Under 5s

What are special educational needs?

The law says that a child has special educational needs if he or she has learning difficulties and needs special help. This help is known as special educational provision.
A child has learning difficulties if he or she finds it much harder to learn than most children of the same age, or if he or she has a disability which makes it difficult to use the normal educational facilities in the area.

For example, your child may have learning difficulties caused by:

a physical disability;
a problem with sight, hearing or speech;
a mental disability;
emotional or behavioural problems;
a medical or health problem;
difficulties with reading, writing, speaking or mathematics work.

These are just examples. Your child may have more general difficulties with school work. You may notice these problems yourself. Your doctor, health visitor or clinic may notice them before your child starts school. Or your child's teachers at school may notice them.

About one in five children may have learning difficulties at some time in their school life. Most children get over their difficulties quite quickly. For others, the effects may last longer.

There are many services that may be able to help you, for example:

  teachers who will visit your home if your child has hearing or sight problems, or learning difficulties;

  home-based learning schemes - for example Portage Schemes - in which a trained home visitor

  helps you by suggesting activities that will encourage your child to develop new skills; and

  playgroups and opportunity groups that can help your child develop socially and through play.

Your LEA may be able to help your child from a very early age.

You may find it helpful to talk to other parents or to a voluntary Organisation. There are many voluntary organisations and parents' groups all over the country. The main ones are listed at the end of this booklet.

Your LEA may be able to help your child from a very early age. Even if your child is under two, you can ask your LEA to assess his or her needs
If your child is over two and you think that he or she has learning difficulties, you can ask your LEA to make a statutory assessment of his or her special educational needs. The LEA must then make a statutory assessment, unless they decide it is unnecessary. Following a statutory assessment, the LEA will decide whether it is necessary to make a statement of your child's special educational needs. For more information about statutory assessments, see that section.

Carol was premature and very underweight at birth. She was found to have cerebral palsy. It was soon clear that she was quite seriously handicapped. She had a three month review at the Child Development Centre when it was decided to inform the LEA and, with the parents' agreement, to arrange a visit from the home teaching service. The home visitor came weekly and set small tasks for Carol which her parents carried out with her. During the first year the home visitor sought the advice of both the physiotherapist and speech therapist who were already working with Carol. Their advice was invaluable and was included in the home teaching programme. At the age of two, Carol was assessed by the LEA. All the professionals who hod been working with her were asked to give their advice. Because of their work with Carol, her parents were also able to help with the assessment procedure. Carol was given a statement of special educational  needs which named a local special school. The home teaching stopped just before Carol's third birthday when she started school, where the programme continued. The same physiotherapist and speech therapist now see Carol at school. Her parents are still involved and are carrying on the work at home.


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