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Broad areas of SEN

The 0-25 SEND Code of Practice (2015, sections 6.28-6.35) outlines the following broad areas of special educational need:

  • Communication and interaction which includes speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD);
  • Cognition and learning which includes moderate learning difficulties (MLD), severe learning difficulties (SLD), profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) and specific learning difficulties (SpLD);
  • Social, emotional and mental health difficulties which includes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attachment disorder, anxiety and depression;
  • Sensory and/or physical needs which includes visual impairment (VI), hearing impairment (HI), multisensory impairment (MSI) and physical difficulties (PD).

A learner may have needs which span two or more categories; for example a learner with a hearing loss may also experience difficulty with reading and have some emotional health problems.

Pupils requiring high needs block funding

High needs pupils are likely to include those who have:

  • Severe learning difficulties (SLD): support needs in all areas of the curriculum and associated difficulties with mobility and communication;
  • Profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD): likely to have severe and complex learning difficulties as well as a physical disability or sensory impairment;
  • Complex needs: including more complex learning, developmental, sensory, physical and/or medical needs; likely to require a high level of special educational provision not normally available in mainstream settings; may be identified at a very early age through universal health assessments (eg new-born hearing screening).

(0-25 SEND Code of Practice, 2015, sections 5.14, 6.30, 9.145)

Parents' early observations of their child are crucial. Health service professionals should work with and support the family to understand their child's needs and access early support.


The Government are currently consulting on special educational needs and disability data descriptors; click here for details.


Click here for local authority examples of 'SEN descriptors' for schools and early years.

Higher needs block funding criteria

Pupils requiring additional funding from the school’s notional SEN
budget to support their learning are likely to require personalised interventions to address their underlying learning needs and enable
or improve curriculum access.


Pupils with severe and complex needs are defined as ‘high needs pupils’ and may require funding from the higher needs block and possible statutory needs assessment. Before a local authority will consider higher needs block funding, schools will be asked to present detailed evidence and history about their prior support of the child's/young person’s learning and development; click here for an exemplar list.


The factors a local authority should take into account in deciding whether Education, Health and Care (EHC) Needs Assessments and EHC Plans are necessary are set out in the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice (2015):

  • EHC Needs Assessment: sections 9.11-9.19;
  • EHC Plan: sections 9.53-9.56.
Children with medical conditions

Pupils with long term and complex medical conditions may require on-going support, not only due to their need for medicines or care while at school to help them manage their condition but also due to secondary difficulties such as:

  • Compromised educational attainment – due to long term absence.
  • Possible social emotional impacts – including difficulties integrating with peers, self-consciousness about their condition, bullying and associated emotional disorders such as anxiety or depression.

All children with medical conditions, in terms of both physical and mental health, must be properly supported in school so that they can play a full and active role in school life (including school trips and physical education), remain healthy and achieve their academic potential.


It is also important that parents feel confident that schools will provide effective support for their child’s medical condition and that their child feels safe.


(Supporting Pupils at School with Medical Conditions; Department for Education, 2014)

Supporting pupils with
medical conditions

Under the Children and Families Act 2014 (section 100), there is a new duty on maintained schools and academies to make arrangements to support pupils with medical conditions at school in line with the statutory guidance in Supporting Pupils at School with Medical Conditions (Department for Education, 2014), and their governing bodies have a duty to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place (0-25 SEND Code of Practice, 2015, section 3.66).


Early years providers should also take steps to ensure that children with medical conditions get the support required to meet their needs as set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage framework (CoP, section 5.11).


Under the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice (2015) and the Equality Act 2010, there are reasonable adjustment duties in relation to young people with medical conditions as well as to disabled children (CoP, sections 3.70, 6.11).

Health care provision and the Local Offer

Health care provision reasonably required may include specialist support and therapies; click here for a list.


'Individual healthcare plans will normally specify the type and level of support required to meet the medical needs of such pupils. Where children and young people also have SEN, their provision should be planned and delivered in a coordinated way with the healthcare plan.'
(0-25 SEND Code of Practice, 2015 (CoP), section 6.11)


Education providers should establish relationships with relevant local health services for support with making decisions based on health care advice from professionals.


School governing bodies should also ensure that school leaders consult health and social care professionals, pupils and parents so they can effectively support the needs of children with medical conditions (CoP, section 3.66).

Medical conditions and transition

'Health service and other professionals should work with the young person and, where appropriate, their family, to develop a transition plan and providing support to prepare young people…to make the transition to adult health services. They should gain a good understanding of the young person's individual needs, including their learning difficulties or disabilities, to co-ordinate health care around those needs and to ensure continuity (including who will take the lead in co-ordinating care and referrals to services) and the best outcomes for the young person. The young person should know who is taking the lead and how to contact them.' (0-25 SEND Code of Practice, 2015 (CoP, section 8.54)


Those over 18 years who are not hospitalised but have complex ongoing healthcare needs may be eligible for the NHS Continuing Healthcare package. (CoP, p. 282)

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