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What special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) means

Some children and young people need special or different arrangements, sometimes just for a short time, sometimes for the whole of their school life. Those who need this extra help have special educational needs. SEND is used across the 0-25 age range.

Children learn at different speeds and in different ways. Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can affect a child or young person's ability to learn. Some children may have difficulty with:

  • behaviour or ability to socialise, for example they struggle to make friends
  • reading and writing, for example because they have dyslexia
  • ability to understand things
  • concentration levels, for example because they have ADHD
  • physical ability

Some children may have SEN because of a medical condition or a disability. Other children may have SEN without a diagnosis or a disability.

Early years providers (for example, nurseries or childminders), mainstream schools, colleges and other organisations can help most children and young people succeed with some changes or extra support. But some children and young people will need extra help for some or all of their time in education and training.

Legal definition of Special Educational Need (SEN)

The SEND code of practice 0 to 25 years defines a child or young person as having SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which 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 [in any area of need] than the majority of others of the same age; or  
  • have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions.  

A child under compulsory school age has special educational needs if they fall within the definition above or would so do if special educational provision was not made for them. 

Legal definition of disability

Many children and young people who have SEN may have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 - that is '...a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term and substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'.  

This definition provides a relatively low threshold and includes more children than many realise: 'long-term' is defined as 'a year or more' and 'substantial' is defined as 'more than minor or trivial'. This definition includes sensory impairments such as those affecting sight or hearing, and long-term health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and cancer. Children and young people with such conditions do not necessarily have SEN, but there is a significant overlap between disabled children and young people and those with SEN. Where a disabled child or young person requires special educational provision they will also be covered by the SEN definition.

Contact us
SEND, Looked After and Vulnerable Groups Casework Team
03000 265 878
Our address is:
  • Children and Young People's Services
  • County Hall
  • Durham
  • County Durham
  • United Kingdom
  • DH1 5UJ