Nurseries, schools and colleges have a range of legal duties to support their pupils.

They have legal duties to support children and young people with special educational needs (SEN), however those with medical needs should also be supported. All settings must make sure they do not treat children and young people worse than others, or badly, because of their disability. They must also change what they do (or were planning to do) to make sure a disabled child or young person is not disadvantaged.

There are many different types of early years settings, schools or colleges which a child or young person can attend. Our page on choosing a school or college has more information about the different types of setting (such as mainstream or special).

Some of the information in this section relates to all nurseries (and other early years settings), schools and colleges (and other post-16 institutions). Some duties only apply to certain types of setting, and we set this out below.

SEN Support

Nurseries, schools and colleges should identify and support children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities.

Children and young people in mainstream settings may be supported from within the school or other setting’s own resources. This means your child, or you as a young person, receive special educational provision (additional help or support) but without an education, health and care plan (known as an EHC plan). This additional support is called SEN Support.

The nursery, school or college should record what:

  • SEN they have identified your child, or you as a young person, as having
  • outcomes they expect to be achieved by your child, or you, and
  • provision is being put in place to reach those outcomes.

This should be written down in an SEN Support record. For more information on what SEN Support looks like in nursery, school and college, see our FAQs page.

One of the key duties is for the nursery, school or college to use their ‘best endeavours’ to support children and young people with SEN. This means doing everything that could reasonably be expected of them. This duty applies to mainstream settings and alternative provision settings, but not special settings or independent schools.

If your child’s mainstream school cannot meet your child’s needs, or your college cannot meet your needs, then they should request an EHC needs assessment. This might be because they don’t have the expertise or funding to identify those needs fully or to identify the provision or support required. It could also be because school knows what your child’s needs are, or college knows your needs, but they cannot make the necessary provision from their own resources.

If the setting requests an EHC needs assessment, your local authority (LA) must agree to carry it out if there is evidence to show that:

  • the child or young person has or may have SEN, and
  • that they may need support through an EHC plan (because the setting cannot provide the support they need)

You can request an EHC needs assessment for your child yourself if you want to. If you are a young person, you can also request an assessment for yourself. After the assessment, your LA may issue an EHC plan.

The Code of Practice

The SEN and Disability Code of Practice 2015 (known as the Code) contains guidance on what nurseries, schools and colleges should be doing to identify and support children and young people with SEN. The Code applies to all settings except independent schools.

Nurseries, schools and colleges must “have regard” to the Code. This means that they should do what it says or be able to explain why they have not done so, and what alternative has been put in place instead.

Inclusive education

All children and young people have the right to an inclusive education in a mainstream school or college with their typically developing peers if they want it. This includes being included in the activities of the school.

Mainstream schools and maintained nursery schools (but not FE institutions) must make sure that children with SEN engage in the activities of the school together with children who do not have special educational needs.

The school can only exclude them from activities if:

  • it is not reasonably practicable for them to be included
  • being included would prevent them from receiving the support they need, or
  • being included would prevent the efficient education of other children or the efficient use of resources.

These conditions are set out in law (section 35 of the Children and Families Act 2014). Therefore a child can only be excluded from activities if one or more of these conditions applies.

The Equality Act 2010 is also useful if your disabled child is, or you as a disabled young person are, being excluded from activities. This exclusion could amount to disability discrimination.

Inclusion is a fundamental principle underpinning the Code, which can be seen from paragraphs 1.24 onwards.

Schools, education and training providers are required to have Accessibility Plans outlining how they intend to make their setting more accessible for disabled pupils. You can find out more information on this on Alliance for Inclusive Education’s (ALLFIE) website.

If a lack of resources is a barrier to inclusion then this may be evidence that more or better provision is required, for example through the issuing of an EHC plan or by changes to an existing EHC plan.


If your child attends a maintained school, an academy or a pupil referral unit and has a medical condition, the governing body/proprietor must make arrangements to support your child at school.

Statutory guidance explains to schools, parents and carers how this duty should be carried out. You can check this guidance to see if your school is meeting its duties and find out more about this on our website.  

Independent schools: Most of these duties (aside from those arising under the Equality Act 2010) do not apply to fully independent schools and other institutions. For more information, see our FAQ on independent schools.

Making a complaint

If your school or college is not complying with its legal duties, there are a number of ways in which you can challenge this.

If you haven’t been able to find the answer to your question on this page, see our FAQs.