What is SEN?

Defining Special Educational Needs


According to the policy brief “Support for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN)” developed by RAND Europe for the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, “despite the universally accepted importance of supporting children with SEN, there is no common agreement in Europe of what constitutes special needs in education”. The use of a commonly agreed definition across the EU is hindered on one hand by the absence of a harmonised system of classification for individual learning difficulties, on the other hand by the differences across Europe in the labels used to categorise children with SEN, and the underpinned social understandings.

Anyway, most definitions include a broad spectrum of conditions related to physical, mental, cognitive and educational impairments. Among these, the Network of Experts in Social Sciences of Education and training (NESSE) makes a distinction between normative and non-normative difficulties: physical and sensory difficulties are considered to fall in normative category, where broad agreement on what constitutes normal functioning and objective assessment measures are available; non-normative difficulties are intended as the type of difficulties where there is less agreement about normal functioning and where professional views plays a relevant part in identification, such as learning difficulties including dyslexia.


For the purpose of this project, we consider focusing on specific SEN – special educational needs, the non-normative difficulties and specifically those one that can be approached directly by teachers, with appropriate training and tools: