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SEND: Timely Action

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Assessment and identification of SEN

The first step to supporting students with SEND is making sure you have an accurate understanding of the needs of your children and young people. To provide early, appropriately-targeted intervention and support, you must have good assessment and intervention processes in place.

What do I need to do?

The SEND Code of Practice tells schools to identify need ‘at the earliest point’ (6.14), for the purpose of understanding ‘what action the school needs to take’ (6.27). It also tells schools that assessment should utilise a broad range of sources (6.45), using specialists where possible(6.59)

So we know that SENDCOs need to assess/identify with these four principles in mind: early, broad, using specialists and linked to actions.


The biggest pitfall SENDCOs have in this area is waiting solely for external assessment. Such assessment can cause real delays, with long referral forms and lengthy waiting times. Specialist assessment is an essential string to the bow, but it can’t be the only string.

In practice, early identification might mean doing the following:

-       Listening to what parents are telling you.

Do you have ways of parents contacting you, to share their concerns? Are you available for parents, on the school gate or at parents’ evenings? The earliest concerns will often be noticed first by those who know the child best.

-       Observing what the pupils are showing you.

Try to be around classrooms and corridors every day, perhaps with certain focuses in different weeks. Notice students’ engagement, participation and successful completion of work. Though informal, let this kind of observation form a vital assessment tool.

-       Making it easy for staff to raise their concerns/observations.

Try to set up a system where staff can easily let you know what concerns they have about pupils. Encourage colleagues to fill in an ‘expression of concern’ form by making it visible and accessible to all, by mentioning it frequently to staff and by making it easy to fill in. Teachers and TAs across the school can therefore become your eyes and ears, helping you to know about things before they become a big issue – a key principle of good identification.

-       Using the data available to you.

What academic data do you have? What does behaviour/attendance data tell you about how pupils might be coping in school?What data exists in students’ files already? What do whole-cohort screenings tell you? See the blog ‘5key data points for SENDCOs’ for more on what data it’s useful for you to know.


You might start with an audit of your assessment/identification tools. Put each of the 4 broad areas of SEND(Cognition and Learning, etc.) into a table, adding in the tools/methods you have in each one. This will help you to spot any imbalance. Though it might depend on your school and phase, you’ll want to have some method of assessing all of the following:

-       Reading difficulties

-       Spelling difficulties

-       Phonics

-       Cognitive ability

-       Language needs

-       Social communication needs

-       Handwriting

-       Social, emotional and mental health needs

You’re not looking to be diagnostic in these areas – we’re teachers, not clinicians – but to be able to recognise need. I outline specific tools/screeners linked to each of these areas in my book, The Lone SENDCO.


If time or cost were no object, what would you want easy assessment for? Who would you want to have open access to? The following is a fairly comprehensive list – though not universal – of who you might be looking to call on:

-       Educational Psychologist

-       Speech and Language Therapist

-       Occupational Therapist

-       Clinical psychologist

-       Child psychiatrist

-       Paediatrician

Some of these practitioners may be based at your local Child Development Centre, your local CAMHS clinic or within your local authority SEN service. It’s impossible to give a national picture here – so much is dependent on the local authority your school is in (or sometimes, the local authority the child lives in), but the job for a SENDCO is understanding locally:

-       Which of these services can I refer to?

-       Which of these services do parents refer to?

-       Which of these services do GPs refer to?

And of each of the services listed above, you’ll also want to find out if there is even a service to refer to – some local authorities, for example, will only take Speech and Language Therapy referrals for students in the early years. It may be that the only option is for the school to buy in some time (not always affordable), or for parents to pay privately for assessment(also not always affordable).

Know the local routes for referral so that you can support families to get as full an understanding of need as possible – but do this alongside other things you can do within your school, to fully understand student need, without always needing to wait.

Linked to actions

Whatever you find out (whether through your own processes or through external assessment) is probably only as useful as the actions it leads to. Whenever you find out new information about a child, consider the following:

-       How do I need to liaise with parents about this?

-       What do I need to communicate to teachers/TAs?

-       What intervention do I need to set up as result?

-       What do I need to (and what is it appropriate to) feedback to the child about this?

-       What other referrals might be needed?

By following these four principles – early, broad, specialist and linked to actions – you have a good chance of ensuring your assessment and identification processes lead to real and positive change for children.