Safeguarding children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)

Last updated: 14 Feb 2020
Introduction

We are using the term special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to refer to children who have disabilities or additional needs. Other terms may be used in your organisation, including:

  • additional needs
  • additional support for learning
  • additional learning needs.

> Read more about terminology used in the four UK nations

Adults who work with children and young people with SEND should be aware of the additional needs children may have that could mean they are more vulnerable to abuse and/or less able to speak out if something isn’t right.

Some children may be vulnerable because they:

  • have additional communication needs
  • they do not understand that what is happening to them is abuse
  • need intimate care or are isolated from others
  • are dependent on adults for care.

> Learn more about the risk and vulnerability factors faced by children with disabilities

Safeguarding d/Deaf and disabled children training

Sign up to our face-to-face course on safeguarding d/Deaf and disabled children for people working in England.

Book now

Safeguarding and child protection

Safeguarding and child protection

All schools in the UK should have a child protection policy which sets out how they will keep children safe.

Schools need to be aware of the additional vulnerabilities of some children, including children with SEND, and your child protection policy should ensure that all children get the support they need.

> Get tips on how to write child protection policies and procedures

> Read more about statutory guidance for schools

Your schools’ safeguarding procedures should also set out how special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) will work with the nominated child protection lead if there are concerns about a child with SEND.

In the UK, statutory guidance for safeguarding and child protection in schools sets out considerations for keeping children with disabilities safe.

> Read more about legislation and guidance for safeguarding children with SEND 

> Find out more about how you can protect d/Deaf and disabled children from abuse

Available resources

Education Self-Assessment Tool (ESAT)

Use our free Education Self-Assessment Tool (ESAT) to audit and identify gaps in your safeguarding arrangements, create an action plan and implement any changes.

Safeguarding and child protection in schools

Browse our range of resources for the education sector. Includes lesson plans, training courses and consultancy.

Schools’ role in safeguarding

Listen to our episode on the role schools have in safeguarding children and young people and learn about good safeguarding practices, how to manage relationships with parents and carers and more. 

Protecting disabled children from sexual abuse

Gain an insight into what 30 parents and carers of disabled children think are the most effective ways to keep their children safe from sexual abuse in our report.

Preventing the sexual abuse of disabled children

Prefer audio to text? Hear about our study into protecting disabled children and young people from sexual abuse in our podcast instead.

Education

Education

Relationships and sex education (RSE)

All schools are required to offer accessible and inclusive relationships and sex education to all students, including those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) (Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CEA), 2015a; CEA, 2015b; Department for Education, 2019b; Scottish Government, 2014; Welsh Assembly Government, 2010).

You should use suitable communication methods and consider ways to check that children have understood learning around relationships and sex education. Key messages should be delivered in an age appropriate, sensitive way, taking account of individual communication and learning needs. 

It's also important to let parents and carers know what children are being taught so that messages can be mirrored at home (Franklin, Toft and Goff, 2019).

Online safety

The online world has opened up many opportunities for children with SEND and can be a positive place where they can chat to friends, play games or find support.

However, children with SEND can be particularly vulnerable to online grooming, especially being manipulated by somebody they know (Katz, El Asam and Internet Matters, 2019).

It’s important to encourage conversations about the benefits and dangers of the internet and create an open environment for children and young people to ask questions.

Empowering children

Social attitudes and assumptions about disability can have an impact on children’s self-confidence.

Getting to know a child or young person with SEND and finding the best way to communicate with them is a positive way of building a child’s self-esteem. This can show the child that there is someone they can trust and communicate with and help them feel confident about letting someone know if they experience something that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Help empower children with SEND by:

  • providing them with communication support and opportunities to express themselves
  • helping them to build a supportive relationship with a trusted person
  • consulting them on their views and wishes about their life and care in order to meet their needs
  • providing accessible education on topics such as keeping safe, sex and relationships and online safety
  • providing information in accessible formats
  • providing opportunities for peer support and social activities
  • giving them opportunities to express themselves creatively through activities like art and music
  • giving them access to advocacy services.

Useful resources

Relationships, health and sex education statutory guidance

Download our briefing on relationships and sex education in England which sets out the key points covered in statutory guidance published by the Department for Education (DfE).

Promoting healthy relationships

Teach children and young people about healthy relationships using our tips and advice for different ages, including children with SEND.

Love Life resources

Our Love Life resources for young people with learning disabilities cover healthy relationships and online safety and can help young people develop strategies for staying safe.

Supporting young people with learning disabilities

Find out why and how the Love Life films and resources were developed and the benefits our resources provide for young people with learning disabilities.

