On this page we explore what SEN and EHCP is as well as the different types of specialist schools in the UK

What is SEN?

In the UK, special educational needs (SEN) refer to a wide range of learning difficulties or disabilities that require special support to meet the educational and developmental needs of children and young people.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice sets out guidelines for identifying, assessing, and providing support for children and young people with SEN in England.

The Code of Practice identifies 4 broad areas of SEN:
Communication and interaction: Children and young people with difficulties in communicating with others or forming relationships may have conditions such as autism, speech and language impairments, or hearing impairments.

Cognition and learning: Children and young people with difficulties in learning may have conditions such as specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia), moderate learning difficulties, or severe learning difficulties.

Social, emotional, and mental health difficulties: Children and young people with difficulties in managing their emotions, behaviour, or mental health may have conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, or conduct disorders.

Sensory and/or physical needs: Children and young people with difficulties in hearing, seeing, or moving may have conditions such as visual impairment, hearing impairment, or physical disabilities.

In the UK, children with SEN may be entitled to additional support and resources, including extra help in the classroom, special educational provision, and specialized equipment. Local authorities are responsible for assessing and meeting the needs of children with SEN in their area, in consultation with parents or carers and education providers. Additionally, the UK government provides funding for SEN provision through the Dedicated Schools Grant and the High Needs Block Grant.

What is an EHCP?

An EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) is a legal document that outlines the special educational needs (SEN) support a child or young person requires in England. An EHCP is developed by the local authority in consultation with the child or young person, their parents or carers, and education, health, and social care professionals. EHCPs replace the previous statement of special educational needs and are intended to provide a more person-centered approach to meeting a child or young person’s needs.

An EHCP outlines the child or young person’s needs, their goals, and the support and provision required to meet those needs. The plan covers education, health, and social care needs and sets out how the child or young person’s education and development will be supported. The plan can include provisions such as specialist teaching or equipment, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, and social care support.

EHCPs are designed for children and young people with more complex and significant SEN needs who require support that cannot be provided through normal school or college resources. The EHCP process involves assessments by different professionals to identify the child or young person’s needs and develop a plan that provides appropriate support.

Parents or carers can request an assessment for an EHCP if they believe their child has SEN needs that cannot be met by their school or college’s normal resources. If the assessment finds that the child or young person requires an EHCP, the local authority will issue the plan, and regular reviews will be carried out to ensure it continues to meet their needs.

What are the different types of Specialist Schools in the UK?

In the UK, there are several different types of specialist schools that cater to the needs of children and young people with a range of special educational needs (SEN). Here are some of the most common types of specialist schools:

Special schools

Special schools are schools that cater exclusively to children and young people with SEN. They offer a range of support and services to meet the individual needs of their students. Special schools can be run by local authorities or by private organizations.

Mainstream schools with SEN provision

Mainstream schools can also offer SEN provision for students with milder to moderate SEN needs. These schools may have a specialist SEN unit or designated specialist staff to support students with SEN.*

Specialist colleges

Specialist colleges provide further education for students aged 16-25 with SEN.
These colleges offer a range of courses, vocational training, and support services to help students achieve their goals and transition into adulthood.

Hospital schools

Hospital schools provide education for children and young people who are unable to attend school due to medical needs. These schools provide education for students with a range of needs, including physical disabilities, long-term illnesses, and mental health needs.

Residential schools

Residential schools provide education and accommodation for children and young people with complex SEN needs. These schools offer round-the-clock support and care to help students achieve their goals.

Independent specialist schools

Independent specialist schools are privately run schools that cater to children and young people with SEN needs. These schools can offer a range of support and services, including specialist teaching, therapy, and care. There are different types of Private Specialist schools:

Private specialist schools


Independent schools

These are mostly controlled by charities (and therefore, “not for profit”) but there are some private “for-profit” owners. Due to their independence, their provision is not standardised across the sector as for the state sector. They include prep schools, public schools, and private nurseries (early years provision). Some private schools are registered as “specially organised to make provision with pupils for SEN”. However, for legal purposes independent schools are neither special nor mainstream, but all simply “independent”.


Non-maintained special schools

All charitable foundations and “not for profit”. This type of school will take a mixture of children and young people with and without Plans (including during the transition period children with statements) but in practice, almost 100% of their pupils are publicly funded through EHC plans or statements.


Section 41 schools

These are independent special schools which have been approved by the Secretary of State under section 41 of the Children and Families Act (“CAFA”) 2014 as schools which a parent or young person can request to be named in an EHC plan. This means parents or young people have a right to request this type of school is named in an EHC plan in the same way they can request a maintained school.


Private post-16 institutions

These may also opt for section 41 status.

It is worth noting that some specialist schools may cater to specific types of SEN, such as autism or hearing impairment, while others may cater to a broader range of needs. The type of school that is most suitable for a child or young person will depend on their individual needs and circumstances.

* “Maintained” and “Mainstream” – don’t get confused
The word “Maintained” defines a school/institution by reference to how it is controlled, e.g., most commonly, a school maintained by a local authority (which may happen also to be a mainstream school, but it could also be a special school). The word “Mainstream” defines a school/institution not by who controls it but by its provision, and this generally refers to provision other than special schools, hospital schools, alternative provision, and the like.

Scroll to Top