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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre & STEM Ambassadors's online course, Inspiring Young People in STEM: Resources for Activities and Promoting Diversity. Join the course to learn more.

Special educational needs

The first aspect of diversity we will explore is supporting students with special educational needs. Whilst this is a specialist area, and we cannot cover all learning difficulties or disabilities in detail, the next few steps aim to introduce you to thinking about students with additional needs.

The UK definition for special educational needs (SEN) states:

“A child or young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.”

In your country, you may have different terminology and different definitions of SEN. For example, in Wales, the term Additional Learning Needs (ALN), is also being used for SEN.

Young people with special educational needs

The following extract is from the Welsh Assembly Government’s guide for parents of SEN children.

Some children find learning easier than others. If a child has difficulties in learning, s/he may have special educational needs. The majority of children with special educational needs are educated successfully within their local mainstream school.

Members of an audience who have SEN may unintentionally be excluded from fully engaging by the activity you have chosen and the lack of adjustments you have made.

Special educational needs could mean that a child has difficulties with:

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


When you volunteer to run an activity at a school, you may have young people with special educational needs in the audience under any of these circumstances:

  • a small number of SEN students within a mainstream class
  • a class of SEN students within a mainstream school
  • a class in a special school where all students have SEN that aren’t necessarily the same
  • mixed group of young people in a community-based organisation

Crucially, special educational needs are likely to differ between students, even with the same impairment. Therefore, we are not expecting you to be able to address SEN on your own, but prompt you to discuss SEN with educators or group leaders you volunteer with.

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This article is from the free online course:

Inspiring Young People in STEM: Resources for Activities and Promoting Diversity

National STEM Learning Centre