Tag Archives: SEN

Special Educational Needs reform in Wales

The special educational needs (SEN) reforms in Wales are now a little under a year away from their introduction. The Additional Learning Needs (ALN) and Educational Tribunal Act was passed in January of this year and will begin to be rolled out from the start of the new school year in September 2020.

What are the reforms?

There will be some significant changes. For instance, as the name of the act suggests, the term ‘special educational needs (SEN)’ will be replaced by ‘additional learning needs (ALN)’. This in turn means the SENCOs will be known as ALeNCOs. School/Early Years Action, School/Early Years Action Plus and statements will disappear and every child with recognised ALN will eventually be issued with a new statutory document called an Individual Development Plan (IDP). This is not to be confused with individual education plans (IEP) which will also be phased out. Unlike statements, which stop when a young person leaves school, IDPs will continue up to 25 years of age if the young person goes onto further education.

The Welsh Government has produced an overview of the new system and has compiled answers to some frequently asked questions: together they will give you a good idea of how the Welsh Government expect things to work.

What happens next?

As the transition to the new system will involve major changes for local authorities, schools and further education colleges it will be introduced gradually and the Welsh Government has produced guidance explaining the timescales involved.

The Welsh Government is also drafting a new code of practice which will be issued for consultation before the end of the year. This is likely to be a rather long document and apparently there won’t be an easy-read version. However, it is very important as it sets out in detail how the ALN system will work in practice and the Welsh Government would like feedback from parents and carers as well as professionals so we will let you know when it is issued.

In the meantime, SNAP Cymru are running some ALN reform awareness sessions for parents and carers in Mid and South-West Wales in November and December.

SEN Reforms in England and Wales

sen reformsIn England, the special educational needs (SEN) reforms introduced in September 2014 continue to be rolled out.

Although all SEN statements should be converted into Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans by April 2018 recent government figures show that 45% of the statements are still in place with only 19 out of the 152 English local authorities currently on track to meet the deadline.

Clearly, many families are still waiting for statements to be converted to an EHC plan and they can get more information about the process from our guide on Education in England: Statements of Special Educational Needs: A Guide for Parents.

However, those families undergoing assessment for an EHC plan, and those who already have one, will find the information they need in the recently revised guide Education Health and Care (EHC) Plans. (Education in England: A Guide for Parents).

Meanwhile in Wales, the Welsh Government’s proposed SEN reforms, which it hopes will pass into law at the end of the year, continue with the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill being scrutinised by the Welsh Assembly.

At the same time a consultation is being carried out on how the reforms should be introduced. For now, however, nothing has changed and the current system remains in place meaning that parents can continue to request an assessment for a SEN statement. Information on the Welsh system can be found in Education in Wales: A Guide for Parents.

Life online for young people with SEN

Dawn Cavanagh

Dawn Cavanagh

Dawn Cavanagh, whose teenage son has autism, considers the benefits and challenges of life online for young people with special educational needs (SEN) and discusses ways to teach young people with SEN to navigate the internet safely, while making the most of what the internet has to offer.

Like it or not we are living in a digital age. Today, you can get online anywhere, at any time, and can communicate with almost anyone in the world. Ensuring that young people make the most of the exciting opportunities the internet has to offer, while also being helped to stay safe online is high on the public agenda. But what if your child has special educational needs (SEN)? What then?

Children with SEN include those with emotional, social or behavioural difficulties, learning difficulties, and other complex needs. There are many ways in which young people with SEN are vulnerable to danger on the internet. Children with SEN (and especially those with a diagnosis of autism) may make literal interpretations of content online, which may affect how they respond; they may not understand the concept of friendship, which may lead to them being more trusting than their peers. They may also struggle to make judgements about what information is safe to share or not recognise that they are being bullied. Furthermore, they may not appreciate how their own behaviour may be construed by someone else as bullying.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. There are benefits to using the internet for young people with SEN. The internet can be used in creative and fun ways to support learning and social interaction. For my teenage autistic son, the interactive online gaming phenomenon Minecraft allows players to build and create textured cubes in a 3D virtual world. Minecraft enables my son to have complete control of his environment and to engage in his special interests: time travel and Doctor Who. There is nothing he loves more than jumping in and out of his tardis, exploring new dimensions. Minecraft has helped to nurture his conceptual thinking, so that he has become more adept at problem solving. For example, he has worked out how to operate the tardis without any instruction. Whilst my son gets confused and distressed by others’ attempts to join him in his gaming, some young people with autism benefit from Minecraft’s multiplayer mode, which can help develop their communication and social skills, as well as enhance their creativity.

