Special Educational Needs (SEN) and brain injury
This section talks about the return to education for children with acquired brain injury.
It’s tempting to see the move back to school as a ‘return to normality’. While it's certainly a positive step, it’s also the beginning of a new stage of rehabilitation, one which comes with its own set of challenges.1, 2 It may be extremely tough for a child, as they realise they’re not as able to do things they found easier before.3 This can have a big impact on self-esteem.4 Children may struggle with the social aspects of returning to school, which we’ll come to later.5 Parents may feel their children’s needs aren’t being considered enough.6
On this page
The danger of misunderstandingIt’s in the classroom that many of the misunderstandings about acquired brain injury can take place.7 We know children with acquired brain injury struggle with concentration and attention. If the people around a child don’t know about this, there’s a risk the child will be unfairly thought of as ‘naughty’.8 The effects of acquired brain injury might be familiar to you and your family, but may seem invisible to others. It’s for this reason that you might hear acquired brain injury referred to as “the hidden disability”.9, 10 Sharing information is extremely important here.11 12
- Tiredness, difficulty concentrating13
- Problems processing information and memory14
- Difficulties with social skills15, 16
- Irritability, feeling frustrated or angry17, 18
- Schools are required by law to have a SENCO – a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator.22 They are there to help school staff understand and help with any difficulties your child may have.
Special educational needs: process for assessmentBack to topOur information in this section is intended to support the official documentation for the process in your country (there are key differences between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). You can read these documents using the links below. The process is about first establishing whether ayour child has special educational needs. It’s then about looking at what those needs are, before working out how those needs should be met.23 AYour child might need help with getting around the school, or changes to the way they are taught.24 It can be a very strange and difficult time for a parent as their child’s future is decided, often by people they don’t know. There’s also a lot of paperwork.25 Some parents may feel anxious about getting an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. Perhaps they feel this is an acknowledgement that their child has permanent difficulties. But we know this may not be the case.26 Agreements must be reached between parents, the local authority and the school. This can be time-consuming, and occasionally results in parents appealing the decisions that have been made. The local authority is obliged to send you information about how to do this.27
The Special Educational Needs process in different parts of the United KingdomBack to topImportant to note is that there are differences in the way England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland manage this process. If you’d like to read the official guidance on the processes for your individual country, then use the links below (countries listed in alphabetical order).
- Children with special educational needs (SEN)
- Special educational needs (SEN) code of practice and regulations
- [Education in Scotland: a brief guide for parents and carers] (39k)
- Education in Scotland, additional support for learning: a brief guide for parents and carers (97k)
- Information for carers of young people who may have special educational needs
- The SEN code of practice for Wales
- Contact a Family offers advice on the Special Educational Needs process. It has three dedicated Special Educational Needs advisors.
Call 0808 808 3555 between Monday and Friday, from 9.30am to 5pm. Select ‘SEN’ from the menu when you call.
You can also email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What does special educational needs actually mean?“Special educational needs” has a legal definition in the law of the United Kingdom. Children described as having special educational needs have learning or behavioural difficulties, or disabilities that make it more difficult for them to learn than most children of the same age.23 For children with acquired brain injury, this might be because:
- They’re struggling to process information
- They’re having difficulty remembering things
- They find it hard to concentrate28
- They have sensory or physical difficulties29, 30
What is an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP)?Back to top23 If your child already has a statement of SEN this will continue until the statement is reviewed. At this review it will be decided whether to change to the new EHCP which now replaces statements of SEN. You can discuss this with your child’s school’s SENCO to learn more about the process for your child. You can read a factsheet on Changing from the old system to the new produced by Contact a Family here. If your child’s needs are significant and complex and require a level of support that is at a higher level than the school can meet, it may be decided with you that a request is made for Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment which can lead to a EHCP. EHCPs can be issued for a child or young person between 0 and 25 years of age. They cover all educational, health and social needs of a child or young person and have a strong emphasis on their future aspirations. The various organisations that provide educational, health and care support work closely together to make sure children and young people get the best support. If your child is refused an assessment or an EHCP and you are unhappy with the decision, you can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. You must do this within two months or receiving the decision31.
How do I know if my child’s needs should be assessed in this way?“Every child is different”. You may read this phrase time and again in information on acquired brain injury, but this is only because it’s an important point to keep in mind.32, 33 The severity of some children’s injuries will mean they will certainly need more support than is available in a mainstream school. For others, it will be less clear-cut. Some parents have expressed their frustration that the “hidden” nature of acquired brain injury means parents have a tough time convincing others that there are difficulties.34 Your first port of call might be your child’s school. If ayour child has taken time off, it’s important to get back in touch with teachers. Every school is required by law to have a SENCO – a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator.
What if we have our hearts set on a particular school?
It’s best that everyone thinks about what the child needs, and that a school is chosen where those needs can be met."Tip from our experts
Who will support us through this process?There are a number of professionals you may deal with over the course of the process.23
This is the person at your local authority who will deal with ayour child’s case.
It’s not always possible, but the local authority should try to make sure parents are speaking with the same person throughout the process.
Parent partnership service
These services provide support and advice to parents.
They aim to provide accurate and unbiased information on the full range of options available to parents.
In other words, they don’t ‘take sides’.
You can find your local service here.
Disagreement resolution services
These services are an informal way of sorting out disagreements between parents and the local authority.
They may also help out with any disagreements between parents and the school.
The aim is to place someone in the middle of the disagreement who won’t take sides and will help sort out the dispute.
It’s very important to remember that using this service does NOT prevent parents from appealing to a tribunal.
- Local authorities’ legal duties to assess and provide for children with special educational needs
- Exclusions of children with special needs/disabilities
- Actions or inactions by local authorities and/or schools which discriminate against children with disabilities
Parent partnership services can be important allies in the SEN process. They can come along to meetings, and may voice the concerns you might be wary of speaking about."Tip from our experts
Parents’ experienceBefore you read on to the official SEN process for your individual country, you may want to read some parents’ experience of the process.
We feel like we had to become different people, in many ways. We’re not the sort of people who’d want to push to the front of the queue, but we just had to be very demanding to get what we could for our child."
We had lots of meetings. Meetings about rehabilitation, meetings about school ... it can be hard to see people you don’t know making decisions about your child’s life."We have updated our education pages in accordance with the recent governement changes made in September 2014. If you feel you need additional information to understand these changes please refer to Contact a Family's excellent information guide.