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Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Special Educational Needs

The term Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) covers four main areas of difficulty - communicating and interacting, cognition and learning, social, emotional and mental health difficulties, and sensory and physical needs. It also includes learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD).

Some children have needs or disabilities that affect their ability to learn. Children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) may need extra help for several different reasons.

School information packs have been shared with schools defining roles and responsibilities in relation to SEND, and information around support services. This information is all available on the Professional Choices website. 

The national SEND Code of Practice (in paragraphs 6.27 to 6.35) sets out definitions of the four areas of SEN. Some children and young people may have SEN that covers more than one of these areas.

  • Communicating and interacting - for example, where children and young people have speech, language and communication difficulties which make it difficult for them to make sense of language or to understand how to communicate effectively and appropriately with other people

  • Cognition and learning - for example, where children and young people learn at a slower pace than others their age. They may have difficulty understanding parts of the curriculum, have difficulties with organisation and memory skills, or have a specific difficulty affecting part of their learning performance, such as in literacy or numeracy

  • Social, emotional and mental health difficulties - for example, where children and young people have difficulty in managing their relationships with other people. They may be withdrawn, or they may behave in ways that might hinder their and other children's learning, or ways that have an impact on their health and wellbeing

  • Sensory or physical needs - for example, children and young people with visual or hearing impairments, or a physical need that means they must have more ongoing support and equipment


Many children and young people who have SEN may also have a disability. A disability is described in the Equality Act 2010 as 'a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term (a year or more) and substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.' This includes, for example, sensory impairments like those that affect sight and hearing, and long-term health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy.

The Equality Act says that early years providers, schools, colleges, other educational settings and local authorities:

  • must not directly or indirectly discriminate against, harass or victimise disabled children and young people

  • must make reasonable adjustments, including providing auxiliary aid services (for example, tactile signage or induction loops), so that disabled children and young people are not disadvantaged compared with others. This duty is what is known as 'anticipatory' - people also need to think in advance about what disabled children and young people might need

Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 is called Children and Young People In England with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. This part of the Act places duties on local authorities and other services in relation to both disabled children and young people and those with SEN. You can find out more in the information pages in this Local Offer.