Specific learning difficulties is a generic or umbrella term used to describe a section of the population who have some degree of learning difficulty. This could range from a child who has a problem learning to write certain letters, but with support overcomes the problem, to a child who needs one to one support throughout their school career and adult life.
In schools it often includes children who have been assessed as having Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome and many more. These are lifelong conditions where children need to be taught coping strategies and skills to support them through into adulthood and beyond.
More boys than girls tend to be reported as having handwriting difficulties and research suggests that they do not always catch up. UK research by Medwell, Strand & Wray (2007) found:
“…that there was pronounced effect for boys than girls and that boys are more likely to be in the lowest category of performance in automatic letter generation than girls, but also that the gap between boys and girls is wider for those Y6 children than for comparable groups in Y2.”
This poor automatic letter formation results in many boys underperforming as it affects their composition of text, grammar and spelling.
Handwriting is a vital part in developing writing skills for children, as it engages the brain in a way that keyboard skills do not, and helps to develop composition, grammar and spelling skills. So basically the written work may show them as under performing, while their often good verbal explanations and responses suggest otherwise.
As the written form is how we appraise a child’s abilities it highlights how important a good handwriting style is to a child’s future!
Educational Psychologist (EP): The role of the Educational Psychologist is to assess psychological and educational development problems encountered by children and young people in education, which may involve learning difficulties and social or emotional problems. Their aim is to enhance a child’s learning and enable teachers to become more aware of the social factors affecting the teaching and learning for the child.
Occupational Therapist (OT): The role of the Occupational Therapist is to work with children who have difficulties with the practical and social skills necessary for their everyday life. Through assessment and appropriate intervention programs their aim is to enable a child to be as physically, psychologically and socially independent as possible.
Physiotherapist: The role of the Physiotherapist is to assess and manage children and young people with movement disorders, disability or illness. Their aim is to help the child/young person to reach their full potential through providing physical intervention, advice and support.
Specialist Teachers (ST) : The role of the Specialist Teacher (usually works for the LA and commissioned by the school) is to choose and use appropriate assessments and interpret the results to make detailed recommendations for external exam requirements and suggestions for intervention programmes for ASS and EHC Plan. They are fully qualified and experienced teachers who have undergone additional post-graduate training in specific learning difficulties or SEN.
Speech and Language Therapists (SLT): The role of a Speech and Language Therapist is to work with parents/carers and schools to assess if a child has speech and/or language difficulties, communication or eating and drinking or swallowing difficulties. Through assessment and appropriate intervention programs their aim is to enable a child to reach their full communication or eating and drinking potential.
The school SENCO is the special educational needs coordinator. They must be a qualified teacher who, if newly appointed or who has not been in a SENCO role for 12 consecutive months, must achieve a National Award in Special Educational Needs Coordination within three years of the appointment.
The key responsibilities of a SENCO as laid out in the ‘Special educational need and disability code of practice (SEND), 2014 are:
In the new SEND code of practice, which took effect on 1st September 2014, all educational facilities including early years providers will adopt the ‘Graduated Approach’ defined by the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Health (DfH) as:
“A model of action and intervention in early education settings, schools and colleges to help children and young people who have special educational needs. The approach recognises that there is a continuum of special educational needs and that, where necessary, increasing specialist expertise should be brought to bear on the difficulties that a child or young person may be experiencing.” (SEND, 2014)
The ‘school action’ and ‘school action plus’ levels of support criteria have been replaced by one level, ‘Additional SEN Support’ (ASS) and the current ‘statement’ level of provision is being replaced by the Educational Health Care Plan (EHC plan).
The graduated approach takes the form of a four part cycle:
The child’s teacher working with the SENCO assess the child’s needs taking into account assessments, experience of the pupil, their previous progress and attainments and their development in relation to their peers and national data, as well as the views and experiences of the parents, the child and any other external support service.
At this stage parents MUST be formally informed, if they have not already been involved in the assessment process, that it has been decided that their child needs SEN support. The plan of interventions and support to be provided, or adjustments to an existing plan, are agreed with the parents and child along with an expected outcome from the plan (expected impact on progress, development or behaviour), along with a clear review date.
