SEN and dyslexia

What are Special Educational Needs (SEN)?

Special Educational Needs (SEN) is the term used to describe the needs of a child who has a difficulty or disability which makes learning harder for them than for other children their age.

Around one in five children has SEN at some point during their school years. Some children have SEN right through their time in school.

SEN covers a broad spectrum of difficulty or disability. Children may have wide-ranging or specific problems, i.e. a child might have difficulty with one area of learning, such as spelling or calculations. Needs may also be with communication, understanding of language or where a physical disability impacts on their learning.

Having English as a second language is not considered by law to be a SEN.

SEN and dyslexia  - Aspire Tuition Swindon

What if I think my child has SEN?

You know your child better than anyone else. If your child is in school talk to their teacher, earlier rather than later. Ask specific questions about what level they are working at and what is being delivered to help them progress. Parents often report to us that they are confused by the terms used by teachers or feel their concerns are not fully addressed. Ask also to speak to the school's Special Needs and Disability Co-ordinator (SENDCO) or Inclusion Manager, who organises extra help for children with SEN.

Talk to the teacher/SENCO about:

  • why you think your child has SEN – what issues are you hearing about from your child and what are you seeing at home 
  • whether your child learns at the same rate as other children their age 
  • what the school can do to help  
  • what you can do to help 

What will the school do?

Schools are required by law to provide an education for all pupils, regardless of their ability or special needs. Every child's education is equally important. However resources and specialist provision may be stretched and difficult to allocate at the level required to fully help.

If the SENCO and your child's teacher agree that your child has SEN, the school will probably take a 'graduated approach' - this means 'step-by-step'. Ideally the school will offer your child some extra support. Aspire Tuition are happy to communicate with the school about how a joint approach can be put in place to help the student most effectively.

As a parent you have the right to be informed of this provision and any assessment of needs. You should be asked for your views, and your child's views, to be taken into account.

Specific Learning Difficulties 

One of the most common learning difficulties that is found in schools is commonly referred to as ‘Dyslexia’. It is thought to affect around 10% of the population, 4% severely.

Dyslexia is one of a variety of Specific Learning Difficulties (or SpLDs), that affect the way information is learned and processed. It often runs in families and occurs independently of intelligence. It can have a significant impact on education and learning and on the acquisition of literacy skills.

In general, a student may be diagnosed with a SpLD where there is a lack of achievement in relation to age and ability level, or a large discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability. Dyslexia is not only about literacy, although weaknesses in literacy are often the most visible sign.

An untrained person, sometimes even a teacher (most teachers have had little specific training in Special Educational Needs) may label a student with a SpLD as ‘lazy‘, or having a poor attitude or ‘just not trying hard enough’. They may not understand the large discrepancy between reading comprehension and proficiency in verbal ability for example, or between reading level and poor written work. Within a busy classroom the teacher may not be aware of the difficulties a child may have processing information and may be critical of the output of work. Deficiencies in the processing of information can make learning and expressing ideas difficult or impossible tasks.

The effects of a SpLD are manifested differently for different students and range from mild to severe. It may be difficult to diagnose, to determine impact, and to accommodate, especially if there is no specialist teaching capacity.

Unidentified and unsupported dyslexia and related conditions can lead to emotional distress, frustration and poor self-esteem. This can result in a child becoming withdrawn, or more commonly to develop behavioural issues. Schools often focus on the resulting behavioural problems whereas it is vital to address the possible underlying causes.

Diagnosing dyslexia 

  • Many people are aware of some signs that may indicate that a child has dyslexia, for example, reversals of letters and poor spelling. However the definition and therefore the identification is not so simple. Here are some, possibly less well known, signs of dyslexia:
  • Slow processing of verbal and /or written language 
  • Word finding difficulties 
  • Difficulty following instructions – i.e. remembering a list of items asked to collect 
  • Produces messy work with many crossings out and words tried several times 
  • Produces badly set-out written work, doesn’t stay close to the margin 
  • Has poor pencil grip 
  • Pronunciation of words unusual 
  • No expression in reading. Reading may be hesitant and laboured 
  • Comprehension poor; loses the point of a story being read or written 
  • Has difficulty in picking out the most important points from a passage 

Difficulties are not only reflected in reading and writing but can impact other areas significantly


  • Shows confusion with number order, e.g. units, tens, hundreds
  • Is confused by symbols such as + and x signs
  • Has difficulty remembering anything in a sequential order, e.g. tables, days of the week, the alphabet

Personal organisation and behaviour

  • Has difficulty in learning to tell the time 
  • Shows poor time keeping and general awareness 
  • Has poor personal organisation 
  • Has difficulty remembering what day of the week it is, their birth date, seasons of the year, months of the year 
  • Difficulty with concepts – yesterday, today, tomorrow 
  • Is confused by the difference between left and right, up and down, east and west 
  • Employs work avoidance tactics, such as sharpening pencils, looking for books 
  • Seems to ‘dream’, does not seem to listen; is easily distracted 
  • Is the class clown or is disruptive or withdrawn (these are often cries for help) 
  • Is excessively tired due to amount of concentration and effort required 

A child who has a cluster of these difficulties together with some abilities may be dyslexic. 

Gaining a full picture of your child’s needs is essential to determine and help achieve the support they require. A specialist assessment will look at skills beyond just reading and spelling; it will be able to see if memory or visual perception skills, for example, are hampering progress. An experienced assessor will advise on how best to help. 

Most schools are not able to easily provide such specialist assessments or the waiting time may be excessive. Only teachers with additional, specialist qualifications or psychologists can carry out these assessments. 

Andrea Parkinson, Centre Director of Aspire Tuition and our Special Educational Needs and Disability Lead,has over 25 years of experience of working with students with Special Educational Needs within mainstream education. As well as a Master’s Degree in SEN and other Post Graduate qualifications, she has an official Assessment Practising Certificate and able to offer assessment of specific learning difficulties. She is also an Associate Member of the British Dyslexia Association and an accredited Member of the Professional Association of teachers of Students with Specific Learning Difficulties. 

We do not offer simple screenings such as those found online but thorough in-depth assessments with recommendations that can be used by schools to determine suitable support. Additional to this, we provide specialist teaching for students with complex needs, during the school day (sometimes funded by the Local Authority) or after school.