What does SEND mean?

Special educational needs (SEN) or special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) describe the additional learning requirements that some students require. These include behavioural difficulties, communication, coordination, concentration and social interaction. SENDs are conditions that impact a child’s classroom learning ability.

What is SEN and SEND?

The term special educational needs and disabilities refers to students who:

  • Have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it significantly more challenging for them to learn compared to their peers of the same age.
  • Have disabilities that require special educational provisions due to their inability to make use of the educational facilities provided for their same-aged peers in mainstream schools.
What are special educational needs

What are the common types of special educational needs?

The most common types of special educational needs are:

  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia (learning difficulties related to language processing, maths abilities, or writing)
  • Physical disabilities limit a person’s physical functioning, mobility, dexterity, or stamina, significantly impacting their ability to undertake standard educational requirements.
  • Speech-language disabilities include difficulties with articulation (pronunciation), fluency (stuttering), voice quality and resonance/articulation accuracy.
  • Intellectual disability or developmental delay – this can be caused by many health conditions in childhood or even before birth. It’s usually diagnosed when someone has trouble learning new things as they grow up; their IQ scores are below 70; they have problems using language effectively; have difficulty relating to other people; have problems thinking logically or reasoning out solutions to problems; they may find it hard to concentrate on tasks at hand.

Legislation around SEN and SEND

In the UK, plenty of protections exist for students with SEN or SEND. Many other countries have similar protections, which can be used as rough guidelines on what to expect if you are not in the UK.

The Care Act 2014 outlines the necessary steps to assist individuals over 18. It clarifies eligibility requirements, assessment procedures, and when fees may apply for the support provided.

Identifying special educational needs

If you’re a parent, there may be times when you suspect that your child has special educational needs. If this is the case, you should talk to their teacher or school as the first port of call about what they have observed, then discuss it with an appropriate healthcare professional such as a psychiatrist or GP.  

As an educator, some students may stand out. They might be capable in many aspects but get lost, overwhelmed or anxious with one particular aspect of their education. Your insight may be worth sharing with their parents to encourage them to investigate further.

Talking about SEND with parents or educators can be difficult; there may be concerns about how they’ll react and whether they will understand what they can do to help. However, all parties involved benefit from being aware of any problems so that appropriate action can be taken as soon as possible if necessary.

Challenges faced by students with special educational needs and disabilities

There are many challenges that students with special educational needs and disabilities face. These include:

  • Social exclusion and feeling different from their peers
  • Missing out or not being included in social and educational opportunities
  • Teachers may get frustrated by their disabilities
  • loud classrooms or triggering environments can lead to anxiety, depression or burnout
  • Being bullied

The result of these challenges is that children may feel different from their peers, affecting their self-esteem.

How to make the classroom more inclusive to those with special educational needs

Inclusive teaching is about making your classroom a place where all students can learn and succeed. This can be achieved by using differentiated strategies, which means tailoring your lesson to the needs of each child in the class.

We all know that teaching can be a very challenging job. It already takes incredible dedication, hard work and understanding to bring knowledge to students, so there is no criticism of their commitment to supporting children in general.

The following ideas may not be practical in many situations, but are suggestions for improving teaching methods for children who are struggling:

  • Teach in small groups or pairs – if you have a large group of students with SEND who need more support than others, try splitting them into two or three smaller groups so they can work together on their level. Let them choose which group they want to be in; this will help them feel more comfortable with each other and take ownership of their learning experience.
  • Use individual tutorials – some children might need more individual attention than others regarding understanding new concepts or skills (this could also be because they have dyslexia). Consider having regular one-to-one sessions with these children so they don’t fall behind while everyone else works together on projects as part of the whole class.”

If these suggestions are not actionable, it is worth considering outside help. Coaching and tutoring are good options that provide personalised support.

How to support the emotional and social well-being of students at school

The emotional and social well-being of students with SEN or SEND is vital to their educational progress. Students who feel supported, understood and accepted by others will likely have higher self-esteem, better relationships with teachers and peers, greater motivation for learning and improved behaviour.

Teachers and parents can help support the emotional well-being of students by:

  • Being aware of any additional needs they may have;
  • Ensuring that all aspects of school life are accessible (for example, ensuring that writing on boards is large enough for everyone);
  • Ensuring there are suitable places at break times where children can go if they need some quiet time;
  • Encouraging children who might find it hard to make friends through informal activities such as reading groups or sporting clubs;
  • Supporting children when changes happen in their lives outside school (for example, death).

Areas of focus while teaching students with special educational needs and disabilities

The following are some of the areas of focus while teaching students with special educational needs and disabilities:

  • Teaching methods. Teachers can use various strategies to help students with SEND learn more effectively, such as providing them with multisensory learning experiences or using technology in the classroom to support their individualised learning plans.
  • Teacher training. Teachers must understand how to implement these strategies so that they can support all children in their classrooms, regardless of whether they have an identified SEND or not; this is especially important for teachers who may not be qualified for specific types of special education certification but still want their students’ needs met by qualified professionals (such as speech therapists).
  • Teacher collaborative partnerships (TCPs). TCPs include parents, school staff members other than teachers (e.g., school counsellors), community agencies such as charities with expertise in relevant conditions), etc.”