AutCraft (Duncan, 2015) is a Minecraft server specifically for autistic children and their families. The environment has been modified so that players can roam free from the dangers frequently encountered in the game’s regular modes. While all this is good, the downside of Minecraft is that like so many video games it has the potential to become addictive. This is especially concerning for children with autism who may have tendencies towards obsessive compulsive type behaviour. Excessive screen time is a recurring concern for many parents, especially in terms of time spent away from family, as well as lack of exercise.

Young people with SEN are at greater risk of cyberbullying, online grooming and exposure to inappropriate content, yet less research has been conducted in this area compared with the mainstream population. Of the body of research that currently exists, the risks for a young person with SEN appear to be more profound due to increased vulnerability and social naivety. As a group they are more likely to be lacking in sexual knowledge, have difficulties with compliance or expressing consent, as well as recognising abusive situations. Furthermore, they are less likely to have opportunities to have romantic or sexual partners, so may seek the company of strangers online and offline when lonely (Normand and Sallafranque-St-Louis, 2016).

Research has revealed that many young people with SEN have experienced cyberbullying and discriminatory behaviour such as disablist language or jokes about disability online. This can lead to considerable emotional and psychological distress. Research conducted in the Netherlands, looking at the effects of cyberbulling among students with intellectual (learning) and developmental disability, found that higher rates of cyberbullying are associated with lower levels of self-esteem and higher reported depressive feelings (Didden et al., 2009). Research undertaken by the Anti-Bullying Alliance (England and Wales) (2013) revealed that as well as having experienced cyberbullying and discriminatory behaviour many young people with SEN felt that they had not been taught how to use the internet, or to stay safe online. Moreover, some young people used the internet to create an anonymous persona to hide their disability or actively avoided the internet altogether.

A more recent study (Bannon, NcGlynn, McKenzie and Quayle, 2015) investigating the perception of online risks by young people with SEN (aged 13-18 years) in Scotland revealed that while many young people with SEN were aware of a range of risks online, and could discuss how to stay safe, not all were able to put appropriate safety strategies into practice. Some described befriending strangers on the internet. There were examples of intentional risk taking, perhaps due to peer pressure to perform. For others risk-taking in their online behaviour appeared to be linked with poor understanding of the implications of their actions and/or difficulties with inhibitory control.

There was much variation in supervision and monitoring of online behaviour, with some families putting no supervisory strategies in place, whilst others blocked access to certain content, checked history and/or placed limits on the amount of time the young person spent online. Interestingly, while some young people sought the advice of parents, and occasionally teachers, about managing online risk, many also took the opportunity to learn from peers, especially if they thought that disclosure to a family member was likely to result in removal of internet privileges. Further research is needed, perhaps including parents and teachers, in terms of how best to support young people with SEN to stay safe and strong online, whilst making the most of what the internet has to offer.

So, how do we teach young people with SEN to navigate the internet safely? The first thing is to recognise that life online presents young people with SEN with different challenges, and then to tailor strategies accordingly.  Cerebra (cited in Digital Parenting, 2016), the UK charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with neurological conditions, make the point that young people with learning difficulties can sometimes be more trusting of strangers than other young people. The Cerebra guide (cited in Digital Parenting, 2016) suggests encouraging the young person to use a pseudonym (a fictitious name) online and getting him or her to seek help from a trusted adult if anyone asks for personal information, such as their address or where they go to school. The young person might also benefit from joining an online community that has been specifically set up for people with learning difficulties.

Further suggestions for limiting risk online for children and young people with autism and learning disabilities is available in Cerebra’s guide: Learning Disabilities, Autism and Internet Safety, available on Cerebra’s website.

©Dawn Cavanagh 2017, writing as a parent contributor for the Family Research Ambassadors Project run by the Centre for Education, Development and Research (CEDAR), at the University of Warwick and Cerebra.


