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Decoding the Jargon

There is a lot of jargon used in education and when you don’t know what a term means, it can be hard to stop a meeting in its tracks and ask. We’ve gathered together as many acronyms and jargon words as we can think of here and tried to put them in the order that they would usually come up. Let us know in the comments when you come across new ones we need to add:

SEN – Special Education Needs. This basically means any need a child might have that is affecting their ability to cope in school and is more than what the average child is dealing with. We will all have phases in our lives where things get tough, and at times like this our ability to concentrate or stay calm might drop off. Generally what we need is some short term support and time to recover. Special educational needs are less about a passing crisis and more likely to be something that will stay in play throughout our time in education.

SEMH – Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs. Some special educational needs fall into the category of SEMH. Professionals often use SEMH as a quick way to say ‘I think this child is struggling because of their feelings/because of their social skills/because of something that is upsetting them’

Just to confuse matters, we all use different terms to talk about the rest of special educational needs, the ones that aren’t social, emotional or mental health. You might hear them being called Learning Difficulties, Learning Needs, Cognitive Difficulties or Cognitive Needs. The simplest way to think about the two categories is to think about dyslexia. Most of us are familiar with dyslexia and understand that it is something that starts in the brain and makes it harder for a person to make sense of letters on the page, which gets in the way of their reading and writing. It doesn’t matter if you love school, have loads of friends and a teacher you adore, none of these things will make your dyslexia go away.

Lots of children have needs in both categories, you don’t have to be one or the other. They exist so that we can think clearly about what kind of help will make a difference. Everyone tends to be low, tired and stressed when they are struggling at school, but if the underlying problem is a learning need, then helping sort out that learning need will probably make everything else much easier. If the underlying problem is not being able to figure out how everyone else is making friends and you aren’t, then extra support with your reading isn’t going to make that better.

Pastoral Support – We use the word pastoral to talk about the support we give children with their social, emotional and mental health needs. It’s a funny word and difficult to define. Maybe the closest similar word we can use would be nurture. Pastoral support is aimed at nurturing your child, helping them feel safe, helping them they feel like they belong.

EBSA – Emotionally Based School Avoidance. This means a child is struggling to come into school, not because they are naughty or because their parents aren’t looking after them properly, but because something is going on for them emotionally that is creating a barrier.

SENCo – Special Educational Needs Coordinator. This is the member of staff in a school whose job is to oversee how the school is supporting all of the children who have special educational needs. They should be able to answer questions and point you in the right direction if you feel your child needs more help than they are receiving.

SEN Caseworker – Every council has a team of people working to support children with special educational needs. These people are called SEN workers or SEN caseworkers. They don’t work for your school, they work for your local authority. Your school SENCo should be able to tell you if your child has a named SEN worker.

SEN Family Worker – Dorset council has specialist family workers who have been set aside just to work with children with special educational needs and their families. This is because they recognise that while parenting itself is tough enough, parents of children with special educational needs will often have to learn a whole new set of skills to help their kids. SEN family workers will work directly with you and your child and often come into your home to do this. For example they might show you how to put together a visual timetable for your child. If you think you need this type of support, your school SENCo can make a referral for you.

EHC Assessment, EHCP or EHC Plan – Education and Health Care Plans. If a child has special educational needs, and the school has already tried using all the support they can access and hasn’t been able to meet that child’s needs, they need to explore what more help might be needed. They do this by contacting the council’s Special Educational Needs Team to ask for an assessment of the child’s education and health care needs.
When that assessment is completed, if the team have found that the child does need more, they will work with you and the school to put together an EHCP. This plan outlines what will be done to help your child moving forward. It can come with extra funding to help the school organise this support, but this is not automatic. This is a long and complicated process that you can learn more about here

If your school is reluctant to ask for an assessment then it is important that you sit down with them to try and understand why. If you aren’t satisfied, you do have the option of asking for an assessment yourself. You can find out more about how to do this here

Specialist Provision – This usually means a physical place where children can go to for their education that is something different to a mainstream school. You might have heard of Mountjoy, Westfield and Coombe House, they are all local specialist provisions in Dorset. You cannot apply for a place in one of these schools in the same way you would apply for a mainstream place. If you think your child may need a specialist provision, you and your SENCo need to apply for an Education and Health Care assessment. If your child already has an EHCP, you and your SENCo need to arrange a review meeting to discuss naming a new school for your child.

Alternative Provision – This covers a range of different services that schools might arrange for a child when the school itself does not have everything they need to meet a child’s needs. The government breaks these down into three categories;

Green Sparks is a tier one service. We can offer a service as part of a programme of alternative provision, but we can’t be the only thing a child is doing educationally. We are offering specialist pastoral support, not formal education. Sometimes a child has completely dropped out of education when we start work with them. Even then, the plan will be for us to act as a stepping stone back into education, not to be a substitute for education. Alternative provision is not the only service we offer, we also have other ways of working with children and schools
If you think your child may need alternative provision, you and your SENCo need to talk this through. Alternative provision is usually funded through an EHCP, so it is also worth involving your SEN Caseworker with those conversations.

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