The most important law dealing with special education is the 1996 Education Act. A Special Educational Needs Code of Practice gives practical guidance on how to identify and assess children with special educational needs. All early education settings, state schools and LEAs must take account of this Code when they are dealing with children who have special educational needs. Health and social services must also take account of the Code when helping LEAs. This means that, when early education settings, schools, LEAs and health and social services decide how they will help children with special educational needs, they should always consider what the Code says.
Approximately one in five (1.9m) children in England and Wales have special educational needs (SEN), from the most profoundly disabled to those who need some extra help in class (source: Warnock Report). The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 advocated greater inclusion of children with special educational needs (SEN) into mainstream schools. This was welcomed by some as they fought for children to be included in the everyday world, however others were concerned their choice of a special school for their child may be more limited. The process to obtain the necessary provision for a child with special needs is listed below.
The basic points you need to keep in mind as you read this guide are:
the special educational needs of children are normally met in mainstream (ordinary) early education settings ( see the definitions) or schools
all children with special educational needs should have their needs met
your views should be taken into account and the wishes of your child should be listened to
you have a vital role in supporting your child’s education
Children with special educational needs should get a broad, well-balanced and relevant education, including the foundation stage curriculum (for children aged 3 to 5) or the National Curriculum (for children aged 5 to16).
You should be consulted about all the decisions that affect your child.
If you have concerns or worries at any time, you should share them with your child’s teacher or head teacher or any other professional working with your child.
You should always ask for advice without delay.
If you want to talk to someone who is independent and knows about special educational needs, you can get help from the local parent partnership service or from national or local voluntary organisations, which are mainly charities. You can find more information on these organisations on Addresses of voluntary agencies.
Special educational needs – What does it mean?
The term ‘special educational needs’ has a legal definition. Children with special educational needs all have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children of the same age. These children may need extra or different help from that given to other children of the same age.
The law says that children do not have learning difficulties just because their first language is not English. Of course some of these children may have learning difficulties as well.
Children with special educational needs may need extra help because of a range of needs, such as in thinking and understanding, physical or sensory difficulties, emotional and behavioural difficulties, or difficulties with speech and language or how they relate to and behave with other people.
Many children will have special educational needs of some kind at some time during their education. Schools and other organisations can help most children overcome the barriers their difficulties present quickly and easily. But a few children will need extra help for some or all of their time in school.
So special educational needs could mean that a child has difficulties with:
* all of the work in school
* reading, writing, number work or understanding information
* expressing themselves or understanding what others are saying
* making friends or relating to adults ‘
* behaving properly in school
* organising themselves
* Some kind of sensory or physical needs which may affect them in school.
These are just examples.
Help for children with special educational needs will usually be in the child’s ordinary, mainstream early education setting or school, sometimes with the help of outside specialists.
The Government has set out in the Early Learning Goals of the foundation stage of education for children from 3 to 5 years what most children should be able to do by the end of school reception year. The National Curriculum for children from 5 to 16 years also sets out what most children will learn at each stage of their education.
Of course children make progress at different rates and have different ways in which they learn best. Teachers are expected to take account of this by looking carefully at how they organise their lessons, the classroom, the books and materials they give to each child and the way they teach. So all teachers will consider a number of options and choose the most appropriate ways to help each child learn from a range of activities. This is often described as ‘differentiating the curriculum’.
Children making slower progress or having particular difficulties in one area may be given extra help or different lessons to help them succeed. The National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies also provide for children to learn to read and write and understand numbers and mathematics in different ways and speeds, including special ‘catch-up’ work and other kinds of support.
So you should not assume, just because your child is making slower progress than you expected or the teachers are providing different support, help or activities in class, that your child has special educational needs.
What can you do if you are worried that your child may be having difficulties?
Your child’s early years are a very important time for their physical, emotional, intellectual and social development. When your health visitor or doctor makes a routine check, they might suggest that there could be a problem. But if you have any worries of your own, you should get advice straightaway.
If your child is not yet at school or not yet going to an early education setting, you can talk to your doctor or health visitor who will be able to give you advice about the next steps to take.
If you think your child may have a special educational need that has not been identified by the school or early education setting, you should talk to your child’s class teacher, to the SENCO (this is the person in the school or preschool who has a particular responsibility for co-ordinating help for children with special educational needs) or to the head teacher straightaway.
If your child is in a secondary school, you should talk to the child’s form teacher, SENCO, head of year or head teacher.
It is best to start with your child’s teacher or the SENCO. You will be able to talk over your concerns and find out what the school thinks. The SENCO will be able to explain what happens next.
