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How are special educational needs identified by schools and early years providers

How Special Education Needs Are Identified By Settings Panel

Slow progress and low attainment do not necessarily mean that a child has special educational needs (SEN) and should not automatically lead to a child or young person being recorded as having SEN. Class and subject teachers and early years practitioners, supported by the senior leadership team, should make regular assessments of progress for all children and young people. These should seek to identify children or young people making less than expected progress given their age and individual circumstances. This can be characterised by progress which:

  • is significantly slower than that of their peers starting from the same baseline
  • fails to match or better the child's previous rate of progress
  • fails to close the attainment gap between the child and their peers
  • widens the attainment gap

The first response to such progress should be high quality teaching targeted at their areas of weakness. Evidence based interventions should be tried within the early years setting, classroom or in small group withdrawal but delivered by well-trained staff and monitored closely by the class teacher or early years practitioner. You can find out more, about what you can expect from your child's early years setting or school in the Graduated Approach to Inclusion Framework.

Where progress continues to be less than expected the early years practitioner, class or subject teacher, working with the SENCO, should assess whether the child has SEN. The identification of SEN should be built into the overall approach to monitoring the progress and development of all pupils.

Some SEN can be identified early and others become evident as children develop. Settings should listen to the concerns of parents/families who know their children best and use this information to add to the picture of the child or young person in that setting. Listening to children and young people can also be an important part of identifying need and is vital in providing the right provision to improve learning.

Persistent disruptive or withdrawn behaviours do not necessarily mean that a child or young person has SEN. Where there are concerns, there should be an assessment to determine whether there are any causal factors such as undiagnosed learning difficulties, difficulties with communication or mental health issues. Bullying or bereavement will not always lead to children having SEN but can have an impact on well-being and sometimes this can be severe.

Schools and early years settings should ensure they make appropriate provision for a child or young person's short-term needs in order to prevent problems escalating. A child or young person's needs arise as a result of their interaction with their learning environment; it is not appropriate to regard all needs as being problems generated from within individuals. If housing, family or other domestic circumstances may be contributing to the presenting behaviour a multi-agency approach should be followed by completing an Early Help Assessment.

A detailed assessment of need should ensure that the full range of an individual's needs is identified, not simply the primary need. The support provided to an individual should always be based on a full understanding of their particular strengths and needs and seek to address them all using well-evidenced interventions targeted at their areas of difficulty and where necessary specialist equipment or software.

The SEND Code of Practice states

1.24 High quality teaching that is differentiated and personalised will meet the individual needs of the majority of children and young people. Some children and young people need educational provision that is additional to or different from this. This is special educational provision under Section 21 of the Children and Families Act 2014. Schools and colleges must use their best endeavours to ensure that such provision is made for those who need it. Special educational provision is underpinned by high quality teaching and is compromised by anything less.

1.25 Early years providers, schools and colleges should know precisely where children and young people with SEN are in their learning and development. They should:

  • ensure decisions are informed by the insights of parents and those of children and young people themselves
  • have high ambitions and set stretching targets for them
  • track their progress towards these goals
  • keep under review the additional or different provision that is made for them
  • promote positive outcomes in the wider areas of personal and social development, and
  • ensure that the approaches used are based on the best possible evidence and are having the required impact on progress

Special educational needs support

For children and young people identified as having SEND, early years settings and schools will take action to remove barriers to learning and put into place effective special educational provision. A graduated approach will be undertaken which draws upon the assess, plan, do, review cycle. During this cycle approaches are revisited, refined and revised building on a growing understanding of the learner's needs and the support needed in helping them to make good progress and secure good outcomes.

Each stage of support builds on the good practice of the previous stages. This will lead to an approach in which increasing levels of support are provided where necessary and appropriate: from universal provision/inclusive high quality teaching; SEN Support and high needs provision through an  EHCP.

Frequently asked questions

What are the first signs of special needs that a nursery school teacher might notice?

Difficulty following directions, problems communicating with peers, lack of interest in activities, not reaching developmental milestones, or behavioural issues like tantrums may indicate SEN to an early years teacher.

How do primary school staff spot if a child is struggling with learning?

Teachers formally assess progress against curriculum standards. Lack of expected progress despite targeted classroom interventions signals potential learning difficulties requiring SEN assessment.

Can schools request interventions for a pupil before referring them for an official SEN assessment?

Yes. Schools usually try evidence-based interventions like small group tuition, assistive technology or tailored support for a period first to determine if that addresses difficulties before escalating to formal assessment.

What assessments and screenings do schools use to identify issues?

Literacy assessments, cognitive ability tests, occupational therapy evaluations, speech and language screenings, and other standardised assessments are used to pinpoint areas of need and appropriate support strategies.

How do I know if my child's school thinks my child may have special needs?

Schools should immediately contact parents if SEN concerns arise to discuss observations, escalate interventions, and request consent for formal assessment. Clear communication is vital.

Who will be involved in evaluating and supporting my child's needs within the school?

The SENCO oversees support and will coordinate with classroom teachers, teaching assistants, school nurses, educational psychologists, therapists and any other necessary specialists based on your child's profile.

Can I request an SEN assessment for my child directly?

Parents have the right to independently request an assessment from the school or local authority if they have concerns. The process and your rights will be explained.



Plymouth's Local Offer is organised into four main categories covering the following age ranges:

 Plymouth Local Offer homepage



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