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SEN register – Should all children with a diagnosis go on it?

Not necessarily, says Sara Alston…

  • SEN register – Should all children with a diagnosis go on it?

The SEND code of Practice (CoP) does not mention a SEN register.

It states that ‘every school is required to identify and address the SEN of the pupils that they support’ and record when they decide a child has special educational needs in the school records. This is commonly known as the SEN register.

Whatever we call the record, there are questions about how we identify when children have Special Educational Needs. There’s no single clear answer. This reflects that children do not necessarily fit easily into categories.

However, this leads to inconsistency between schools and confusion for staff which is further exacerbated by differences in services available in different areas.

The CoP tells us that ‘a pupil has SEN where their learning difficulty or disability calls for special educational provision, namely provision different from or additional to that normally available to pupils of the same age.’

However, there are groups of pupils who require different or additional special education provision who do not necessarily have SEN. These may include pupil premium, children with English as an additional language, looked after and previously looked after children, pupils open to social care and students with disabilities and medical needs.

There may be children within these groups who also have SEN, but to imply or assume that all pupil premium or EAL children have SEN is neither helpful nor appropriate.

Any child with an education, health and care plan is identified as having SEN and should be recorded as such on the school records. The question for most schools is about the children at SEN Support (K Code) level and when they need to be recorded as having SEN and included on the SEN register.

Care for children in mainstream schools

The CoP identifies four areas of need: communication and interaction; cognition and learning; social, emotional and mental health; physical and sensory needs. If individual children require provision ‘different from or additional to’ that of their peers in any of these areas to access learning or engage in school, they should be identified with SEN.

Consequently, there will be children identified with SEN who are achieving at age-related expectations as they need additional or different support for reasons beyond cognition and learning. Children with SEMH or physical and sensory needs who are achieving academically still need to be included on the SEN register.

There is a view that any child with a diagnosis should be on the SEN register but this misses the point of ‘different from or additional to’. Quality-first teaching (QFT) includes a high level of differentiation. The needs of many children with a diagnosis of ASD, dyslexia or ADHD can and should be met through QFT.

The definition of SEN should be needs-led and based on providing provision to meet children’s needs and if this can be done without additional SEN provision, there’s no need for a child to be on the SEN register.

Equally, there will be many children who will not have a diagnosis, but require support and provision that is ‘different from or additional to’ the rest of their cohort. Often the provision of this support can form a basis of a later diagnosis.

Using interventions as a class teacher

At your school you might use the rule that any child receiving an intervention should be included on the SEN register. This needs to be looked at differently. An intervention may be part of the support you provide to a child on the SEN register, but the fact they are receiving intervention support is not a reason to place them on the register.

It undermines the importance of differentiation as integral to outstanding teaching.

A significant number of interventions, such as wobble cushions, visual timetables and word banks, for example, can and should be part of QFT. Furthermore, there are many reasons for children to attend intervention groups, both long- and short-term, other than SEN.

Many pupils need short boosters to support their learning without having SEN. A child who is a ‘daily reader’, because there’s no one at home able to hear them read, should not necessarily be on the SEN register, despite receiving a long-term daily one-to-one intervention.

Outside agencies for SEN support

Another rule of thumb used by some schools is that a child should be on the SEN register if an outside agency is involved. This can lead to a catch-22 situation. Often outside agencies will only become involved if the child is on the SEN register.

Equally, given the difficulties in many areas of accessing outside agency support, this can contribute to the postcode lottery for accessing SEN support. In areas where support is only provided for EHCP and statutory work, if outside agency involvement is the criteria for inclusion on the SEN register we deny support to children at SEN Support level.

Moreover, outside agency involvement can be short-term for specific issues, such as speech difficulties in Reception, for example, which are not impacting on the child’s learning, progress or social interactions. In these cases it’s questionable if the child needs inclusion on the SEN register.

Low attainment and individual circumstances

The CoP is clear that ‘slow progress and low attainment do not necessarily mean that a child has SEN’. So not achieving age-related expectations should not automatically lead to placement on the SEN register.

We need to consider the reasons for underachievement and respond to them, but SEN is only one possible reason. The assumption of SEN can leave children’s true needs unmet. Equally, assumptions about children from particular backgrounds can leave children with their SEN needs unmet.

The issue of SEN identification is complex and needs to focus on an individual’s needs, including their ability to engage in and access learning and the social and physical environments of school. We need to focus on the child’s need for provision ‘different from or additional to’ that provided to their peers.

This should guide their placement on the SEN register.

However, more important than placing a child on the SEN register is the provision and support we provide to them. Being on the register does not make a difference; how we respond to a child’s needs through high quality provision and inclusive practice does.

Your SEN register should be dynamic and frequently reviewed, focusing on the needs of children with SEN at all levels.


Sara Alston is an independent consultant, trainer and practising SENCo. Her new book, co-authored with Daniel Sobel, is called The Inclusive Classroom: A New Approach to Differentiation (Bloomsbury). Follow her on Twitter at @seainclusion. Visit her website at seainclusion.co.uk.

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