Legislation and guidance
The statutory requirements for safeguarding all children are set out in legislation and guidance for the education sector.
> Read more about the key safeguarding legislation and guidance for schools
Each UK nation also has legislation and guidance on supporting children and young people who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Although different terms are used in different nations, the principles of safeguarding and protecting children and young people with additional needs or disabilities are broadly the same.
> Take our safeguarding children with SEND training
Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are covered by Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014. Under this legislation, a child or young person aged 0-25 has special educational needs (SEN) if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for them.
Mainstream schools in England should follow the Special educational needs and disability code of practice (PDF) (Department for Education (DfE) and Department of Health, 2015). This guidance sets out how schools should meet their duties to children and young people with SEND.
This guidance states that schools must designate a qualified teacher to be the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) who is responsible for the coordination of provision for students with SEND. The SENCO should also provide guidance to colleagues, liaise with parents and carers and act as a key point of contact for external agencies, including health and social care.
SENCOs and nominated child protection leads should work together when there are safeguarding concerns about a child with SEND (DfE, 2021).
The SENCO may also be required to act as the lead practitioner for multi-agency early help assessments. This might involve leading the assessment, co-ordinating support services and advocating for the child and family (DfE, 2018).
Some children and young people with SEND in England will have an Education, Health and Care plan (EHC plan) which details the education, health and social care support that will be provided to the child. Safeguarding concerns may be addressed through the EHC plan.
The key legislation for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Northern Ireland is the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (Northern Ireland) 2016. This legislation defines a child with special educational needs as someone aged under 19 who is a registered pupil at a school and has a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made.
The Code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs (PDF) provides guidance for schools in Northern Ireland on making provision for children with SEND (Department of Education Northern Ireland, 1998).
This Code states that all mainstream schools should have a special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO). Their responsibilities include:
- managing the operation of the schools special educational needs (SEN) policy
- offering advice to colleagues
- liaising with parents and carers
- maintaining a register of children with SEN
- organising and contributing to the relevant training of other staff
- liaising with external agencies.
The nominated child protection lead, which in Northern Ireland is known as the Designated Teacher (DT) and the SENCO should work together when there are concerns about a child with SEND (Department of Education Northern Ireland, 2023). In larger schools, it may be appropriate to have a SEN co-ordinating team.
The SENCO, along with other teachers, should also ensure that children have an individual education plan (IEP). This should set out the nature of the child’s learning difficulties and the provision to be put in place to support them.
In Scotland, the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 makes provision for children and young people who have additional support needs (ASN). A child or young person has ASN if they are of school age or younger and require additional support to benefit from school education. This includes children and young people who:
- have learning disabilities or difficulties
- have a disability or health need
- are looked after
- are young carers
- have English as a second language
- are on the child protection register.
This list is not exhaustive and the Act provides support for any child or young person who needs additional support.
Schools in Scotland must follow the statutory guidance Supporting children’s learning (PDF) (Scottish Government, 2017).
Children and young people with ASN may have an individualised educational programme (IEP) which describes their additional support needs, how they will be met and what learning outcomes are expected.
Some children and young people who need significant additional support from school as well as other agencies will have a co-ordinated support plan (CSP). This should contain information about the additional support needed, who will provide the support and the educational objectives for the child.
If a child has a CSP, the local authority will appoint a co-ordinator who is responsible for ensuring that the correct additional support is being provided.
The Welsh Government passed the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act in 2018. Under this Act, a child has additional learning needs if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for additional learning provision.
The additional learning needs (ALN) system will be phased in over three years, starting in September 2021. The Welsh Government has published a guide to the transformation programme, which details how the new system will be implemented and outlines a timeline for implementation (Welsh Government, 2020). The Additional learning needs code sets out how schools in Wales should meet children and young people’s additional learning needs (Welsh Government, 2021).
Until the ALN system is implemented, schools should follow the Special educational needs (SEN) code of practice for Wales, which provides guidance on how to identify, assess and make provision for children with SEN (Welsh Government, 2013).
The ALN system creates a number of new statutory roles which should be implemented before the rest of the system is put in place. These roles include the additional learning needs co-ordinator (ALNCo), the designated education clinical lead officer (DECLO) and the early years additional learning needs officer (ALNO).
From January 2021, all maintained mainstream schools and further education institutions in Wales must designate at least one ALNCo, who must be a teacher or have been a special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) immediately prior to becoming an ALNCo. The ALNCo is responsible for:
- identifying a child’s additional needs and co-ordinating additional learning provision
- keeping records of decisions about ALN
- promoting inclusion and access to the curriculum, facilities and extra-curricular activities for children with ALN
- monitoring the effectiveness of additional learning provision
- advising teachers about appropriate teaching methods
- supervising and training learning support workers
- contributing to training for teachers
(Welsh Government, 2021).
The ALNCo is also responsible for ensuring all children and young people with ALN have an individual development plan (IDP) or individual education plan (IEP) which sets out the additional learning provision and support they will receive (Welsh Government 2021; 2013).
Find out what the laws and guidance around safeguarding in educational institutions are in each of the UK nations.
> Safeguarding legislation for schools and colleges
Learn about the roles and responsibilities of a nominated child protection lead and use our example role description to help you write your own that reflects the needs of children and young people your organisation works with.
> The role of the nominated child protection lead