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Getting help with SEN at school

Please be aware that this section contains information prepared in 2009 and may now be out of date. Some links may no longer work. We are reviewing this section.


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About 1 in 5 children and young people in England have special educational needs (SEN) at some point in their school lives and most children and young people on the autism spectrum have SEN. So if you think you have SEN you can be sure you are not alone. All children and young people whose SEN is known about should get help from their school to help them overcome the difficulties they have. Some will need extra help and may need a ‘Statement’ of SEN which more clearly sets out the sort of help they need. (See the separate document in this section of the website on SEN for more information.)

If you have SEN, your teachers should be aware of it and should have agreed a plan (with you and your parents) about how they will help you learn and succeed at school. The Government gives schools, teachers and local authorities clear laws and guidance about how to provide help to pupils with SEN. Most SEN law is in Part 4 of the Education Act 1996, and most guidance is in the SEN Code of Practice. The Code says that all children and young people with SEN should have their needs met.

What help will my school give me?
Your school has a number of ways it can help you overcome the difficulties of special educational needs. We have tried to explain some of the main ways they can help below:

The school-based stages
Some children with SEN do not have a ‘Statement’ and therefore should receive help in their school, pre-school or nursery. There are two ‘school-based’ stages which teachers can use to provide extra help:

  • Early Years Action or School Action
  • Early Years Action Plus or School Action Plus

The stages are called school-based because all or most of the extra help is given by the setting or school. At the ‘Action’ stage, only a small amount of help may be needed, for example weekly group sessions with a learning support assistant. At the ‘Action Plus’ stage, the setting or school provides more help, but also goes outside the school to get advice from, for example, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists or a specialist autism or behaviour adviser.

A school will try the ‘Action’ stage first and if progress is not made will move onto the ‘Action Plus’ stage.

Individual Education Plans
If you are on either ‘Action’ or ‘Action Plus’ stage help at school you may have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which the school writes with you and your parents to map the support they will give you. (Please see separate document in this section of the website on IEPs).

Parents’ rights
Your parents have some rights governing the help a school or educational setting gives a child or young person with SEN. These are summarised below. If you have SEN and are concerned that your parents are not sure about the sort of help you are getting at school, you may want to discuss these things with them – or advise them to read the relevant parent information in this part of the AET website.

  • your school must tell your parents / carers if you are receiving special help with your learning
  • your teachers should make sure your parents understand the stages of help you will receive and should involve them whenever possible in planning and reviewing the support you are given
  • parents should know who the school’s SEN co-ordinator (SENCO) is, what SEN facilities the school may have, how the school decides how to spend SEN resources and any arrangements for parents’ complaints about SEN provision
  • your school’s governors are responsible for making sure all pupils with SEN at the school receive appropriate help and support and should make sure that pupils’ SEN are known to all those likely to teach him or her

What is a ‘Statement of SEN’ and ‘Statutory assessment’?
A ‘Statement of SEN’ (often referred to simply as a ‘Statement’) is a legal document that describes in detail all of a child's educational needs and all of the help required to meet those needs. The local authority (not the school) must make decisions about Statements and the way they do this is governed by law.

Children must have Statements of SEN if they have difficulties that an ordinary school in the area cannot provide for out of its own resources.

A ‘Statutory assessment’ is the process of the local authority gathering information on whether a child needs a Statement. The local authority must get ‘advice’ (reports and evidence) from everyone involved in the education of that child including parents / carers, the school, educational psychologists, medical professionals or social services if appropriate. Parents may want to seek extra advice from experts independent of the local authority if there is any disagreement over the type of support a child needs. There are various organisations set up to help parents through this process and they are given in the Parents section of the AET website.

For a more detailed explanation of all of the terms described above, please refer to the Parent pages in this section of the AET website.

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Get help from...  

 The National Autistic Society (NAS) publishes information sheets on the school-based stages: Education: getting extra help in school (England and Wales),
on statutory assessment: Education: statutory assessment (England and Wales),
and on statements: Education: statements of special educational needs (England and Wales).

The NAS has an Advocacy for Education Service, which offers telephone advice: 0845 070 4002. The service also provides links to other organisations that can offer live advice.

These organisations also have useful publications:

IPSEA has a ‘Refusal to Assess’ pack for parents, and model letters for requests to assess, for a meeting on a proposed statement, and for the implementation of provision in a statement, among other issues.

ACE has booklets on getting extra help, on analysing the proposed statement and on annual reviews. Afasic has a booklet on analysing the proposed statement.

The NAS also produces an Autism Services Directory which contains details of schools that cater for children and young people with autism. You can visit to search for schools in your area.

Other disability charities such as I-CAN and AFASIC can provide information on schools for children with speech and language impairments. Contact details for all of these information services and charities can be found in the 'Links' section.

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The National Autistic Society provides a wealth of information on autism and education

Teachernet offers considerable information on all aspects of autism and school provision

I-CAN works to support the development of speech, language and communication skills with children who find this hard

Afasic works in the field of speech, language and communication difficulties to help children and young people, their families and the professionals working with them.

School Action, School Action Plus and Statements of Special Educational Need

Gabbitas provides information on independent special needs schools

SEN Tribunal publications for parents including ‘How to Appeal’:

IPSEA supports parents via helplines and casework, including representation at Tribunal where necessary:

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