Anti-Bullying Alliance (2013) Cyberbullying and children and young people with SEN: the views of young people. Retrieved 13th February 2017. Available from https://www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/attachment/disabled-young-peoples-views-on-cyberbullying-report.pdf

Bannon, S., McGlynn, T., McKenzie, K. & Quayle, E (2015). The internet and young people with Additional Support Needs (ASN):  Risk and safety.  Retrieved 13th February, 2017. Available from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563215000321

Normand, C.L. & Sallafranque-St-Louis, F (2016). Cybervictimization of Young People with an Intellectual or Developmental Disability: Risks Specific to Sexual Solicitation. Retrieved 13th February, 2017. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25871891

Didden, R., Scholte, R.H.J., Korzilius, H., Jan, M. H., Moor, D.E., Vermeulen, A., O’Reilly, M., Lang, R., & Lancioni, G.E (2009). Cyberbullying among students with intellectual and developmental disability in special education settings. Retrieved 13th February, 2017. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19466622

Digital Parenting (2016). Vodaphone UK. Retrieved 13th February, 2017. Available from http://www.vodafone.com/content/digital-parenting.html

Duncan, S (2015). Autcraft.  Retrieved February 13th, 2017. Available from http://www.autcraft.com/

Useful links:

Anti-Bullying Alliance: http://anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/

Autcraft:  http://www.autcraft.com/

Digital Parenting website:  http://www.vodafone.com/content/digital-parenting.html

Digital Parenting magazine: http://www.vodafone.com/content/digital-parenting/learning-and-fun/digital-parenting-magazine.html

Special Friends (Free online community for people with learning disabilities, and their parents and carers): http://www.specialfriends.com/public/

Video Game Addiction Helpline: http://www.videogameaddiction.co.uk/gaming-addiction/minecraft.html

Welsh SEN ALN Reforms

The Welsh Government has been working on reforming the special educational needs system in Wales since the summer of 2007 and is now in the process of bringing in new legislation.

A Draft Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal Bill was published last December followed by a draft Code of Practice on February 14. The Bill itself is currently under consultation until March 3 but the Code of Practice will have its own consultation exercise later in the year.

Changes that are being proposed include:

  • Replacing the term ‘special educational needs’ with ‘additional learning needs’ (ALN) and ‘special educational provision’ with ‘additional learning provision’ (ALP) although the legal definitions behind the terms remains essentially unchanged;
  • Extending the age range from 0 – 25 to include further education colleges and specialist independent colleges (although not higher education or apprenticeships);
  • Replacing the three-tier school action/school action plus/statement system with a one tier system: any learner identified with ALN will receive a new statutory document called an Individual Development Plan (IDP) which also replaces Individual Education Plans (IEP);
  • IDPs will usually be written by schools. Only those learners with the most complex ALN will have an IDP maintained by their local authority meaning that the majority of learners with ALN will have to be assessed by their schools. If either a school or parent believes that a learner has needs requiring local authority intervention they can ask for the local authority’s support in assessing the learner’s ALN;
  • Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCos) will be known as Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinators (ALeNCOs);
  • As now, local authorities must have disagreement resolution services but will also have to “make arrangements for the provision” of independent advocacy services which will advise and assist with bringing an appeal to the Education Tribunal (which replaces the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal for Wales).

Issues that have been raised so far include the lack of a national template for IDPs meaning that each school and local authority could, in theory, produce different looking IDPs; the capacity of schools and further education colleges to actually produce and maintain IDPs for all of their learners with ALN, and the costs involved. The government in England has spent over £600 million so far on its SEN reform programme which is running into difficulties. Although England has a much bigger population than Wales the financial implications of implementing the new proposals as intended could be significant.

All the relevant documents about the proposed legislation, including the draft Bill, the draft Code of Practice and the issues raised in a recent stakeholders’ event, can be found on the National Assembly for Wales website.

The National Assembly for Wales’ Research Unit has produced a useful overview of the ALN proposals with links to other useful information and details of how to get involved in the consultation on the draft Bill can be found here.

A Father and Teacher’s View on Inclusive Education

University of Warwick logoIn the first of a series of articles Olivier Huyghe considers inclusive education and whether it works.

Olivier is an SEN Teacher developing Inclusive Education and a Family Research Ambassador Project Member from the Cerebra Family Research Group at the University of Warwick.

What is inclusive education and does it “work”?

As a teacher and as a father of a child with Downs Syndrome who has special educational needs, I have always been interested in inclusion and how to make sure all pupils have access to an education adapted to the way they learn best.

