What we mean by Special Educational Needs

People with Special Educational Needs (SEN) have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children of the same age.

Special educational needs fall under four broad areas:

  • Communication and interaction
  • Cognition and learning
  • Social, mental and emotional health
  • Sensory and/or physical

Children with special educational needs may need extra help with:

  • Thinking and understanding
  • Physical or sensory difficulties
  • Emotional or social difficulties
  • Difficulties with speech and language
  • How they relate to and behave with other people

Many children and young people who have SEN may have a disability under the Equality Act 2010. This means ‘…a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term and substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. This definition provides a relatively low threshold and includes more children than many realise. ‘Long-term’ is defined as ‘a year or more’ and ‘substantial’ is defined as ‘more than minor or trivial’.

This definition includes sensory impairments such as those affecting sight or hearing, and long-term health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and cancer. Children and young people with such conditions do not necessarily have SEN. However there is a significant overlap between disabled children and young people and those with SEN. Where a disabled child or young person requires special educational provision they will also be covered by the SEN definition.

For additional information, Southampton SENDIASS (Special Educational Needs & Disability Information Advice & Support Service) have produced this guide on Special Educational Needs (SEN) Support