Friday, September 01, 2006

Definitions, Types and Assessment

Definitions of Special Educational Need

The 1981 Education Act introduced the concept of identifying children with special educational needs. According to the Act a child has special educational needs if he or she has a learning difficulty, which calls for special educational provision to be made for him/her. A child has a learning difficulty if: S/he has a, significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of the children of her/his age; or S/he has a disability, which either prevents or hinders her/ him from making use of the educational facilities of a kind generally provided in schools within the area of the local authority concerned for children of his age. (Cited in Daniels et al, 1999)

Students with learning difficulties are generally categorised as follows -

Moderate Learning Difficulty (MLD); students who can be taught in mainstream education with some learning support.

Severe Learning Difficulty (SLD); students who require a much higher degree of specialist support - usually within special units or schools.

Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty (PMLD); students with very serious intellectual difficulties, combined with sensory and other physical impairments.

However we are also concerned with providing special educational provision for those who are extremely able. This is known as 'giftedness'. There have been many definitions of gifted. For example, Robinson (1981) distinguishes between the 'garden variety gifted', children with high IQs in the range of 130-150 but without any extraordinary ability in any one given area, and 'highly gifted' children, children with high IQs and extraordinary abilities in one or more areas. The National Association for Gifted Children (2000) offers the following definitions:

'Openly able: enjoying their talent and excelling in all they do.'

'Concealed able: under-achievers who fade into and hide in their peer group'

'Rebellious able: disruptive under-achievers with a range of behavioural problems.'

''Creative able: "odd-balls" often with unusual divergent thought patterns, which can make them intense and abrasive.'

'Talented able: intellectually able but with a particular talent in one area.'

The National Association for Gifted Children (2000) finds this framework useful in that it points out the difficulty in diagnosis. They argue that a teacher would easily be able to pick up the openly able and talented able, but miss the concealed able and creative able, and label the rebellious able as just disruptive.

In conclusion, we can see that special educational needs refers to anyone who can not be easily catered for within 'mainstream' education, thus they require 'special' provision.

Assessment of SEN

The Code of Practice (1994) for SEN expands on the issue of special educational need and offers guidance to schools in regard to identifying, assessing. providing for and monitoring such students. The Code recommends 'general adoption of a staged model of special educational needs' known as key routes or stages.


The process begins when a parent, teacher or other professional expresses a concern in regard to an individual's progress. The concern could be of an academic, social,.or emotional nature. In terms of progress, concern would be expressed if the child were not attaining the age-appropriate levels as outlined within the key stages of the National Curriculum. At this stage all relevant parties including the headteacher and parents are informed. The issue of concern is investigated and the child's name is placed on the Special Needs Register. From the teacher's perspective this means that they need to keep a special watch on that individual's progress. A child may stay on stage 1 for a few months then come off, or a child may proceed to stage 2.


Once a child's name is placed on the Special Needs register the school's special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) will take responsibility for making provision for that child alongside the child's teacher. A key element in this provision is the production, implementation and review of individual educational plans (IEPs). Advice may be sought from other professionals.


If there is continuing concern regarding whether current provision is he; child's needs, at this stage the teachers and SENCO will call for additional support advice and involvement from other professionals including an educational psychologist.


The local education authority, LEA, on advice from the educational psychologist, will decide if a statutory assessment of the child is needed. The parents will be informed of this decision. The LEA will need to gather information about the child's special needs from the following sources: parents, school reports, educational psychologists' and medical reports. Once the relevant information is collected the LEA will then make a decision with regard to whether they will proceed to making a statement of special educational needs.


The parents can normally expect a decision on whether the LEA will proceed to making a statement within twelve weeks from commencement of assessment A statement is legal document issued by the LEA in circumstances where it has been found upon investigation that an individual has special educational needs which cannot reasonably be provided for within the normal resources available to a particular school. Resources aredefinedto;.in,clu

There are various assessment tools that may be used through this process -

  • Observation (e.g. of classroom behaviour).
  • Interviews (e.g. with teachers, the student concerned and parents).
  • Physical and Psychiatric Diagnosis (e.g. where a physical or mental illness is suspected).
  • Attainment Tests (e.g. the analysis of reading, speaking, writing, comprehension and numeracy achievement).
  • Ability Tests (e.g. intelligence tests).

The National Association for Gifted Children (2000) state that the following sources are used for the identification of gifted children -

  • Teacher observations (checklists)
  • Parental observations
  • Peer-group nomination
  • Evidence from pupil's work
  • Pupil's own interests
  • Tests (cognitive ability tests)
  • National Curriculum tests
  • Evidence from out-of-school activities

Types of SEN

There are many different categories of special needs, e.g.:

Physical difficulties - including physical and sensory impairments such as loss of limb and motor control visual /hearing impairments.

Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties - due, for example, to ADHD, autism, depression or schizophrenia.

Cognitive Difficulties - including general intellectual disability and specific learning difficulties,e.g. dyslexia.

Gifted and talented - e.g. those of general exceptional ability, aptitude and achievement, or those with a specific area of expertise, i.e. musical, artisitc, creative or athletic ability.


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