I have taught in mainstream secondary schools, in Secure Training Centres for teenagers, in the mental health unit of a hospital as well as in different special schools. This has given me a broad experience of different teaching environments, especially with a focus on teaching children with special educational needs (SEN).

In a series of short pieces, I would like to share with other parents my personal experience, and also my insight from research and professional practice. This first piece focuses on what is inclusion and whether it works, according to research evidence. I am sure this is a question that goes through the minds of many parents, especially those who have started thinking about schools. In the follow up article, the focus will be on what ‘good’ inclusion should look like.

For a long time, parents of children with disabilities or SEN were encouraged to send their children to “institutions” or special schools when they were of school age. More choices are now available such as those in the article Choosing a school for a child with SEN, and children can access their local schools through inclusive education.

The legal framework for inclusive education

In England, the discussion of integration and inclusion started around the time of the civil rights movements of the 1960s .

More recently, in 2001, the Department of Education (DfE) published a statutory guidance – “Inclusive Schooling: Children with Special Educational Needs” providing practical guidance on how to offer inclusive education for children with special needs in mainstream schools.

The guidance listed the principles of an inclusive education service as:

  • Inclusion is a process by which schools, local education authorities and others develop their cultures, policies and practices to include pupils.
  • With the right training, strategies and support nearly all children with special educational needs can be successfully included in mainstream education.
  • An inclusive education service offers excellence and choice and incorporates the views of parents and children.
  • The interests of all pupils must be safeguarded.
  • Schools, local education authorities and others should actively seek to remove barriers to learning and participation.
  • All children should have access to an appropriate education that affords them the opportunity to achieve their personal potential.
  • Mainstream education will not always be right for every child all of the time.
  • Equally, just because mainstream education may not be right at a particular stage it does not prevent the child from being included successfully at a later stage.

In 2014 (updated in 2015), a new Code of practice has been published: “Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years, Statutory guidance for organisations which work with and support children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities”. It sets a broader set of rules and guidance that parents can use to make sure their child can access the most appropriate educational provision.

The advantages of an inclusive education

Research has examined the effects of inclusion for children with SEN and those without. For children with disabilities and/or SEN:

  • Academic achievements are higher and pupils make greater progress in inclusive settings.
  • Inclusion provides a more stimulating environment with good role-models (academic, social and behavioural).
  • It can develop assertiveness, confidence and self-esteem.
  • Pupils feel part of the local community and valued as individuals in and out of school.
    They are more likely to move to secondary education.

For other pupils in the school who do not have SEN:

  • Inclusion changes children’s attitudes towards difference and disability.
  • It develops acceptance and appreciation of others.
  • Supporting peers’ with SEN in the context of peer support can increase non-SEN pupils’ academic achievements and self-esteem.
  • Repeated studies have shown that there is either no effect or there is a positive effect on the academic achievements of pupils without SEN in inclusive classrooms.

For the school as a system:

  • Inclusion supports school development: by understanding and responding to individual learner’s educational requirements and entitlements (for example some children need more time to learn than others). It leads to the restructuring of school cultures, policies and practices so that they respond to the diversity of all students. Inclusion gives opportunities for enriching learning and for education systems to embrace change and be more responsive to individual differences.
  • Diversity in education should be a reflection of diversity in society. It promotes inclusion in society and therefore helps fight discrimination.

While research is of course important for measuring what the impact of inclusion as a practice is, inclusion as a policy rests on moral imperatives and the way we – society – views difference and disability. Thomas (1997) suggested that “arguments for inclusion should focus on philosophical and ethical principles of equality”. He states: “the true cost of segregation is the stigmatisation and alienation of those people who would otherwise have been able and willing to take a fuller part”.

To conclude

Obviously developing access to inclusive mainstream education is a first step, but it is important to focus on the outcomes. Inclusive education is about creating more efficient, child-centred and flexible education systems, leading to better learning outcomes for all children. Achievements and acquiring skills for life should also be a focus of an inclusive mainstream education. Without positive outcomes and achievements, access has little value.
The existence of a legal framework and guidance is a good starting point of reference but does it guarantee an effective implementation of an inclusive education environment?

