At School

Children at school

What can I do if I think my child has a learning difficulty at school?

If your child is at school, talk to your child's teacher or head teacher. There will be a teacher at your child's school who has a special responsibility for children with special educational needs. The school will tell you the name of that teacher.

All ordinary schools provide special help for children with special educational needs.

You are an active partner with your child's school. The school should tell you about your child's progress, listen to your concerns and work with you to make sure that your child gets a proper education. When your child starts school, or moves to a new school, you should tell his or her teacher about all the special help that has previously been provided by other schools, or by health or social services.

Many problems can be sorted out easily, especially if they are dealt with quickly. But in some cases, if your child has special educational needs, the school may call in outside specialists to help.

Different schools help children with special needs in different ways. But from September 1994, all state schools must:

have regard to the Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs; and
publish information about their policies for children with special educational needs.

What is the Code of Practice ?

The Code of Practice is a guide for schools and LEAs about the practical help they can give to children with special educational needs. It recommends that schools should identify children's needs and take action to meet those needs as early as possible, working with parents. The law says that all state schools must have regard to the Code of Practice from 1 September 1994. This means that, when schools decide what they should do for children with special educational needs, they should always consider what the Code says. The Code gives guidance to schools but it does not tell them what they must do in every case. School teachers are skilled professionals who can judge how best to help your child. But, whatever they do, schools must not ignore the Code of Practice.


The Code recommends that schools should deal with children's needs step-by-step or in stages, matching the level of help to the needs of the child. The school will talk to you and together you will decide which stage is best for your child. The school will also decide what this involves and what should be done to help your child progress. In most cases, special help at an early stage will allow your child to make good progress and he or she will not have to move on to the next stage. But if the school decide that your child needs a particular kind of special help, perhaps the help of a specialist from outside the school, he or she will not have to go through the early stages first.

The school will talk to you and together you will decide which stage is best for your child.

Schools must consider what the Code of Practice says when they draw up their policies for children with special educational needs. Among the things the school's policy will tell you are:

the name of the teacher who is responsible for children with special educational needs (often called the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator);
the school's arrangements for deciding which children need special help and their plans for giving that help, stage by stage; and
how the school plan to work closely with parents.

Your child's school must give you a copy of their policy if you ask for one.

A staged approach to meeting your child's needs

The Code suggests that schools might use three stages. In fact, some schools may use two stages, others may use four. Schools will decide what is best for them, after they have considered the Code. The important point is that the special help a child gets should be right for his or her needs. The stages set out in the Code are:

Stage 1

At Stage 1, your child's teacher should record any concerns about your child's learning difficulty and should speak to you
about them. The school will value all the information you can give. The school may ask you:

about your child's health and development when he or she was younger;
how your child behaves at home and how you think he or she is getting on at school; and
the possible causes of your child's difficulties and anything you feel would help your child.

If your child is having difficulties, the school may ask him or her about what help he or she would like. Children can be very worried if they are having problems at school. Your child will need your support and encouragement so that you and your child can work closely with the school.

Full discussion of your child's needs at this early stage and careful attention to any learning difficulties he or she may have in any aspects of the school's life and work will often help your child make good progress without further help. But sometimes more help and advice will be needed.

Stage 2

At Stage 2, the teacher responsible for special educational needs should talk to both you and your child's other teachers and should draw up an individual education plan. That plan will set targets for your child to achieve and a date for a review to see what progress he or she has made. The school may ask you to work with your child and to help him or her at home. Your support and encouragement are vital.

You have a right to see the school's special educational needs policy and to receive a copy of the school's annual report, which will include a report on that policy.

The school may also ask you if they can talk to your doctor or the school doctor about your child.

All the work done at this stage may mean that your child does not need any more help. But some children may need more help.

Tommy is now eight. He started at his infant school in the term before he was five. At first he seemed to be coping but by the end of the year he had made very little progress and was well behind the others in the class in his reading, writing and number work. His teacher was worried and spoke to his parents. During his second year, Tommy got extra help in class from his teacher and a classroom helper. His teacher set some targets for Tommy to reach by the end of the term but he did not make as much progress as was hoped and he did not reach all his targets. Following a review in which his parents took part, he was moved on to Stage 2. During his next year at school the teacher set some new targets within an individual education plan, with the help of the school's Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator. After some assessments had been carried out, Tommy reached most of the targets but his progress was still slow. Tommy moved on to junior school as a slow-learning child who would continue to need some special help from his teacher and the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator. His progress will need to be reviewed regularly so that the school can decide whether any more help might be needed, perhaps at Stage 3.

Stage 3

At Stage 3, the school is likely to look for some specialist help or advice from outside the school. For example, they might call in an educational psychologist or a specialist teacher. Your school should be able to explain how different professionals can help your child, and may have information about local support services.

The teacher responsible for special educational needs will consider the information collected so far on your child's special needs and the action already taken. The teacher will then decide what more help your child needs. Your child's teachers and the outside specialist will then draw up a new individual education plan for him or her. The school will keep a close check on how your child is doing and will record his or her progress carefully. You will be kept informed and invited to review meetings.

If your child does not seem to be making as much progress as expected, the head teacher will decide whether to ask the LEA to make a statutory assessment.

Different schools will have regard to the Code of Practice in different ways. However, no matter how the school chooses to have regard to the Code, if your child has special educational needs you have the right to be involved at all stages. The school will also consider your child's own views. Schools have to keep all parents informed about their children's progress. You have a right to see the school's special educational needs policy and to receive a copy of the school's annual report, which will include a report on that policy.

You have the right to be involved at all stages.

Robert was slow learning to speak and his speech was difficult to understand. After he had had several ear infections, it was found that he had 'glue ear' which caused occasional hearing loss. Grommets were fitted when he was three and his hearing improved. He had some speech therapy before he started school until his speech became reasonably clear. His teacher found that Robert's attention wandered at school and had to keep him close to her table to be sure that she had his concentration and that he followed her instructions. His language development worried his teacher as well as his mother. He made no real progress at reading and writing even with extra help from his teacher and the school's Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator. At six and a half he was referred to the educational psychologist who, with the teacher from the LEA's Hearing Impaired Service, drew up some language work for his teacher to carry out. This was an important part of Robert's individual education programme at Stage 3. He is now making good progress and it seems that at the next review he may be moved from Stage 3 to Stage 2.

If you are not happy with anything the school does when dealing with your child, you should first talk to the teacher responsible for special educational needs or your child's class teacher or subject teachers.

You may also talk to the Head Teacher. Sometimes misunderstandings can arise and it is important that you co-operate as much as you can with your child's school in any discussion about your child's special needs. You may find it helpful to write down your worries before a meeting and, if you want to, you can take a friend or relative or your Named Person with you. (You can find out more about the role of the Named Person in a later section.) You may also find it helpful to talk to other parents. Your child's school should be able to give you the names of local voluntary organisations and parents' groups that might be able to help.


The school's policy on special educational needs will describe how the school plans to handle complaints. If you are still not happy after using the school's complaints procedures, and if your child's school is an LEA-maintained school, you should contact the LEA. If your child's school is grant-maintained, you should complain to the school's governing body. If you are still not happy, you can complain to the Secretary of State for Education. The LEA or a parents' support group will be able to tell you how to do this.


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