SEND schools and abbreviations

At Axcis, our focus is on special educational needs and disabilities. Here is an overview of the way the SEND school system is organised in the UK, and the most popular SEND abbreviations you are likely to come across.

Mainstream Schools and Specialist Units

Many SEND students are educated within a mainstream school setting. Some may attend all the lessons which other mainstream students attend, but with the support of an LSA in the classroom. Some may be withdrawn from lessons for some one to one teaching sessions during the day, and some students may attend a mainstream school, but work in a specialist class or unit which forms part of that school on a full-time basis.

For example, some schools may have a HI unit with a specialist teacher who can use BSL. Students may attend mainstream classes some of the time, as well as specialist classes in the unit as part of their usual weekly school timetable. During their time in mainstream classes, teachers will be aware of their disability and must cater for this and ensure the class is still accessible to them. This may be through the support of an LSA in the classroom, additional equipment to aid hearing or it could be as simple as placing the student at the front of the class so they can lip read, and making sure that the teachers face is visible to them at all times.

Special Schools

Where a mainstream school place is either unavailable or unsuitable for a child with additional needs, they may be placed within a specialist school. Special schools may be private or state-maintained, and can specialise in any type of special need. In general, we find that the schools we work with are loosely divided into the following categories:

SEMH/EBD/BESD/PRU/Young Offenders Units

Schools or specialist units with any of these titles or specialisms will cater for students who tend towards difficult or confrontational behaviour. Although under the SEND legislation of 2014, behaviour is no longer considered a special need, the underlying conditions a child may have often lead to challenging behaviour in these settings. If you are interested in working within these types of school or unit, you should be a competent behaviour manager and able to handle students who are prone to verbal or physical outbursts. Axcis offer Team Teach training, which is specialist training for those wanting to gain an advanced behaviour management qualification. Class sizes in this setting are often small, and groups are usually well supported by additional staff in the classroom.

MLD Schools

Moderate learning difficulties schools specialise in educating students with attainment significantly below expected levels in most areas of the curriculum, despite appropriate interventions.  Their needs will not be able to be met by normal differentiation and the flexibilities of the National Curriculum in a mainstream school. Pupils with moderate learning difficulties have much greater difficulty than their peers in acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills and in understanding concepts.  They may also have associated speech and language delay, low self-esteem, low levels of concentration and under-developed social skills. MLD schools generally have smaller class sizes than mainstream primary and secondary schools (10 to 20 a class in general rather than around 30). Students will also be given more intensive support and may study fewer subjects in order to help them gain a range of useful qualifications by the end of their time at school, but will often still study the same subjects and qualifications as those students of the same age in a mainstream primary or secondary school.

SLD Schools

Severe learning difficulties schools specialise in educating students with significant restrictions in relation to their cognitive and/or intellectual capacities. These can co-exist with physical, sensory, social and/or emotional difficulties – making it difficult for a child with SLD to follow the school curriculum without substantial support. Children with SLD may also use symbols, or signing such as Makaton to help with communication. A child with SLD will require support in gaining independence and/or self-help and social skills and it is likely that most areas of academic achievement will be affected with attainment likely to remain below level 1 of the National Curriculum. Class sizes in SLD schools are usually very small, and students receive intensive support, dependent on their needs. If you are working as a TA or LSA in this school setting, it is likely that you will be asked to assist with personal care, which may include feeding and toileting assistance.

PMLD Schools

Profound and multiple learning difficulties schools will generally cater for students with pronounced developmental delay and/or significant physical and sensory impairments. Most students with profound and multiple disabilities will have physical disabilities and will be unable to walk and have to use a wheelchair. They may have hearing and sight problems. They will communicate non-verbally, that is, they will not speak or if they do, will use only a few words. Some may use signs and symbols such as Makaton or PECs, or look and point to what they want. Class sizes in PMLD schools are very small, and the attainment goals for students are often very basic and geared towards helping promote the quality of life for that student. Staff interested in working in PMLD schools could benefit from experience in a care setting.

ASD Schools

Autism Spectrum Disorder schools cater specifically for students with Autism. At the more moderate end of the spectrum, students may be considered to have Asperger syndrome. Such students are usually best placed either within a mainstream school, where they can often access a mainstream curriculum with little or no additional support, or within an MLD school. Specialist ASD schools will usually cater for students who sit within the more severe end of the spectrum. Students with severe autism may also be given places at SLD or PMLD schools if no place within an autism specialist school is available. Axcis has a professional partnership with the National Autistic Society and their website provides some excellent additional resources for those wanting to work in ASD schools. The nature of the condition means that students may exhibit a huge range of different behaviours and symptoms – as such it is recommended that staff looking to work in such schools have at least a basic understanding of the condition and how to support ASD students. Axcis runs Autism Awareness courses on a regular basis to give staff additional support and training for working in this area.

Shortage of school places

The current shortage of school places in the UK means that students may often find that a place in a school which caters specifically for their particular SEND is not available. This can result in them being placed in an alternative specialist school. For example, ASD and BESD students may sometimes be placed within an MLD school. As long as the school can provide adequate support for such students, their placement in this environment can still be successful. This is why, at Axcis, we may look for specialist LSA or TA staff to work one to one or in small groups with BESD or ASD students in an MLD school setting.

Useful SEND abbreviations 

The following list is a guide to the most used SEND abbreviations. If you are planning to come to the UK to teach in a special needs setting, and you’re not already familiar with these, it might be useful to bookmark this page!

  • AR – Annual Review (Statement – Nb – Statements are being phased out in line with new SEND legislation)
  • AIO – Attendance Improvement Officer (formally Educational Welfare Officer)
  • AOS – Autism Outreach Service
  • BESD – Behavioural, Emotional, Social Difficulties (being replaced by SEMH under new legislation)
  • BSL – British Sign Language
  • CAF Team– Common Assessment Framework Team
  • CYPS – Children & Young People’s Services
  • DfE – Department for Education
  • EHCP – Education, Health and Care Plan (replacing statements)
  • EP – Educational Psychologist
  • FE/HE – Further Education/Higher Education
  • HI – Hearing Impaired
  • IPS – Independent Parental Supporter
  • IEP – Individual Education Plan
  • LA – Local Authority
  • LSA – Learning Support Assistant
  • MLD – Moderate Learning Difficulties
  • OFSTED – Office for Standards and Education
  • PMLD – Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties
  • PPO – Parent Partnership Officer
  • PRU – Pupil Referral Unit (short stay school)
  • SATS – Standard Assessment Tests
  • SEND – Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
  • SENA – Special Educational Needs Assessment Service
  • SENCO – Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator
  • SENDIST – Special Educational Needs & Disability Tribunal
  • SLD – Severe Learning Difficulties
  • SEMH – Social, Emotional and Mental Health (replacing BESD under 2014 legislation)
  • SpLD – Specific Learning Difficulties
  • STS – Specialist Teaching Service
  • TA – Teaching Assistant
  • VI – Visually Impaired

Are you seeking SEND work or staff?

If you’re looking for a SEND teaching or support job in England or Wales, why not register with Axcis, the SEND recruitment specialists? Or perhaps you need to recruit staff for your school or provision? If so, why not take a look at the Axcis Website, or get in touch today to find out how we can help?


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