The descriptor documents provide a guide to the support that educational establishments should provide to children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities.

The descriptors fulfil a DfE requirement for each local authority to explain the special educational provision it expects to be made from within a mainstream school’s or early years setting’s budget.

This makes explicit the provision for learners requiring support from within the educational establishment without recourse to an education health and care assessment.

This guidance is important to schools because:

  • all Northamptonshire children attending an early years setting or a mainstream school should have the same minimum entitlement to provision for special educational needs
  • setting, school and local authority staff need a joint understanding to support their dialogue about individual children
  • it supports the local authority in its statutory duty to monitor and evaluate effectiveness of special educational needs provision
  • it provides the threshold for access to high needs funding and/or eligibility for statutory assessment

How should they be used?

This should be viewed as good practice guidance which settings and schools are expected to work towards.

Schools and settings will be expected to have referred to these SEND descriptors when making provision from the devolved schools block of funding or notional SEND from early years block funding. Schools and early years settings must have evidence that the recommended provision for learners in different categories of special educational need has been made or attempted, prior to application for high needs funding.

It will not be necessary to evidence all of the recommended interventions but evidence of support from schools' or settings' delegated budget or notional SEN presented to the panel (see below) must be :

  • educationally justified as having been likely to lead to accelerated progress
  • sustained
  • costed 

The complete Descriptors document (PDF format 1792 KB) that was amended in Dec 2014 is still available; please note that it is not expected to be read in its entirety.

The following options enable users to search by education type from Early Years to Further Education. Select the appropriate link for the special educational needs type you are investigating. The descriptors can then be selected for AWPU (normal school entitlement), SEN Support using delegated SEN funding, and High Needs Funding support.

The leading SENCOs have provided links and guidance for teachers and education providers to use which are not in the original document (see above) and these can be added to as needed. Using the filtering system will make it simpler to find information, but you will need to download each section for every search that you make. If you have links or documents that you would like to share with other SENCOs, please get in touch with the Leading SENCOs via the teaching schools alliances or the Local Offer team ( and the links and documents can be added.

Download the descriptors documents

 Primary SEND descriptors

 Secondary SEND descriptors

 Early years SEND descriptors