The class teacher remains responsible for working with and implementing the plan.They work closely with the teaching assistant and specialist staff who may also be involved in supporting the child and intervention schemes. The SENCO supports the teacher in future assessments and advising on the effective implementation of the plan.
The review should be on the agreed date and the impact of the plan should be evaluated along with the views of the child and parents. The support and type of intervention should be adjusted in light of the child’s progress and development. Parents should be informed of the impact of the intervention and support so they can be involved in the next planning steps.
School should meet with parents at least 3 times each year and provide an annual report on the child’s progress. A child with an EHC plan must be reviewed by the local authority every 12 months, as a minimum.
Here at Teach Children we believe that a well-structured progressive handwriting program that looks at the whole child is the only way forward for all children whether they have specific learning difficulties or not. This is primarily based on our experience of bringing up two dyslexic daughters (both having achieved good degrees) and secondly on my teaching experiences.
It needs to be remembered that depending on the level of difficulties some key areas may take longer to develop, but it is worth taking the time to build up a good skills base.
For some children their difficulties are more severe and specialist support may be required from professionals such as Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists or Specialist Teachers. It can take a long time to get this kind of support through the school system, due to waiting lists, but that does not mean you and the school cannot start to support the child’s needs.
You may have a view of where the child needs extra support, but are unsure which section will give the most relevant advice.
We suggest that you:
If you are unsure of the child’s abilities then we recommend that you:
If you find it is a little overwhelming then just contact us and we will do our best to put you on the right track.
You can talk to the Head Teacher if you remain unhappy following the SENCO meeting and with any action plans put in place. Although they manage the running of the school the SENCO does all the SEND organisation and implementation of the SEND code of practice, so they will refer back to them in relation to your concerns.
The new code of practice gives the schools greater responsibilities and duties, one of which states that schools MUST publish on their web-sites detailed information of their SEND policy which must be updated annually. This information MUST include:
With all this information being made easily accessible by schools, parents are able to ensure their child is receiving the SEN support they need and deserve.
A parent’s guide to the new code of practise is now available from the DfE:
The Dyslexia Action Trust have produced their own very useful and informative Parents Guide to the new Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 – 25; 2014 (SEND).
As soon as your child is receiving extra support, additional SEN support (ASS), the SENCO should provide you with information about the local Parent Partnership Service, who will be able to help, guide and support you through any difficulties or problems you may be finding. If they don’t know, then they have to find out for you, as it is part of their role and a requirement of the SEND Code of Practice.
The school should be able to help and support you but unfortunately this is not always the case. There will be good support groups in your area and you will find that you are not the only one to face these difficulties. Others have gone before you and have gained the knowledge on the way to help you through what can be a frustrating and very emotional time for you and your child, you don’t have to do it alone!
There are some very good and informative websites such as;
IPSEA Independent Parental Special Education Advice (a charity) have a range of advice lines, sound legal information on your rights as a parent and letter templates to help you make your point clearly - a very informative site.
GOV.UK has useful information on special needs together with good links to other national and local network help lines.
Your child may have very specific educational needs, however all the major charities, associations and organisation that will be able to relate to your child’s needs will have local contacts on their web sites.
Educational Health Care Plan
Local Education Authority
Learning Support Assistant
Multi Agency Provision Plan; this gives details of the support a child, usually statemented, is receiving from several outside agencies due to the complexity of their special needs requirements. The plan identifies the agencies and what support they are providing.
Special Educational Needs
Additional SEN Support
Disabled Student Allowance.
Education Fund Agency.
Early Years Foundation Stage
Joint Strategic Needs Assessment
Office for standards in education
Pupil Referral Unit
Service Children’s Education
Special Educational Needs Coordinator
Special Educational Need & Disability code of practice: 0-25
Speech and Language Therapist
This means that the goal/targets set for a child are: Specific (detailed method/approach to task); Measurable (evidence possible); Achievable (fair in relation to the child’s ability); Relevant/Realistic (importance in child’s needs); Time-bound (set a time limit for re-assessment).
Virtual School Head
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services - NHS.