SEN in schools: Who should do what?

Written by: Garry Freeman | Published:

New legislation, including the SEND Code of Practice 2015, has led to a dramatic overhaul of SEND practice in schools. Two years on, Garry Freeman looks at who should now be doing what to meet the new requirements

You may have all the right notes – but are you playing them in the right order?

We are all by now very familiar with the 2015 SEND Code of Practice, which was developed as part of the Children and Families Act of 2014. The Act established a set of principles that apply to SEND responsibilities, applying equally to maintained, academy and free schools.

One issue for many schools and local authorities remains the question of who should do what in terms of statutory responsibilities. A second issue has been what exactly is meant by the key words, contained in the Code, “must” and “should”.

Put simply, “must” indicates that something is a statutory requirement. “Should” indicates guidance which is strongly recommended and which providers would do well to show that they have made every effort to meet – rather like the phrase “best endeavours” to indicate that a setting should show they have done everything possible to meet a particular requirement or need.

So – who should do what?

The Code itself is clear on where responsibilities lie. The confusions have perhaps arisen from local authorities and educational settings originally feeling overwhelmed by the changes (particularly the timescale for the introduction of certain parts of the Code).

Then again, this writer has come across SENCOs who have become so frustrated with slow progress in, for example, their local authority’s writing of outcomes for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), that they themselves have written them (and the provisions to meet outcomes) in order to “firm-up” support for a child with SEND.

The Code of Practice established the principle of co-production on different levels of working, between local authority, educational settings, children and young people, parents and carers. For this to work effectively, to gain the maximum benefit for children and young people, local authorities and schools in particular need a clear and mutual understanding of each other’s responsibilities.

Of course, the Children and Families Act and the Code of Practice each run to hundreds of pages, so how can we summarise the key responsibilities of the various settings and institutions? How can we be more aware of the key areas that perhaps some authorities or settings are overlooking?

Below I summarise some of the key duties for schools and also local authorities.

The local authority:

  • Must consider the views, feelings and wishes of the child/young person and their parents.
  • Must involve the child/young person and their parents in decisions which affect them.
  • Must make arrangements to provide the child/young person and their parents with the information and support they need to be involved in decision-making.
  • Must develop and publish a Local Offer setting out the support and services available for local children/young people who have SEND.
  • Must, with EHCPs, seek educational advice and information from a child/young person’s school.
  • Must, if the decision to proceed to a statutory assessment is made, meet with the child/young person, parents, school and any other body or individual asked to provide advice and information, in order to agree outcomes and provision using a person-centred, outcome-focused approach.
  • Must review an EHCP within 12 months of issue or the previous review. This review continues to be known as the Annual Review as was the case with Statements of SEN.
  • Must work with local agencies such as Clinical Commissioning Groups to commission services jointly for children/young people with SEND.


  • Should listen and respond to the concerns of children/young people and their parents, and use person-centred approaches.
  • Should ensure that children/young people and their parents are actively involved in decisions from the start.
  • Should provide children/young people and their parents with the information and advice necessary so that they can participate in decision-making.
  • Must cooperate with the local authority in the development of the Local Offer, and must publish on their website an SEN Information Report, with links to the Local Offer(s), which describes how the needs of children/young people with SEND are met in the school. This Information Report must be reviewed at least annually. Interestingly, many schools refer to their Information Report as their “School Offer” to sit alongside the Local Offer. However, I would advise against this because it can lead to, and has led to, confusion over who has responsibility for what.
  • Must provide their local authority with information about all of their pupils who have SEND. This is part of the evidence a local authority will consider when deciding whether to proceed to a statutory assessment of SEND. Schools must provide this advice and information within six weeks of the request.
  • Can be required to convene and hold the review, unless there are exceptional circumstances, and usually do so. The review meeting should be person-centred and focused on outcomes.
  • Must cooperate with their local authority to review the provision available locally. They should also collaborate with other local education providers to explore how different SEND can be most effectively met.

A key role

Schools therefore play a key role in the gathering of advice and information when a local authority is deciding to proceed with a statutory assessment.

What practitioners need to remember, however, is that if this leads to an EHCP then the Plan – a legal document – is “owned” by the local authority, which is responsible for ensuring that the needs of the child/young person are met. Within a school or setting, the governing body/trust, headteacher and senior leadership team, the SENCO and all the teaching staff each have their responsibilities.

The governing body or trust

The governing body or trust should ensure that pupils with SEND engage with school activities alongside their peers who do not have SEND. They must ensure that they appoint a SENCO who is a qualified teacher – remembering that a new-to-role SENCO with less than 12 months’ experience must achieve the National Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordination within three years of their appointment.

Technically, it is the governing body that is responsible for informing parents when special educational provision is made for a pupil, and indeed for obtaining parental permission to include their child on the school’s SEN register.

The headteacher and SLT

It is the responsibility of the headteacher and the senior leadership team to advise the governors or trust of the school’s policies to meet their SEND responsibilities.

Interestingly, and in contrast with the requirement to have an SEN Information Report, there is no legal duty for a school to have an SEND Policy. Most schools and settings do of course – there is just no requirement for them to do so.

The headteacher should also review progress made by pupils with SEND as a core part of the performance management and professional development of all teaching staff. Related to this, and often a serious bone of contention in a school, the headteacher should ensure that the SENCO has sufficient time and resources to fulfil their role. This should include sufficient administrative support.


Being a SENCO is a lonely role by definition, and one which has shifted significantly since the introduction of the Code: a SENCO has an obligation to focus on the strategic development of SEND policy and provision in the school while also having day-to-day responsibility for SEND provision in practice, coordinating this aspect of what the school offers for its pupils.

This more strategic role means that a SENCO should provide professional guidance and advice to all staff, as well as working closely in partnership with staff, parents and other agencies. This can include guiding and advising staff on the graduated approach and the practicalities of what this means in terms of provision for a pupil.

A SENCO’s advice should be of two kinds: generic in terms of how to meet a particular kind of SEN, and specific in terms of bespoke guidance for each individual child. To do this effectively, with maximum outcomes for each child, a SENCO should ensure that all records of and information about pupils with SEND are up-to-date.


Of course, since the introduction of the Teachers’ Standards in 2012, teachers are discretely responsible and accountable for the progress and development of all pupils in their class, including all pupils with SEND.

And this should be done primarily through high-quality teaching, differentiated for the individuals in each class.
This is the daily experience of each child in school: the high-quality provision in place for them – something which is dependent on governors being clear on their responsibilities, on the headteacher and senior leadership team giving SEND the high profile and support it needs, and on the SENCO understanding and being able to meet the strategic challenges of their role, being the leader the Code of Practice expects them to be.

  • Garry Freeman is director of inclusion and SENCO at Guiseley School in Leeds. Find him @GS_gfreeman. You can read Garry’s previous best practice articles for SecEd via

Further information


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin