Section B: Special educational needs

In the next three posts I offer some thoughts on the three sections of an EHC Plan which will invariably be engaged in any appeal to the First Tier Tribunal. Even where an appeal might ostensibly be about a placement prescribed by section I, the roots of the dispute are likely to spread into other sections of the plan, and in particular section B.

Section B of the EHC Plan has been identified or said to be analogous to a medical diagnosis. It is the essential starting point, because until a need has been identified, then provision cannot be made for it, and any placement which is offered on the basis of partially identified needs and inadequate provision is likely to fail.

The SEND Code of Practice notes in the table at page 164, that section B is concerned to identify the child or young person’s special educational needs:

  • All of the child or young person’s identified special educational needs must be specified.
  • SEN may include needs for health or social care provision that are treated as special educational provision because they educate or train the young person or child.

The Code of Practice identifies four broad areas of “need” but this is not prescriptive nor necessarily the only classification which can be given to “needs”. Some “needs” will transcend attempts to fit them into neat classifications and others will be disguised, and manifest themselves in frustration or anger, or indeed not be needs at all, but rather the results of illness, bullying or family breakdown.

Speech language and communication needs are in a sense the starting point, as until a child’s ability to communicate is unlocked, then they will never fulfil their true potential in education. The Code offers this advice:

6.28 Children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) have difficulty in communicating with others. This may be because they have difficulty saying what they want to, understanding what is being said to them or they do not understand or use social rules of communication. The profile for every child with SLCN is different and their needs may change over time. They may have difficulty with one, some or all of the different aspects of speech, language or social communication at different times of their lives.

6.29 Children and young people with ASD, including Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism, are likely to have particular difficulties with social interaction. They may also experience difficulties with language, communication and imagination, which can impact on how they relate to others.

Learning difficulties are discussed in the following terms. It should be noted that there is not a clear cut distinction to be drawn either between a learning difficulty and a disability. Conditions regarded as specific learning difficulties may be regarded as qualifying disabilities for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 as well:

6.30 Support for learning difficulties may be required when children and young people learn at a slower pace than their peers, even with appropriate differentiation. Learning difficulties cover a wide range of needs, including moderate learning difficulties (MLD), severe learning difficulties (SLD), where children are likely to need support in all areas of the curriculum and associated difficulties with mobility and communication, through to profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), where children are likely to have severe and complex learning difficulties as well as a physical disability or sensory impairment.

6.31 Specific learning difficulties (SpLD), affect one or more specific aspects of learning. This encompasses a range of conditions such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.

Social and emotional and mental health difficulties are also dealt with, in the Code:

6.32 Children and young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other children and young people may have disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder or attachment disorder.

6.33 Schools and colleges should have clear processes to support children and young people, including how they will manage the effect of any disruptive behaviour so it does not adversely affect other pupils. The Department for Education publishes guidance on managing pupils’ mental health and behaviour difficulties in schools – see the References section under Chapter 6 for a link.

Perhaps the easiest to understand are those needs which derive from sensory or physical needs: many children and young people here will be obviously disabled. Although the need may be relatively straightforward to diagnose, that may not necessarily translate through to the special educational provision which has to be provided:

6.34 Some children and young people require special educational provision because they have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of the educational facilities generally provided. These difficulties can be age related and may fluctuate over time. Many children and young people with vision impairment (VI), hearing impairment (HI) or a multi-sensory impairment (MSI) will require specialist support and/or equipment to access their learning, or habilitation support. Children and young people with an MSI have a combination of vision and hearing difficulties. Information on how to provide services for deafblind children and young people is available through the Social Care for Deafblind Children and Adults guidance published by the Department of Health (see the References section under Chapter 6 for a link).

6.35 Some children and young people with a physical disability (PD) require additional ongoing support and equipment to access all the opportunities available to their peers.

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