Working with Children with Special Educational Needs


21 Nov 2017

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  • Joanne Boyden

There are a number of regulations and requirements in place to protect children with special educational needs or disabilities. It was originally believed that children with needs should be sent to a special school and therefore choice for parents and children was very limited. However, with the implementation of laws and regulations this has very much changed, with children with needs attending mainstream schools of their parents’ and their choice wherever this is possible. The onus is very much on the setting being adapted for the child rather than the child being unable to fit in with the mainstream setting.

The laws regarding children start with the Education Act 1970 which saw the transfer of the responsibility to educate children with special needs from the health service to the local authority. As a result of this special schools were built. Around this time the medical model of disability was frequently used. This model labelled the child as somehow having a fault. The focus was very much on what the child could not do rather than their skills and aptitudes. This model focused on the perceived need for segregation hence the need for separate special facilities. Opinion suggests this model puts a great deal of anxiety and stress upon the parents of the child and limits the choices and opportunities they can give the child.

The Warnock report looked into SEN and from this report a number of suggestions were consequently made. Suggestions looked at how the child could access the curriculum and how to adapt the environment to meet the needs of the child thus enabling them to do this.

The Education ACT 1981 took a lot of its claims from the Warnock report and gave power to the parents. It also outlined in detail the legal responsibilities of the LEA.

The Education reform Act 1988 saw the introduction of the National Curriculum. This ensured consistency of teaching across schools. However this could still be adapted to meet the needs of children with SEN and Disabilities.

The Children’s Act 1989 states that the needs and wishes of the child are paramount and should be considered when at all possible in all decision making processes. This again gives more power to children with SEN in where and how they are educated.

The Education Act 1993 brought about the need for specific guidance on the identification of children with SEN. The SENCo was introduced and again gives more power to the parents and in a way gave them a voice through the SENco.

The disability discrimination Act 1995 brought in such laws as it being illegal to discriminate against disabled people in relation to employment housing etc.

It could be argued that the most important law of all regarding children with disabilities or specific requirements is the SEN code of practice 2001. This is the Act that gives the power to the child and their parents. Most importantly this act gave rise to the law that children with SEN have the right to a mainstream education. There was an immense focus on inclusive practise and the adaption of the environment to fit the child and not the other way around as previous. This act fully encompasses the social model of disability. This act gives upmost power to the parent to choose where their child is educated and how.

The Act is embodied by seven key principles. The first is that the knowledge of parents should be taken into account in all decisions. They do after all know their own child and their individual needs better than anyone else. The second states that the focus should be on what the child can do not what they cannot. The third principle states that parent’s feelings and emotions should be supported. The fourth and again these are very much linked, states that parents should be fully involved with all decisions. The fifth principle states that parents know what is best for their child. The sixth principle shows that parents may also suffer disability and this should be supported and understood. Finally the seventh principle, states that meetings should be arranged in good time and at times suitable for the parents. Parents may have other siblings to look after or they may be juggling employment and childcare. They cannot always be there for a meeting at a time suitable for the setting. This should be considered when all meetings are being set. The act fully highlights the need for positive and close relationships with parents aswell as empowerment for the child.

The act states the importance of early identification and close monitoring of all intervention and support through the use of documents such as IEP’s. The act also give guidance on the levels of support through school action and school action plus and indicates who is responsible and at what levels of the support process.

In summary there are a number of regulations and laws that support children and their families with SEN and disability all of which should be carefully adhered to when working with the children and their family. The outcome if the laws are followed correctly should be a happy fulfilled child reaching their full potential with happy parents. This would abide by the principle of every child matters ensuring that all children whatever their needs are given support to fulfil their goals.

It is extremely important to work inclusively with children with disabilities or specific requirements. Firstly this would adhere to the SEN code of conduct which explores the need to work inclusively. Inclusions involves “looking for ways of helping children to join in who would tradtionally be excluded from settings or activities” pg 312 Children’s care learning and development. It can also be described as “a process of identifying, understanding and breaking down barriers to participation and belonging” pg 312 as above.

