What are special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)

What is a disability?

A disability is described in law (Equality Act 2010) as: 'a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term and substantial adverse effect on a person's 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, but 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.

What are special education needs?

The SEND Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years (2015) defines a child or young person as having SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for them.

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

  • has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or
  • has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions
  • Many children and young people who have SEN may have a disability that is ‘…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’.

Some children may have a medical condition or physical disability while others may have problems understanding and interpreting the world around them. Other children may have SEND without a diagnosis or disability.   

Children with SEND may need additional help and support with their education, health needs and possibly their care needs.

Children are not considered to have SEND just because their first language is not English.

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