Special Educational Need (SEN) and The Code of Practice (CoP)

SEN and COP The law says that all schools must do their best to see that “suitable education” is provided for all children, including those with special educational needs. The vast majority of children will have their needs met within their local school.

The most important legislation dealing with special education is:

  • Part 3 of the Children And Families Act 2014
  • The Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014
  • The Special Educational Needs (Personal Budgets) Regulations 2014
  • The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0-25 years is part of this legislation and gives statutory guidance to schools about how your child's special educational needs should be identified and assessed.

The changes which have come into effect for 2014 put a greater emphasis on the views of children, young people and their parents and carers in making decisions. Education, Health and Care Services will work together to help achieve the best possible outcomes. The Code of Practice (CoP) has been changed to include young people up to 25, focussing on education to enable them to gain skills for work and living independently.

The main changes to the 2014 Code of Practice from the 2001 guidance are as follows:

  • The Code of Practice (2014) covers the 0-25 age range and includes guidance relating to disabled children and young people as well as those with SEN
  • There is a clearer focus on the participation of children and young people and parents in decision making at individual and strategic levels
  • There is a stronger focus on high aspirations and on improving outcomes for children and young people
  • It includes guidance on the joint planning and commissioning of services to ensure close cooperation between education, health and social care
  • It includes guidance on publishing the Local Offer of support for children and young people with SEN or disabilities
  • There is new guidance for education and training settings on taking a graduated approach to identifying and supporting pupils and students with SEN (to replace School Action and School Action Plus)
  • For children and young people with more complex needs a coordinated assessment process and the new 0-25 Education, Health and Care plan (EHC plan) replace statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments (LDA’s)
  • There is a greater focus on support that enables those with SEN to succeed in their education and make a successful transition to adulthood

Definition of SEN – what the code says.

The term 'special educational need' (SEN) has a legal definition, referring to “children or young people who have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn or access education than most children of the same age.”

Children have a special educational need if they have a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for them. This definition is based on these two key phrases that are part of the full legal description of special needs.

Learning Difficulty means:

  • have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age; or
  • 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.

* Identifying and assessing SEN for young children whose first language is not English requires particular care. Early years practitioners should look carefully at all aspects learning English as an additional language or if it arises from SEN or disability. Difficulties related solely to learning English as an additional language are not SEN. (Code of Practice 5.3, 6.24).

Special educational provision means:

  • for children of two or more, special educational provision is educational or training provision thatis addition or different from that made generally for other children or young peopleof the same age by mainstream schools, maintained nursery schools, mainstream post-16 institutions or by relevant early years providers
  • for a child under 2 years of age, special educational provision means educational provision of any kind
  • are under compulsory school age and fall within the definition of a learning difficulty or would so do if special educational provision was not made for them. (Section 20 Children and Families Act 2014) 

Special educational provision takes many different forms.

The Local Authority (LA) Responsibility

Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 places legal duties on LA’s to identify and assess the special educational needs of (SEN) children and young people for whom they are responsible. LA’s became responsible for a child/young person in their area when they became aware that the child/young person has or may have SEN. They must them ensure that those children and young people receive a level of support which will help them “achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes” – Section 19 (d).

The Local Authority has the responsibility to provide “suitable education”.

“Suitable education” is defined as "efficient education suitable to the age, ability, aptitude and to any special educational needs", the child or young person may have.

More specifically they have the duty to;

  • to identify and assess children with SEN for whom they are responsible
  • to ensure the child, young person and parents or carers are fully included in the EHC needs assessment process
  • to make and maintain an EHC Plan
  • to arrange SEN provision
  • to have regard to the Code of Practice

School’s Duty (Mainstream)

Every school is required to identify and address the SEN of the pupils that they support. (CoP 6.2)

Schools must:

  • use their best endeavours to make sure a child with SEN gets the support they need – this mean doing everything they can to meet the children and young people’s SEN
  • ensure that children and young people with SEN engage in the activities of the school alongside pupils who do not have SEN
  • designate a teacher to be responsible for co-ordinating the SEN provision – the SENCO
  • inform parents when they are making special educational provision for a child
  • prepare a SEN information report which details their arrangements for provision enabling access to facilities for disabled children
  • appoint a member of the governing body with specific oversight for SEN

What is the Code of Practice?

The SEN Code of Practice provides statutory guidance on duties, policies and procedures relating to Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 and associated regulations and applies to England. It relates to children and young people with (SEN) and disabled children and young people. It also provides general practical guidance to such settings about the provision of nursery education to children with special educational needs.

The Code sets out its principles clearly:

  • the participation of children, their parents and young people in decision making
  • the early identification of children and young people’s needs and early intervention to support them
  • greater choice and control for young people and parents over support
  • collaboration between education, health and social care services to provide support
  • high quality provision to meet the needs of children and young people with SEN
  • a focus on inclusive practice and removing barriers to learning
  • successful preparation for adulthood, including independent living and employment

The Code of Practice also sets out who must have regard and follow the guidance. This not only refers to schools and the LA but also health services such as the NHS and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

For the vast majority of children with SEN, a mainstream setting will meet all their special educational needs. Some children will require additional help from SEN services or other agencies external to the school. A very small minority of children will have SEN of a severity or complexity that requires the local authority to determine and arrange the special educational provision their learning difficulties call for.

The SEN Code of Practice recommends that schools adopt a graduated approach to match provision to children's SEN so that, where necessary, increasingly available specialist expertise can respond to a child's individual needs if they do not make adequate progress.

It also provides guidance on carrying out an EHC needs assessment of a child's SEN and of making and maintaining an EHC plan for children and young people with severe and complex needs; carrying out annual reviews of EHC plans and planning for young people with SEN to make the transition to college, training and employment. 

The Code of Practice is available online:

Code of Practice

Tel: 0845 60 222 60 

The Department for Education have also written the following guide for parents and carers:

Guide for Parents

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