It is important to note that it is the environment that should be adapted rather than trying to fit the child to the environment. This may mean things such as having activities laid out on table tops rather than on the floor, giving extra time for dressing for PE etc. The areas that need to be addressed depend very much on the need of the child. No matter what that need the child has the same rights to be given the same opportunities as a child without needs. In fact most children have needs in some areas and working under every child matters, environments and opportunities should be differentiated for all children so that all can reach their full potential. One example of inclusion would be a child who has a physical need. Rather than simply saying they cannot participate in PE, they may need extra time to dress/undress. It is important to allow the child to do as much for themselves as they possibly can. If they require help they should be asked if they want help first. Also the activity itself should be looked at. If it is a ball game can it be adapted to include the child. A child that is not allowed to participate fully as the others can soon become frustrated and segragated from their fellow pupils. This would be following the medical model rather than fully embracing the social model of disability. Allowing children with needs to fully participate also teaches the other children a valuable lesson of acceptance of difference and tolerance. It aids to promote acceptance in the school community as a whole. Often when looking at inclusion it can be the views and attitudes of the adults that can be the actual barrier to inclusion. The child involved may be capable of far more than the adult believes if they were given the chance to do so. It is important wherever possible to include the child in whatever the class is involved in rather than taking them away for specific individual work. Before long a well meaning adult can take the child away from many activities they are fully capable of taking away their right to inclusion in that task.

The relationship between parent and setting cannot be underestimated. At the end of the day parents are the ones who know the child best and are therefore in the best position to say what is best for the child. They are the experts on their own child regardless of their need or disability. They can provide insight into how the child behaves at home and also if there have been any changes in the child they can often provide answers as to why this may be. The relationship between setting and parent can often be difficult and views can vary significantly as to what is best for the child. However the relationship should be one of compromise and trust.

Again working closely with parents and involving them in all decision making processes is key and in fact necessary to adhere to the SEN code of conduct. It is not always an easy relationship to maintain in a positive way but it is crucial to do this. Parents may be upset and angry and may not wish their child to be labelled. In some circumstances they may deny that their child has any needs and wish them to be treated in exactly the same way as the other children when this may not always be suitable or possible. Parents may suffer disabilities themselves and this must be taken into consideration when working closely with parents.

Not only is the relationship with parents key to providing the best environment for the child but also good clear relationships with other professionals is key. This may take the form of speech and language experts, educational psychologists, health workers, social workers. It is imperative that this relationship is both clear and a two way relationship for the benefit of the child. In many instance the setting may simply not have the expertise as to what is best for the child and the professionals eg speech and language can offer valuable resource and knowledge.

Practitioners must wherever possible strive to adapt their environment to meet the needs of the child with disabilities. This does very much depend upon what those specific needs are. For example if the child has a visual impairment care must be taken to remove any tripping hazards. Also if changes to the environment are made the child should be made aware of them. Specific instruction should be given if for example the room has to be evacuated quickly does the child knows the procedure to follow? Any areas that the child has to frequent regularly should be easily assessable to the child for example their coat peg should be at the end of the row, their lunch box easy to access. The other children within the class should be taught to be aware of the room, chairs should be tucked in, toys should be removed from the floor. When considering the child’s needs for example with reading the work do paper actvitities need to be enlarged/ coloured in a specific way? Depending on the severity of the need can books be made available in Braille, can audio books be used? The toys and games of the classroom should be looked at, is there a requirement for electronic speaking toys. Any items used should be made part of the normal day for all children where possible to avoid any kind of segregation. The teacher should be aware to verbalise any key activities such as playtimes, lunchtimes etc. All the children in the class should be encouraged to use some of the aids to promote empathy and regard within the class and also to normalise any intervention material. For example visual aids could be used by all the children in certain lessons. Any equipment needed to support the child should be purchased and this is where it may be beneficial to apply the expertise of the experts. For example a practioners initial reaction may be to say the child should be given alternative activities during PE sessions. However this may not need to be the case as with appropriate equipment such as balls that make a noise, they could fully participate along with their peers.

Often it is the views and beliefs of the people involved in the teaching of the child that have to be changed and certainly not the child themselves. With a little creativity most daily activities can be adapted and differentiated to meet the varying and sometimes challenging needs of children.

Therefore to conclude, there are many acts that govern how children with needs are educated and with careful consideration of both parents and the child these can be successfully followed. Through inclusive practice and good communication the needs of the child and wishes of the parent can be successfully met.


Burnham Louise, (2008), The Teaching Assistants Handbook, Essex, Heinemann.

Beith Kate (2008), Children’s care learning and Development, Essex, Heinemann.

Special Educational Needs code of Practise:,

Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities:


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