Working together with your child’s teachers will often help to sort out worries and problems. The closer you work with your child’s teachers, the more successful any help for your child can be.
Remember – you know your child better than anyone.
You might like to ask if:
* the school thinks your child has difficulties
* the school thinks your child has special educational needs
* your child is able to work at the same level as other children of a similar age
* your child is already getting some extra help o you can help your child.
Other organisations you can get help from are:
* the parent partnership service in your local authority (In Greenwich they can be contacted on 020 8921 8433)
* child health services
* social services
* local voluntary organisations, mainly charities.
Meeting special educational needs
The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice gives guidance to early education settings (see Definitions), state schools, LEAs and anybody else that helps to identify, assess and provide help for children with special educational needs. It sets out the processes and procedures that all these organisations must or should follow to meet the needs of children. They must not ignore the guidance in the Code.
They must also take account of the Code when they write their SEN policies.
You can get free copies of the SEN Code of Practice from the Department for Education and Skills on the DfES website at www.dfes.gov.gsi.uk/sen or from DfES Publications Centre on 0845 6022260.
The Code describes how help for children with special educational needs in schools and early education settings should be made by a step-by-step or ‘graduated approach’.
What is the graduated approach?
Early education settings and schools place great importance on identifying special educational needs early so that they can help children as quickly as possible. Once it has been decided that your child has SEN, your child’s teachers should take account of the guidance in the SEN Code of Practice. This includes giving you information about the local parent partnership service.
The graduated approach recognises that children learn in different ways and can have different kinds or levels of SEN. So increasingly, step by step, specialist expertise can be brought in to help the school with the difficulties that a child may have.
The school must tell you when they first start giving extra or different help for your child because your child has special educational needs. The extra or different help could be a different way of teaching certain things, some help from an extra adult, perhaps in a small group, or use of particular equipment like a computer or a desk with a sloping top.
In early education settings this help is called Early Years Action and in schools this is called School Action.
Your child might need help through the graduated approach for only a short time or for many years, perhaps even for the whole of their education.
You should be consulted at each step
Different schools will take account of the Code of Practice in different ways. However, no matter how the school chooses to take account of the Code, if your child has SEN, you should be consulted at each step. The school will also consider your child’s own views. Schools should tell parents about their children’s progress. You have a right to see the school’s SEN policy and to receive a copy of the school’s annual report, which include a report on that policy.
Your child’s teacher is responsible for working with your child on a day-to-day basis but may decide to write down the actions or help for your child in an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
The IEP should say:
* what special help is being given
* how often your child will receive the help
* who will provide the help
* what the targets for your child are
* how and when your child’s progress will be checked
* what help you can give your child at home.
Your child’s teacher should discuss the IEP with you and your child if possible.
lEPs will usually be linked to the main areas of language, literacy, mathematics and behaviour and social skills. Sometimes the school or early education setting will not write an IEP but will record how they are meeting your child’s needs in a different way, perhaps as part of the lesson plans, and will record your child’s progress in the same way as they do for all the other children. But the school should always be able to tell you how they are helping your child and what progress they are making, and explain why they have not written an IEP.
Remember – it is how your child is helped that is important and not the way in which the school writes it down.
If your child does not make enough progress, the teacher or the SENCO should then talk to you about asking for advice from other people outside the school. They might want to ask for help from, for example, a specialist teacher, an educational psychologist, a speech and language therapist or other health professionals. This kind of help is called Early Years Action Plus or School Action Plus.
The SENCO should try to include you in any discussions, and should consider your views in making any decisions about how best to help your child. They should keep you informed about your child’s progress.
The SEN Code of Practice is very clear about the importance of early education settings, schools, LEAs and parents working together. Parents should have plenty of opportunities to find out what is happening.
Your views are very important at all times.
Talking through any worries or concerns you might have with the people at the early education setting, the class teacher, the SENCO or the head teacher should sort out any concerns or misunderstandings.
What if you disagree with the early education setting or the School
If you are not happy with anything the school does for your child, you should first talk to the SENCO or your child’s class teacher or subject teachers. You could also talk to the head teacher. Sometimes there can be misunderstandings. It is important that you co-operate as much as you can with your child’s school in any discussion about your child’s SEN. You may find it helpful to write down your worries before a meeting and, if you want to, you can take a friend or relative with you. You may also find it helpful to talk to other parents. Your child’s school will be able to put you in touch with the local parent partnership service who can also give you the names of local voluntary organisations and parents’ groups that might be able to help.
If you and a state school still disagree after you have talked, you are free to:
get help and support through the local parent partnershipservice (In Greenwich they can be contacted on 020 8921 8433)
access an informal disagreement resolution service provided through the LEA