SEN language we should all use

Union Jack Stars & Stripes

Did you know spellings were not standardised in America until 1906? Even then, it took an act of Congress to do it.

What took those Yanks so long?!

But hold on!

Before you cast further judgment on my homeland (I’m American-British), please consider that Old Blighty didn’t standardise her spellings until two years later in 1908.

Who’s casting judgment now?!

Regardless of who was first, we now at least have standard spellings in our respective versions of "English".

When I moved to Britain in 2007, I quickly realised that in order to garner professional respect amongst my peers (and so not to confuse my Year 5 pupils), that I would have to spell, speak and act The British Way.

This included things like saying trousers instead of pants, queuing (sometimes for reasons unknown), supporting a football club (Liverpool), talking about the weather (more rain), and making cups of tea for my TAs - just to name a few).

And while my British spellings have improved over the years, my spoken language and mannerisms still have some catching up to do.

(For a pictorial journey through our terminological, spelling and language differences, have a look here (opens in pop-up window))

SEN: Same but different

Having a standardised language ensures we all say and mean the same thing. If you were to read through multiple EHCPs written by different authors, you might encounter different terms with similar meanings

  • gross motor skills - coordination difficulties - developmental coordination delay - dyspraxia (or dyspraxic tendencies)

  • specific learning difficulties (SpLD) in reading or writing - dyslexia (or in maths – dyscalculia)

  • emergent - acquisition - development, etc

  • proficient - fluent - regularly - confident, etc

  • mastered - adaptable - generalise, etc

SEN language we should all be using

The four terms above ought to be standard for how we talk about, write, or report on student progress, attainment and achievement. Each have measurable proficiency levels and in future weeks, we will look at various interventions for each. The four terms are useful for:

  1. Describing the stage/phase of development

  2. Measuring progress, and attainment in a set of skills (literacy, maths, behaviour, etc.)

  3. Matching pupils to correct interventions so they can make the best gains possible

Here is a brief description for what each might look like with your pupils:

You may have seen these terms referred to as the instructional hierarchy at some point (Haring & Eaton, 1978).

Next week we will look specifically at Acquisition, including interventions to support students in various skills.


Haring, N.G., Lovitt, T.C., Eaton, M.D., & Hansen, C.L. (1978). The fourth R: Research in the classroom. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co.