5 Things You Need to Know About the Special Needs System

Posted: 29th Aug 2017

Gary Lockwood, our Primary tutor who specialises in supporting pupils with Additional Needs has written our latest blog. Gary wants to help parents understand the SEN System, its complicated jargon and outlines 5 important points:

5 Things You Need to Know About the Special Needs System

Having been a primary school teacher and a SENCo (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) I know how confusing and difficult it is to get to grips with the SEN (Special Educational Needs) system. Each local authority has its own system for supporting children. I have created a list of the 5 key pieces of information that you need to know.

  • The SEN Code of Practice- The first thing you need to know is that each local authority basis its support for children with SEN on the SEN Code of Practice. This was published in 2004. However, all is now changing and the Welsh Government is in the process of updating the system with the publication of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill. This will create a very different system, one which is more collaborative and supports the child on an individual basis. For the purposes of this blog I will be referring to the current code of practice as this is what is in place for the moment.
  • Parental Permission- It is important that you are consulted at every step of the SEN system. The Code of Practice CoP) states- ‘The school has a duty to inform the child’s parents that special educational provision is being made for the child.’ Often, I have spoken to parents who have had IEPs (Individual Education Plans) sent home and didn’t even know there was a problem. However, what should happen is that you as the parent should be consulted before your child is placed on the SEN register. Schools following best practice guidelines will discuss the needs of your child with you, explain the system and will ask you to sign a consent form to place your child on the SEN register.
  • A Graduated Approach- This is a widely used phrase in the SEN world. Essentially what the phrase means is that the right steps have been taken as outlined in the CoP. The CoP outlines 3 stages of intervention; these are School Action (SA), School Action Plus (SA+) and a Statement. How these are implemented and which interventions are used can depend on the school and the Local Educational Authority. For a child to be put at SA they would have been identified through the school’s assessment system as making significantly less progress than their peers. Once the school has met with the parents and discussed the concerns the child can then be put at SA. This means that they will have an IEP (see point 5). Once they have an IEP they will be having support which is ‘different from and in addition to’ other children. If after a period of time (usually 2 terms) they do not make progress towards their targets they will, after consultation with parents, be moved to SA+. At this stage, the school can then request that other agencies become involved e.g. educational psychologist. If they continue to make little or no progress toward their targets, the school can then request Statutory Assessment, which once completed the child could be granted a Statement of Special Educational Needs.
  • Acronyms- The world of SEN is full of acronyms. I have already mentioned some of the main ones- CoP, IEP, SEN, SENCo, ALN, SA, SA+. There are lots more than these, I have included a few others below-

EP= Educational Psychologist

ALNCo= Additional Learning Needs Coordinator

SpLD Tutor= Specific Learning Difficulties Tutor

OT= Occupational Therapist

SaLT= Speech and Language Therapist

LSA= Learning Support Assistant

IBP= Individual Behaviour Plan

  • What are IEPs/IBPs?- IEPs/IBPs are targeted plans that are put in place to identify and plan the support needed. The CoP states that IEPs should be-
  • the short-term targets set for or by the child
  • the teaching strategies to be used
  • the provision to be put in place
  • when the plan is to be reviewed
  • success and/or exit criteria
  • outcomes (to be recorded when IEP is reviewed).

IEPs should be reviewed at least twice a year but ideally termly. At least one review should be at a Parents’ Evening so that parents can give their views and have an input into the plan. One of the most important aspects of the plan are the targets. These need to be SMART with clear and specific outcomes which can be assessed to measure progress.


The SEN system can be very complicated and confusing but hopefully after reading this blog it is at least a little clearer.

Gary studied Psychology and became a teacher at a local Cardiff Primary. Gary became a school SENCo and worked in a Special Needs Resource base (SNRB). At the moment Gary is studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in SEN/ALN at the University of South Wales.