should arise from a four-stage cycle set out in the SEND Code of Practice called the graduated approach – the stages of the cycle being: assess; plan; do; and review.

Making the most of SEN funding and resources

Dr Rona Tutt OBE addressed this important topic, providing a comprehensive overview while putting this all into the context of the stretched budgets available, due partly to the increased age range of the new SEND Code of Practice, which covers young adults up to the age of 25.  Some of Dr Tutt’s key points summarising the funding resources included:

Dr Tutt then stressed the importance of making the most of the limited funding available and highlighted a number of resources to help in this regard, including the EEF Toolkit, which provides an analysis of cost, evidence and benefit of various categories of support – those ranking highly for impact (in additional months’ average progress) include:

Emerging effective SEN practice and challenges

Pat Bullen provided a great overview of what is working and where issues still remain. Clearly most Local Authorities have room for improvement, with 27 out of 61 SEND Local area reviews having a Written Statement of Action (WSOA) as at September 2018. These reviews are carried out by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Although high needs spending has increased from £5bn in 2015 to £6bn in 2018, there has been a strain on Local Authorities with cuts to preventative services such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Schools that do strive to be more inclusive are also not acknowledged accordingly, with the Ofsted definition of ‘Outstanding’ not being wide enough to consider these aspects and being too narrowly focused on the level of academic achievement.

When SEN provision was working effectively, some general traits were present:

Effective SEN provision was usually found when schools, Local Authorities, alternative provision and parents were all working together. 

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