If a child with a SEND does not feel included in the classroom, it can harm their academic success and social-emotional growth.

Successful case studies

We work with students with special educational needs and support them with their educational goals. We work on short-term goals, such as achieving a specific grade for an exam, and long-term goals, like reducing anxiety over written work and building self-confidence. Often, both long and short-term support is combined for best results.

Here are two examples of students (all identifying information has been removed) we have worked with who exemplify these two types of support:

Jenny – ADHD and bipolar

An excellent example of a student who needed short-term help was Jenny; she struggled to stay on task during revision for her A-level exams, however, needed a high grade to go to university. Jenny has ADHD and bipolar, so we needed to work on making the most of the times when she felt most productive and being patient and kind to herself when things were too much to handle.

We practised exercises that helped with letting go of her internal bully, and as a goal, set 10 hours of revision per week, a change from the usual daily goals, as we knew that her mood changes and stress would swing a lot day to day. These changes to her expectations of herself significantly improved her mental health as we approached exams.

It is often the case that people with special educational needs are very tough on themselves as they are trying to compete with people who don’t struggle academically in the same way as them, and for Jenny, learning this was a revelation. We also hit the goal of an average of 10 hours of revision per week.

Alice – ADHD and anxiety

Our second example is Alice; she suffered from exam anxiety and froze during assessments. Part of the problem was that she was knowledgeable and had lots of good ideas but needed help to put them onto paper. She would get very flustered and stressed and then forget the vital information. The other significant issue was that she was a perfectionist and very tough on herself, which overwhelmed her when she was under pressure. This problem occurred for years, and Alice now expected to freeze during exams; we had to show that she could work through it.

Working towards the short-term goal of getting through her A-levels involved practice essay drills where we focussed on writing a plan and a short essay in under an hour. This was then repeated at least once daily, building her confidence in her skills.

During our practice, I found out that she was not originally planning on taking her A-level exams as she was so stressed about them. Together we built her confidence enough to be reasonably comfortable during the exams, and there were no significant issues.

However, our primary challenge was changing her view of herself as an academic failure. Changing something so deeply ingrained can be extremely challenging. To do so, we settled on regular meditation practice; this allowed her to become more aware of the situations that stressed her out and allowed us to address them more directly.

Over the following three months, we saw significant improvement in her self-confidence, leading to a much calmer approach to stressful situations. As a result, Alice decided to go to university after a year out and is now enjoying studying psychology.

Addressing challenges and future directions

Challenges to implementing SEND policies include a need for more funding, resources and support from the government. While many countries have adopted policies that promote inclusion in education, much work must be done to ensure all children receive an equal opportunity to learn in school.

The importance of research cannot be overstated; however, more research must be conducted on the best practices required to help students with SEND in the long run. A big challenge with research like this is that the outcome (whether the students see a benefit from a particular type of support) could take years or decades to emerge.

Collaboration between educators, parents and students would also help improve outcomes for students with special needs by providing better feedback and faster responses to good or bad support practices.

To conclude, it is essential to remember that there are many different types of special educational needs and disabilities. You should also be aware of the challenges faced by students with SEN and SEND and their families. By being informed about how best to support these students in your classroom or school setting, you can help them achieve success through inclusive practices such as accessible curriculum materials, responsive instruction styles and positive relationships with staff members


ADHD is considered a special educational need as it is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to pay attention, control impulsive behaviours, and regulate hyperactivity. Individuals with ADHD may require additional support and accommodations in education.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a developmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behaviour. Those with autism may have difficulties with social skills and sensory processing and may exhibit repetitive or restrictive behaviours. It is considered a special educational need.

Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder affecting a person’s reading, spelling, and writing ability. It’s considered a special educational need due to difficulties with phonological processing, decoding, and recognising written words accurately and fluently.

Anxiety can significantly affect a person’s ability to learn and participate in educational settings. Therefore, students with anxiety may be considered to have a special educational need and provided with additional support and accommodations to manage their anxiety and succeed academically.

After assessing your child, the Education Authority (EA) may create a statement of special educational needs detailing the support your child requires. This is typically done when the child’s school cannot assist. You should receive notification from the EA within 12 weeks of the assessment regarding their decision to create a statement.

Special educational support should be provided to individuals who have specific learning needs or disabilities that require additional assistance to access education and reach their full potential. 

Inclusive education aims to provide equal learning and participation opportunities for all students, including those with special needs, in a mainstream environment. It focuses on social integration, increased self-confidence, and preparation for the real world.

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