What are Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)?

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities or ‘SEND’ has a legal definition, referring to children who have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn or access education than most children of the same age.

If your child has a special need, they may need extra help in a range of areas, for example:

  • school work
  • reading, writing, number work or understanding information
  • expressing themselves or understanding what others are saying
  • making friends or relating to adults
  • behaving properly at school
  • organising themselves
  • some kind of sensory or physical needs which may affect them in school

SEND Guidance

Parents can find guidance information and guidance on the legal requirements for local authorities, health bodies, schools and colleges in the SEND Code of Practice which covers the SEND system for children and young people aged 0 to 25 in England.

Section 2.23 directs parents in the Armed Forces to the Education Advisory Team, formerly known as CEAS, for further support and guidance.


In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, terminology may be slightly different.  In Scotland they refer to ‘Additional Support Needs (ASN)’ for instance and in Wales they refer to ‘Additional Learning Needs’.  Our comparison table gives details and links to the different codes of practice.

Where to go for SEND help and advice

The Education Advisory Team (EAT) is a great source of information and help. They provide advice and guidance for Service personnel and families regarding education and education-related issues, such as Special Educational Needs. See guidance in this SEND factsheet and FAQs for families moving back to the UK with children with SEND.

EAT has specialists able to offer advice and help when dealing with assessments, EHCPs in England, Service Children’s Assessment of Need (SCAN) or the devolved administration’s equivalents.  They can advise on the sometimes challenging and complex process of moving across areas with these. Contact them at – [email protected]

Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA)

IPSEA is the leading charity in the field of SEND law in England, and they provide free and independent legal advice and support to families of children and young people with SEND.

Visit website >

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Local Offer

Local Authority websites provide information on the support services they think are available in their local area to support children and young people with SEND and their families on the ‘Local Offer’ webpages. Services listed may be provided by the Government, NHS, local authority, charities, businesses or other organisations. It is important to note that being listed in the Local Offer does not necessarily mean the service is endorsed or recommended by the council and it is important to do your own research to make sure the services are suitable for your child’s needs. Visit the Local Offer page of your local authority website to find out what support is available in your area.

Register the need with the RAF

If your child has special educational needs and disabilities then you are strongly advised to register with the EAT. Ensuring that EAT and the RAF are fully aware of your family’s circumstances will mean they can help more efficiently  – for instance, with the transfer process across local authorities and Career Managers can take these needs into account.

Help with disabilities

If your child has a disability, the SSAFA Forces and Additional Needs Forum page for families with special needs and disabilities is very helpful.

Independent information sources

Outside of sources specifically for defence, parents can find advice and guidance from independent advice services – there are many available but here are a few:

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support (SENDIAS) Service

In England, there is a SENDIAS service in every local authority which can provide free, impartial and confidential information, advice and support to parents and carers of children with SEND. SENDIAS services can support children, young people and their families with matters such as: Education Health and Care Plan Needs Assessments; school exclusions; supporting conversations with a school or local authority; representation at SEND tribunals. Visit your local authority website to find out about the SENDIAS Service in your local area.

SEND support overseas

If you are based overseas in a Defence Children Services (DCS) you can access support and guidance relating to SEND directly through the school. Alternatively, the Overseas Education and Supportability Team (OEST) can signpost to the right person. The OEST can be contacted via email at: [email protected].

If you are based overseas at a non-DCS location (excluding USA, Australia and New Zealand), the MOD Virtual School Head Teacher can offer support and advice to Service personnel and families with queries or concerns about SEND. You can contact the MOD Virtual School to request support via email at: [email protected].

If you are based overseas in the USA, Australia or New Zealand, you can access support and guidance relating to SEND through the Overseas Education and Supportability Team (OEST). The OEST can be contacted via email at: [email protected].

For more information go to our Overseas Education pages > 

Moving back to the UK?

Moving back to the UK from your overseas posting when you have children with SEND can add to the worry and anxiety. For answers to common questions asked by parents who have children with SEND moving back to the UK. Read More>

How we make a difference

We know that many RAF families with children with SEND can face extra challenges with mobility, separation and deployment, with added complexity with transferring Educational and Health care plans (EHCP) and school admissions.

If you have experienced challenges tell us, your lived experience helps us to feedback to the policy makers in this area.

Here are examples where we have had input:

  • Consultation on SEND Review

    In July 2022, the RAF Families Federation (RAFFF) responded to the Department for Education and Department for Health and Social Care’s consultation on the SEND review: right support, right place, right time (gov.uk). When available, the outcome to this consultation will be available here.

  • Duty and Care Report

    In February 2022, the Naval, Army and RAF Families Federations launched the Duty and Care: Armed Forces Family Mobility and Health Care Report, which identifies some of the challenges Service families with SEND may encounter. This report provides practical recommendations to inform and tackle disadvantage as well as improve health outcomes for families required to move frequently due to Service need.

  • Consultation on funding arrangements

    In July 2019, the RAFFF joined forces with the Naval and Army Families Federations to make a joint response to the Department for Education’s call for evidence – ‘Provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and for those who need additional provision: how the financial arrangements work.’

Armed Forces Families Federations response to the Department for Education Call for Evidence