Last reviewed 19 January 2015

The scope of the new Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice is so wide that it presents a major challenge to many types of educational establishments, as well as a wide range of public services. In this article, Tony Powell highlights the implications of some of the major changes for teachers in the classroom.


The aim for pupils with SEND is the same as for all others, namely that:

  • they achieve well in their early years and at school and college

  • they make a good transition to adulthood

  • they lead contented and fulfilled lives.

These aims are not discrete but cumulative. Each year group and phase must not only prepare pupils for the next stage of their education but look beyond this to the young adult taking their place in the community. This means ensuring every pupil enjoys a broad and balanced curriculum, shares the same experiences as far as possible, joins social groups and makes friends. Teachers in the early years, for example, recognise the need for children to work independently and to co-operate.

Who needs special provision?

The inclusion of disability within the revised Code of Practice is based on the need for special provision.

A child or young person has SEND if they have a learning difficulty or disability that 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 they:

  • have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age

  • have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions.

Although not specifically mentioned here, the Children and Families Act 2014 places a duty on maintained schools and academies to make arrangements to support pupils with medical conditions, and this may require special provision.


Since learning difficulties, disabilities and medical conditions can develop at any point, every teacher is responsible for signaling that there may be a need for special provision. Teachers are highly sensitive to the “normal” behaviour of pupils and pick up potential problems very early through formative assessment. Formal identification should be part of whole-school curriculum and assessment procedures.

Class and subject teachers will have regular meetings with the special educational needs co-ordinator or senior staff to identify pupils who are on track, making accelerated progress or falling behind where they should be within the year and Key Stage. This may include progress in areas other than academic attainment, such as personal or social development.

Failing to make the expected progress does not automatically mean the pupil has learning difficulties. It may be that there has been some trauma at home such as a bereavement or family break-up. This is where the teacher’s antennae and partnership with parents is so essential. The pupil may get back on track with a short period of additional support.

The key decision for the school at this point is whether the pupil needs special provision over a protracted period.

Diagnosis of need

The discussion around identification will have started the process of diagnosis but this process needs to be as precise as possible. The diagnosis of need can be refined by considering the desired outcomes, ie improving the rate of progress against the learning objectives. This should take account of the views and wishes of the pupil and their parents.

The revised Code of Practice defines four broad areas of need, and the first point to note is that behaviour, as such, is not one of them. One of the underlying messages is that poor behaviour is a manifestation of frustration where other needs are not addressed.

Communication and interaction

Children and young people with speech, language and communication needs have difficulty in communicating with others. This may be because:

  • they have difficulty saying what they want to or understanding what is being said to them

  • they do not understand or use the social rules of communication.

Within this area, schools also need to consider interaction. Children and young people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including Asperger syndrome, are likely to have particular difficulties with social interaction.

Cognition and learning

Pupils with cognition and learning needs learn at a slower pace than their peers, even with appropriate differentiation. These needs include moderate learning difficulties, severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties.

Social, emotional and mental health difficulties

Social and emotional difficulties manifest themselves in many ways. For example, pupils may become withdrawn or isolated, and could display challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties, such as anxiety or depression, a tendency to self-harm, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other pupils may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or an attachment disorder.

Sensory and/or physical needs

Some pupils require special educational provision because they have a disability that prevents or hinders them from making use of the educational facilities generally provided. These difficulties include vision impairment, hearing impairment, a multi-sensory impairment, and physical disability.

The graduated approach

The foundation for all provision in the school should be high-quality teaching, and this continues for SEND pupils; for example, where a pupil is withdrawn for specialist support, the overall responsibility for progress remains with the class teacher.

The graduated approach is a four-part cycle.

  • Assess.

  • Plan.

  • Do.

  • Review.

Support is evaluated through its impact on progress and the desired outcomes and constantly refined in successive cycles. The school may draw on specialist expertise from a range of services.