Online safety in schools

Get information on e-safety policies and procedures, IT safety and data protection and social media as well as how to teach students about online safety.

Online safety training

Prefer interactive learning? Take our elearning course to better understand online risks and how they affect children and young people.

Legislation and guidance

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 face-to-face course on safeguarding d/Deaf and disabled children in England

England

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 SEN co-ordinator (SENCO) who is responsible for the coordination of provision for students with SEN. 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, 2019a).

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.

Northern Ireland

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 and the SENCO should work together when there are concerns about a child with SEND (Department of Education Northern Ireland, 2019). 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.

Scotland

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.

Wales

Schools in Wales should comply with Part 4 of the Education Act 1996 which makes provision for children and young people who have special educational needs (SEN). A child has special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for them.

The Special educational needs code of practice for Wales (PDF) (Welsh Assembly Government, 2004) provides advice for schools on how to identify, assess and make provision for children with SEN. 

This code sets out the responsibilities of SEN co-ordinators (SENCOs) in mainstream schools:

  • overseeing the day-to-day operation of the school’s SEN policy
  • co-ordinating provision for children with SEN
  • liaising with parents and other agencies
  • advising other teachers.

The SENCO is also responsible for ensuring that appropriate individual education plans (IEPs) are in place. These plans should set out the provision to be put in place for the child.

Resources 

Safeguarding legislation for schools and colleges

Discover what the laws and guidance around safeguarding in educational institutions are in each of the UK nations.

The role of the nominated child protection lead 

Learn about the roles and responsibilities of a nominated child protection lead and use our role description example to help write a document that reflects the needs of children and young people your organisation works with. 

References

References

Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CEA) (2015a) Relationships and sexuality education guidance: an update for post-primary schools (PDF). Belfast: Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CEA).

Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CEA) (2015b) Relationships and sexuality education guidance: an update for primary schools (PDF). Belfast: Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CEA).

Department for Education (DfE) (2019a) Keeping children safe in education: statutory guidance for schools and colleges (PDF). London: Department for Education (DfE).

Department for Education (DfE) (2019b) Relationships education, relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education: statutory guidance for governing bodies, proprietors, head teachers, principals, senior leadership teams, teachers (PDF). London: Department for Education. 

Department for Education (DfE) (2018) Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (PDF). London: Department for Education (DfE).

Department for Education (DfE) and Department of Health (2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years: statutory guidance for organisations which work with and support children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities (PDF). London: Department for Education (DfE).

Department of Education Northern Ireland (2019) Safeguarding and child protection in schools: a guide for schools (PDF). Belfast: Department of Education.

Department of Education Northern Ireland (1998) Code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs (PDF). Bangor: Department of Education Northern Ireland.

Franklin, Anita, Toft, Alex and Goff, Sarah (2019) Parents' and carers' views on how we can work together to prevent the sexual abuse of disabled children: "You fear everything that is out of your control. Because you are their safe one" (PDF). London: NSPCC.

Katz, Adrienne, El Asam, Aiman and Internet Matters (2019) Vulnerable children in a digital world (PDF). London: Internet Matters. 

Scottish Government (2017) Supporting children’s learning: statutory guidance on the Education (Additional Support for Learning) Scotland Act 2004 (as amended): code of practice (PDF). 3rd ed. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Scottish Government (2014) Conduct of relationships, sexual health and parenthood education in schools (PDF). Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Welsh Assembly Government (2010) Sex and relationships education in schools: guidance (PDF). Cardiff: Welsh Assembly Government.

Welsh Assembly Government (2004) Special educational needs code of practice for Wales (PDF). Cardiff: Welsh Assembly Government. 

Childline

If a child or young person needs confidential help and advice direct them to Childline. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online or using SignVideo

Children can read about disability on the Childline website and get advice and support from the Deaf Zone. You can also download or order Childline posters and wallet cards.

Elearning

Our online and face-to-face training courses can help develop your understanding of how to protect children from abuse and safely recruit staff and volunteers to work with children.

Child protection in schools

For anyone working in an educational institution who wants to develop or refresh their awareness and understanding of child protection.

Safeguarding 16 to 25 year olds

Aimed at individuals who work with young people or vulnerable adults to help you protect them from abuse, neglect or harm.

Online safety training

Understand how children and young people use online platforms and technology, the potential risks that can be encountered and how you can take steps to reduce these.

Further reading

For further reading about children with SEND, search the NSPCC Library catalogue using the keywords “children with learning difficulties”, “children with disabilities”, “schools” and “child protection”.

If you need more specific information, please contact our Information Service.