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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New planned SEND reforms in England

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It was annnounced this month regarding the key changes planned for SEND over the next few years. We have summarised these so you are aware, should you be seeking support for your child.

New Planned SEND Reforms In England

In 2019, the Department for Education launched a review of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Education providers and families have been waiting for the reforms since.

On March 2, 2023, the results were published in an improvement plan. This improvement plan aimed to improve the support and services available. It focused on children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities and their families.

As part of the review, ministers spoke to families and people who support and educate those with SEN. This was to gather evidence to form the foundation of a new national SEND and alternative provision system in England. The new provision system would seek to improve current challenges. It would focus on where the education sector is falling short for families of children and young people with SEND.

The long-awaited improvement plan sets out to:

Currently, it is estimated that there is a gap of £1.9 billion between the funding available for SEND support and its cost. Without government intervention, this will rise to approximately £3.6 billion by 2025.

SEND Improvement Plan 2023
Click on the above image to access the SEND improvement plan

When Will Changes Come Into Effect?

While the improvement plan sets out significant reforms, there will be no immediate legislative changes for 2023. This is because the government is launching what it calls a “Change Programme” to test the recommended changes first. This should resolve any problems.

The government is investing £70 million into the testing programme, and it will run for two to three years. Therefore, it could be 2026 before any real change is seen. From the results of this test programme, the reforms and how they will work in real life will be finalised. The reforms can then be rolled out nationwide. This will hopefully end the current postcode lottery that families often face for SEND support and services.

The Change Programme will be trialled in 30 areas. This could potentially rise to 50 or 60 areas as it progresses. However, the trial’s duration will mean that many reforms won’t be finalised until after the next general election in 2025.

The publication of the plan was announced by the Minister for Children, Families, and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho. She said: “Parents know that their children only get one shot at education, and this can have an enormous impact on their child’s ability to get on with life.

“The improvement plan that we are publishing today sets out systemic reforms to standards, teacher training, and access to specialists as well as thousands of new places at specialist schools so that every child gets the help they need.”

Everything You Need To Know About The Announced Reforms

The announcement focused on new national standards for SEND. It also included a digital system for education, health, and care plans (ECHPs). As mentioned above, it could be years until these reforms are put in place.

Any established national standards will not be compulsory or legally binding. This would change if SEND legislation was put in place.

Here are the key highlights that you need to know about and what they mean.

New National Standards

The government intends to launch new national standards for SEND. It says it will set new and clear expectations of what is rated “good”. This will focus on identifying and meeting needs. It will also establish who is responsible for delivering support.

The standards will:

Starting in Spring, the government will talk with families and frontline staff. They will discuss the changes and how they should look. Testing the changes will begin at the end of the year. By the end of 2025, the standards will be published. They will focus on what are the most realistic changes for the current system.

families Icon painting on tar road
Input from families will be key in the role out of this plan

National System Of Tariffs And Banding For Consistent Funding

A national system for tariffs and banding will be put in place. These will be alongside the new national standards. This new system will ensure that funding is consistently provided. It will involve clustering different education provisions. Rules will be set on what education commissions can use to pay education providers. It means that providers will clearly know how much funding they should receive.

Accountability Measures

Accountability measures will be put in place. This is to make sure all expectations are met. This includes how schools should adapt environments so that SEND students can learn alongside others. The role of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Ofsted will be considered here.

Early Support For Children and Alternative Provision (AP)

Children and young people who need extra support can stay in their mainstream school. They can also be provided with an Alternative Provision school. Under the new plans, children will get help earlier. This will make it easier to stay in their mainstream school. If they do need to go to an Alternative Provision school, plans will be in place to help them quickly return to their mainstream school.

EHCPs Go Digital

The improvement plan intends to streamline assessing children’s needs. This will be done through changes to Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). EHCPs are currently used to help students receive support in school. These will be digitised to simplify the admin process and speed it up wherever possible. Speeding up this admin should mean that parents get support faster than before.

EHCPs go digital
To streamline the process EHCPs will become digital.

New School Places

As part of the plan, 33 new special free schools will be built. These will provide additional specialist school places for children with SEND. This will relieve pressure on existing overrun systems. These new school places are thanks to the government’s £2.6 billion investment. This was specifically to increase special school and AP capacity between 2022 and 2025.

New Qualifications For Staff

The government will introduce a new leadership level. This will be the SENCo National Professional Qualification. Staff will be better equipped to meet the needs of children, young people, and their families.

The Department for Education will also look at ways teachers can build their expertise. They intend to review the teacher training framework.

This will:

Training will also be expanded. This will be done for 5,000 special educational needs coordinators and 400 educational psychologists. This should mean help is given earlier to those who need it.  

Intervention in Failing Areas

The government has said that a “Ladder of Intervention” will be in place. This will hold providers accountable when needs are unmet or overlooked. The Department for Education has suggested its response to poor performance will follow the Ofsted and CQC framework.  

Fair Access Panels

When making arrangements for alternative provisions, the fair access panels will be altered to match the new national standards for mainstream and specialist schools.

New Inclusion Dashboard

A new national and local inclusion dashboard will be published. This will show how inclusive schools are in any given area. According to the improvement plan, the dashboard will give parents a transparent view of their area’s performance. This should help with decisions regarding their children’s education. Part of the intention of this is also that the dashboard will encourage service providers to improve.

What Will This Mean For Families?

In addition to the above measures, the Department for Education will set aside £30 million to provide respite. This will be for families of children. This will include short breaks and funding for local areas for play, arts, sports, and independent living activities.

The plans outlined by the government have not been finalised yet. Only time will tell what the updates mean for children, young people, and their families. In theory, a system that focuses on early intervention and support for families sounds great. For years families have said that the current SEND system is broken. The government has also said that the current provisions are failing the most vulnerable. There are often big delays in getting the right support and access to the right services.

However, the process won’t be a quick fix as everything will be trialled under the Change Programme first. In the meantime, schools and budgets will still be stretched while it takes time to build the new facilities and train staff up to standard. This will leave many families afraid that their children will be left behind. Without immediate plans, it could be 2025 before any real change is implemented.

Get in touch

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

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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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