My informal discussions with parents who experienced inclusive education suggested that being included leads to many positive outcomes but it often requires close follow-up on what schools are doing and regular meetings to suggest improvements. On some occasions, parents have found it easier to opt for a placement in special schools because of “negativity” from their local mainstream school.

But this is an important discussion for another day! In my follow up article ‘From access to practice: what does good inclusion look like?’ I will share with you my reflections on the actual practice of inclusion in today’s schools.


Lyndsay, Geoff (2007) Educational psychology and the effectiveness of inclusive education/mainstreaming. British Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol.77 (No.1). pp. 1-24. ISSN 0007-0998

Sermier Dessemontet R., Bless G. & Morin D. Effects of inclusion on the academic achievement and adaptive behaviour of children with intellectual disabilities.

Thomas G, “Inclusive schools for an inclusive society”, British Journal of Special Education,Volume 24, No. 3 (September 1997)

Inclusive Schooling: Children with Special Educational Needs –  www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/283623/inclusive_schooling_children_with_special_educational_needs.pdf

Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years  www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398815/SEND_Code_of_Practice_January_2015.pdf

Inclusive schools for an inclusive society – www.academia.edu/619098/Inclusive_schools_for_an_inclusive_society

Education in Wales: A Guide for Parents

This guide has been prepared for parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) and/or disabled children living in Wales. It only applies to Wales and we have written separate guidance for England.

Please be aware that changes brought in by the SEN reform process in Wales will come into force from September 2020. We will be producing an updated guide explaining the new system before it is introduced. In the meantime this guide remains accurate.


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First published 2016. This edition 2016. Review date 2019.

Your response to the following statements will help us to make our information more useful. The questions relate to the resources that can be viewed on this page.

Education Health and Care (EHC) Plans. (Education in England: A Guide for Parents)

This guide has been prepared for parents of children with special educational needs and parents of disabled children who want to know how to get help for their child at school in England.

This guide replaces the 2013 education guide to take account of the changes to the Special Educational Needs (SEN) framework that have been introduced from September 2014 and now covers England only. The new system is being phased in gradually and children and young people with a statement in England must be transferred to the new system by 1st April 2018. The 2013 guide will remain relevant until your child’s statement has been transferred to an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan under the new system.

Further information on the transition from statements and Learning Difficulties Assessments (LDAs) to Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans, can be found on the IPSEA website. You can download the guide below.

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Published 2014. This edition 2017.Review date 2020.

Your response to the following statements will help us to make our information more useful. The questions relate to the resources that can be viewed on this page.

Books on Special Educational Needs

Library booksWe’re often asked for books or resources on special education. Here’s a list of titles we have on the SEN system, inclusion and special provision as well as those written for teachers and home schooling.

Special Educational Needs system

L6327 and L6383 – Choosing a School for a Child with Special Needs by Ruth Birnbaum
L6518 – The Journey Through Assessment: help for parents with special needs child by Antonia Chitty
L6341 – Surviving the Special Educational Needs System: how to be a velvet bulldozer by Sandy Row
L6322 – Guerilla Mum: surviving the special needs education jungle by Ellen Power
L6167 – Special Educational Needs a Parents’ Guide by Antonia Chitty
L6213 – Special Educational Needs Inclusion and Diversity by Norah Frederickson
L6370 – Key Issues in Special Educational Needs and Inclusion by Alan Hodkinson
L6342 – How To Reach and Teach All Students in the Inclusive Classroom by Sandra Rief
L6455 – Including Me: managing complex health needs in schools and early years settings by Jeanne Carlin
L6513 – How To Make School Make Sense: a parents’ guide to helping the child with Asperger Syndrome by Clare Lawrence
L1687 – Walk in Their Shoes: a day in the life of an spld student by Edwina Cole
L6033 – Meeting the Learning Needs of All Children: personalised learning in the primary school by Joan Dean

Special provision

L6501 – Personalised Learning for Young People with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties by Andrew Colley

Particularly for teachers

L6427 – A Practical Guide for Teachers of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Secondary School Education by Debra Costley
L6412 – Transforming the Role of the SENCO: achieving the national award for sen co-ordination by Fiona Hallett

Home schooling

L6143 – Teaching at Home: a new approach to tutoring children with autism and Aspergers Syndrome by Olga Holland
L6430 – Autism and Flexischooling: a shared classroom and home schooling approach by Clare Lawrence