SEN Support (also known as the 'graduated approach')


What is meant by Special Educational Needs (SEN)?

A child or young person has special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty or disability which requires special educational provision to be made.  This could be to do with behaviour or ability to play with other children, academic progress, ability to understand, ability to concentrate or perhaps their physical ability is affected in a way that makes it difficult for them to learn.   


What is SEN Support?

SEN Support is the system by which schools should assess the needs of children, and then provide appropriate support.


The system should follow four stages, often referred to as a 'cycle': Assess, Plan, Do, Review.  For further information about this cycle, often referred to as the 'graduated approach', see Chapter 6 of the SEND Code of Practice 2015.


This cycle should not be considered a single process.  There may be more than one cycle at a time, each addressing different areas e.g. literacy, social skills, attention and/or behaviour. After the Review, a second or third cycle might start, each aiming to improve the support for the child.



The class teacher, working with the SENCo, discusses the child's needs and creates a baseline assessment by which progress will be measured. Schools should also take seriously any concerns raised by parents.  


The assessment should be reviewed regularly, with specific dates set for the next review.



A plan of additional support is drawn up for a pupil, a record must be kept and the parents MUST be informed.  


The school and parents should agree what progress they hope will be made (outcomes), and by what date (deadlines).



The pupil is given extra support, undertaken under the supervision of the class teacher.  



The SEND Code of Practice (2015) is not specific about the frequency of reviews, but termly would fit in with the requirement to meet parents three times per year. Parents should be fully involved. 


Who is involved?

Schools can bring in specialists at any time to advise them on assessing SEN, especially in the early stages, and to offer advice on what support to give.


A school should always involve a specialist when a pupil makes little or no progress, or when their work is significantly behind that of other typically developing pupils of the same age. Progress should not be compared to other pupils who may also have SEN.


The pupil's parents should always be involved in any decision to involve specialists.


The graduated approach covers all ages and stages of education (nursery, school and post-16).


Waves of Intervention

Some Local Authorities use a system known as 'Waves of Intervention'.  Additional support for children with special educational needs is expected to be delivered through in three successive levels or 'waves'. 


Wave 1 is the expectation of 'Quality First' teaching, where good quality teaching and suiting work to individual children means that every pupil is included. The needs of all children are taken into account, with high expectations for them.  This is supported by whole-school policies - ie, it is part of the planning and beliefs of the school as a whole.


Wave 2 is more targeted at pupils with SEN specifically. There could be access to specialist resources within the school, such as nurture groups, therapies, identified interventions and some 1:1 support. This can be for general 'catch-up' or the start of the graduated approach cycles of Assess, Plan, Do, Review.


Wave 3 is usually where an external specialist may be asked to advise on more specialised support, generally where a student has not progressed as well as expected with the current additional support. This would form part of subsequent cycles of the graduated approach.


Involving parents and pupils:


The SEN Information Report 

 All maintained schools (mainstream and special) and Academies must publish a document on the school's website called a 'SEN Information Report' which must include a range of information including how the school identifies children and young people with SEN and the expertise and training of staff to support children and young people with SEN, including how specialist expertise will be obtained.  For further information, please see paragraphs 6:79 - 6:83 of the SEND Code of Practice 2015.


The SEND system aims to encourage the full involvement of parents and pupils in planning the support given and reviewing how well it is working.


Schools should arrange to meet parents three times a year.  You should ask for a meeting separate to the general parents' evening so that you have the necessary time to discuss the needs of your child.


Important advice on working with schools and other organisations is here.


If the support provided by the school under SEN Support is not enough to help your child, the next stage is applying for an 'Education, Health and Care assessment, sometimes called a 'statutory assessment' to establish whether your child requires an Education, Health and Care plan (EHC plan).


All mainstream schools (including mainstream academies) receive funding towards meeting the needs of pupils with SEN as part of their delegated school budget.  Although it is not a legal requirement, most Local Authorities expect mainstream schools to show how they have spent £6,000 in meeting the needs of a child with SEN before the school submits a request for an EHC needs assessment. However, this may be a Local Authority policy, but it is not a legal requirement.  


The key factors the school (and the Local Authority) will need to consider in deciding whether an EHC assessment should be 'secured' is set out in paragraph 9:14 of the  SEND Code of Practice, 2015.


If the Local Authority refuses to undertake a EHC assessment, they must give parents (or the young person if the child is over 16) a right to appeal their decision.  For more information on appeals, including this type of appeal, see here.



SEN support should include planning and preparation for the transitions between different phases of education and preparation for adult life.  This is particularly important in:

  • End of Early Years Foundation Stage (child is 4-5 years old)
  • End of Primary school, Year 6 (child is 11 years old)
  • End of compulsory education, Year 11 (young person is 16 years old)


Legal references  

Children and Families Act (2014)

SEND Regulations (2014)


Statutory guidance:  

SEND Code of Practice (2015)  Chapter 5 for Early Years and Chapter 6 for Schools.  In particular see paragraph 9:14: 


EHC assessments