Special Educational Needs

Parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) should look for a school with a strong special needs department. However, the quality of special needs provision affects all students in a school. Every school has students with special needs. Much depends on how they are motivated and supported.

  • Some children have a statement of special needs. This means they have particular needs and a statement has been drawn up to define the extra support they are entitled to.
  • The LEA is obliged to fund the support, and the school must deliver the statement.
  • Statemented students are normally given the secondary school of their choice.
  • Most children with special needs do not qualify for a statement. The government does not provide extra money to the school for these students and they are largely dependent upon the school’s special needs department.
  • The right school for your child is likely to have a strong special needs department, regardless of whether your child has special needs or not. The better SEN students access to the curriculum, the better the standards of student motivation and behaviour across the school will be.
  • An effective special needs department provides extra support and sanctuary for students with a wide array of learning, behaviour and social difficulties. It has a high profile and its staff are respected by all students. In this way, all students are educated to be tolerant of those with additional needs.
  • Although most students are not diagnosed as having special needs, all students will have a ‘special need’ at some point in their school career. For example, they may be very confident and academic, but suffer a bereavement which means they need counselling.They may have always done well in every subject, but suddenly find a block in a particular area. Indeed, being gifted and talented is commonly included within a school’s definition of ‘special needs’. If a school has a strong special needs department, then it provides access to all students who need its support. Parents sometimes make the mistake of thinking their children will never need additional support, when this is rarely the case.
  • Schools’ Achievement and Assessment Tables include measures of the percentage of Year 11 students who have attained five or more grade A*–C grades. It is important to recognise, however, that your child might not be in that ability range. A school with a good special needs department will have a high success rate in helping students to attain at least one A*–G grade. Most parents hope their children will be in the A*–C category. However, for all sorts of reasons, they might not end up in there, and a parent needs to know that their child will receive support whatever their likely level of achievement.
  • A school with a strong special needs department is inclusive, involving all students whatever their gender, culture and aptitude. A school with a weak special needs department may not have an inclusive ethos. In this case the school might not value or acknowledge the range of abilities its students possess.
  • When considering the issue of special needs, parents must decide what they want from a school. Those who want their children to appreciate the inclusion in society of students with a variety of disabilities and needs should find a school with a good special needs department.
  • Parents of children without special needs are often wary of schools with a large special needs cohort. Their concern should not be the size of the cohort, but how it is managed. If the school has a strong special needs department, students will be supported so that they do not hold up the progress of others. Indeed, an effective SEN department will enhance the progress of all. If a school does not have a strong special needs department, then students with special needs are more likely to hinder others’ progress in the classroom.
  • Special needs departments are staffed by specialist teachers and teaching assistants. If a school has strong teaching assistants, this can benefit all students, not just those with special needs. In lessons, a good classroom assistant is another resource to help them learn.
  • A strong special needs department will help all teachers with their workload. It will help with classroom resources and methods of support for special needs students. This help will mean that all students get on better in the classroom.
  • If your child has special needs, it important you find out what expertise exists in the special needs department. For example, if they suffer from dyspraxia, it would be helpful to know whether there is a dyspraxia specialist in the department, and how the school has dealt historically with students with dyspraxia.
  • If your child has special needs, it is important to  ascertain how well resourced the special needs department is, in terms of staffing ratios and facilities.
  • If your child has special needs, it is important to find out how students with special needs are taught. For example, are they withdrawn from classes in some subject areas, or are they supported in the class.
  • If your child has issues in literacy, you must see what programme the school provides to help students improve their reading in Year 7. For example, some schools have an intensive reading programme to speed up students’ literacy development and help them access the curriculum.
  • Special needs is a political issue. Sometimes good schools do not advertise their special needs department, because they do not want to attract too high a number of special needs students. Special needs students might impact negatively on a school’s Achievement and Assessment Tables’ rating.
  • Grammar schools are likely to have small special needs departments. However, special needs exist in all student cohorts, so a good selective school should still take special needs seriously.

Further Information

Open Evening

If your child has special needs, you must meet the SEN Co-ordinator at open evening, and ask how your child’s needs would be catered for. It is very important that you feel that you could work effectively with this person.

Primary School

If your child has special needs, speak to the responsible teacher at their primary school who is in charge of special needs.They will have contact with secondary school special needs departments and will be able to tell you about their quality.


The school prospectus should have a section on special needs provision. If it does not, it might be that the school is denying that the issue exists, or overlooking it.This would be a cause for concern. The school prospectus will include exam results. In order to ascertain the strength of the special needs department you need to look at the percentages that relate to A*–Gs, and not just A*–Cs.


When visiting the school in working hours, make sure you locate the special needs department and assess how welcoming and productive the environment feels.

Case Study


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