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Getting additional support: Northern Ireland

Photo: If a child has SEN it means that they need extra or specialised support to access their education

What does special educational needs (SEN) mean?

A child or young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which means they need (or are likely to need) special educational provision to be made for them.

A child or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if they:

  • have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or
  • have a disability which prevents them from using, or makes it harder them to use, facilities provided for others of the same age in a mainstream setting.

If a child has SEN it means that they need extra or specialised support to access their education. For example, a deaf child may need speech and language therapy, or a radio aid to hear the teacher.

You can find more information in the Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs.


The Minister of Education is proposing changes to the special educational needs (SEN) system in Northern Ireland.

The proposed changes include:

  • The EA must provide more information on how it will support children with SEN.
  • Young people over 16 will have more rights and control over the support they receive.
  • The EA must provide mediation if there is a disagreement over the statement of SEN.

There is no change, however, to the definition of SEN.

At the time of writing, it’s not yet clear when the reforms will come into force. See our Campaigns page for updates on these reforms, or read about them in more detail on the Department of Education website.