Special education in the United Kingdom

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'Special Educational Needs' is an umbrella term for an aspect of UK school education focusing on students primarily with learning difficulties and/or disability. In school documents, it is abbreviated to 'SEN' / 'SEND' – these abbreviations are also used in Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Singapore. It is also commonly interchanged with 'Inclusion' and 'Narrowing the Gap' as broad terminology. The term covers specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and ADHD, pervasive disorders such as autism and physical disability such as visual impairment and hearing impairment.

SEN policy and provision is a devolved matter with each of the countries of the United Kingdom having separate systems under separate governments: the UK Government is responsible for education in England, the Scottish Government is responsible for education in Scotland,[1] the Welsh Government is responsible for education in Wales[2] and the Northern Ireland Executive is responsible for education in Northern Ireland.

Across the UK school education systems, provision for SEN is widely varied with a 'mixed economy' of 'learning support' teams based in mainstream schools, specialist schools offering permanent placements and pupil referral units offering temporary placements for students subject to formal exclusion and requiring further assessment.

However, there are common practices found across the country. All schools are legally obliged to maintain an SEN Coordinator post or equivalent position. It is the only mandatory position other than the headteacher / principal position. There is also an SEN Code of Practice, originally published in 2001, which provides non-binding guidance on how provision should be shaped and maintained. Most authorities operate a graduated approach based on the level of need and additional support required - typically using the terms 'School Action', 'School Action+' and 'Statement of Special Educational Need'. Unlike with other schools parents wishing to deregister a child from a special school to home educate need to obtain prior permission from the local authority.

Since the publishing of the SEND Green Paper in 2011, current common practices are being reviewed and reformed with a small number of authorities acting as 'pathfinders'.

For details of special education in each country, see:


  • Children and Families Act 2014
  • Equality Act 2010

Key Guidance

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0-25 years 2014

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Scottish Government scotland.gov.uk, accessed 6 June 2009
  2. ^ About wales.gov.uk, accessed 6 June 2009

External links[edit]