Special Education Needs/Disabilities (SEND) or bilingual?

Before placing a child for whom English is an additional language on the SEND register, please bear in mind the following:

A child or young person does not have a learning difficulty or disability solely because the language (or form of language) in which he or she is or will be taught is different from a language (or form of language) which is or has been spoken at home.
Children and Families Act 2014 Section 20 (4)


SEND or bilingual?

Lack of English should not be equated with lack of knowledge, skill or understanding. Bilingual learners are no more likely to have special educational needs/disabilities (SEND) than any other pupil.

Bilingual learners acquire social, conversational English quickly so it is important that teachers are not misled by pupils' surface fluency. Some pupils, however, take a long time before they feel confident enough to participate actively in classroom activities and use the English they have learned. A 'silent period' is natural and should not be construed as the child having learning difficulties. Lack of progress may be due to the abstract nature of tasks rather than underlying learning difficulties.

The following should be considered:

  • new arrivals may be going through the 'silent period' whilst they are becoming accustomed to the language and to a new school.
  • they may be adjusting to a more informal system of education, having come from an educational system which relied heavily upon rote learning.
  • they may be slower at understanding lessons and tasks because they are having to translate everything into their first language. They may not have enough time to record the homework which has been set or to complete tasks.
  • they may feel insecure without the support of their friends.
  • the subject contents may be very different, especially in History and English. Some subjects may be completely new.
  • they may have health problems which have not been diagnosed.

Monitoring the pupil during their first term is crucial. Most bilingual children do settle well into their new school but a few children may not respond to the strategies outlined for the silent period; such children are sometimes referred to as 'selectively mute'. This condition may have serious academic, social and emotional repercussions so further advice on 'selective mutism' should be sought.


EMTAS phone lines - term time only

Guidance for schools about EMTAS EAL/SEND visits

HIAS SEN support guidance - document for schools

Steps to take when concerned about progress of EAL pupils

SEND leaflet for parents - Best practice in cases where a child is identified as having an additional need is to make sure parents/carers are kept informed. They may be very unfamiliar with SEND practice and provision in the UK, including some of the terminology used. For this reason, EMTAS have produced a guide for parents, which can be shared with them as needed. Note that it is only available in English.