Identifying and assessing learners’ needs

Identifying and assessing learners’ needs

To give children and young people the support they need, it’s important to understand what’s affecting their learning.

In this section we’ll look at:

  • why children and young people might need additional support for learning
  • your responsibilities to identify and understand your learners’ needs

If you would like a refresher on what we mean by additional support needs, take a look at our page on What is additional support for learning?

Reasons why children and young people might need support

There are many reasons why children and young people might need support with their learning. Although it is not possible to list all the reasons why learners might need additional support, there are four broad categories:

Their learning environment may not be suitable for them

For example:

  • The way the classroom is laid out
  • The materials being used
  • The way a subject is being taught
  • What is being taught

Family circumstances are affecting their ability to learn

For example:

  • Family breakdown
  • Being care experienced
  • Homelessness or insecure housing
  • Being a young carer

They are disabled or have a health condition

For example:

  • Motor or sensory impairments
  • Language impairment
  • Learning disabilities
  • Autism
  • Mental health problems

They are experiencing social or emotional problems

For example:

  • Bullying
  • Racial discrimination
  • Interrupted attendance and learning
  • Drug or alcohol misuse.

In many cases, children and young people can have multiple interacting factors that lead to them needing some extra help at school or nursery.

What should I do to identify my learners’ support needs?

As someone who works in a school or nursery, you have a responsibility to identify which of your learners are not fully benefiting from their education. You should involve children and young people throughout the process of identifying and assessing their needs.

Through getting to know your learners you’ll see what they do well and what they find more difficult. You should ask them what would help them to get the most from their learning.

You don’t have to do this in isolation, and there are many people you can speak to:

  • Parents or carers will often be able to tell you what is going on for their child at home, share strategies they use for supporting their child, and how their child is feeling about school.
  • Your colleagues may also have noticed some difficulties a child or young person is experiencing, or have experience you can draw from.
  • In particular, you may find it helpful to speak to support for learning specialists or pastoral care staff in your school or nursery. They may, in turn, ask for help from other professionals, like an educational psychologist or health professional.

You can find contact details on our website for your local authority’s additional support for learning team .

Assessing learners’ support needs

Often understanding children and young people’s support needs happens as part of day-to-day assessments and observations in the classroom. You may notice that a learner is having difficulty with some aspects of their learning, or that their behaviour has changed.

Sometimes, when a child or young person has a specific difficulty, more targeted assessments may be needed. If you think a learner may need a more specialised assessment, it is best to speak to the person responsible for support for learning in your school.

Some assessments may be done by school staff. For example, a support for learning specialist might carry out an assessment for dyslexia.

Other assessments might need input from other professionals, such as an educational psychologist, occupational therapist, speech and language therapist or autism specialist.

Remember – if you have concerns about a child or young person’s learning, it’s important to involve them, and their family, from the beginning and throughout the process. You can ask them if they share any concerns you have, and whether they would like the nursery or school to request an assessment on their behalf.

Parents and carers, and most children aged 12 years and older, have the right to request an assessment of their needs. This means if the nursery or school do not believe an assessment is needed, but the child or family would like one, they can request this directly themselves. Our factsheet for parents and carers on Identifying and assessing your child’s needs  explains how they can do this.

What if we are waiting for an assessment to take place?

It’s not unusual for children and young people to face long waiting lists for a formal assessment of their needs. Waiting times have also worsened in many areas due to covid, as services are still working through a backlog of referrals.

It’s important to remember that learners do not need a diagnosis to have a right to support. This means you do not need to wait for a formal assessment to start supporting a child or young person. You can work with them, their family and those supporting them to discuss:

  • the areas they are struggling with
  • what supports or adaptions you can try to see if that helps them
  • some targets or goals to help you review if the support is meeting their individual needs.  

A child or young person’s support should be kept under regular review. For example, support should be reviewed if a learner is still struggling with their learning despite certain supports already being in place for them. Similarly, if a child receives a report or diagnosis following a formal assessment, it is important to review their support to take account of any new information.

Quick Tips

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Module: Identifying learners’ additional support needs

15-30 minute module on identifying learners’ additional support needs.

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Still have questions about additional support for learning?

Our Helpline staff can help.

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