Special Educational Needs and Disabilities MA/ Postgraduate Diploma/ Postgraduate Certificate

The Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) programme is designed for educational and health practitioners that work with, or have an interest in working with, children identified as having special educational needs and disabilities. It provides opportunities for participants to reflect on their practice, to critique the conceptualisation of disability within culture and society, and to be analytical as to SEND practices and policies.

This course is internationally focused, and examines SEND practices around the world. Students will, however, be given opportunities to experience UK schools and to engage in research at both the UK and international level.

Awards available on the SEND programme 
PG Cert – 3 modules (60 credits at M Level)
PGDip – 6 modules (120 credits at M Level)
MA – 6 modules plus a 15,000 word dissertation (180 credits at M Level)

pdficonsmall Download a summary of the course details (PDF, 149KB)

Course fact file

Type of Course: Taught

Study Options: Full time

Duration: MA - 1 year; PGDiploma - 1 year; PGCert - 1 year

Start date: September


The Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) programme will enable you to deepen and extend your knowledge and understanding of educational and social theories which are related to working with children and young people with a range of special educational and individual learning needs. 
The programme utilises lectures, seminars, tutorials, school visits, practical tasks, and discussions. Lectures and seminars are facilitatedby academics who are leaders in research in the field of SEND.

The programme has been designed to allow opportunities for individualisation of content to ensure that it is relevant to your professional and personal needs. As a student on the programme,  you will be expected to be self-directed in your learning, and propose projects that can be practical, theoretical, or both. If you choose to pursue the MA award, you will have the opportunity to design and implement research that will allow you to gain skills in research design and methodology.

This programme is designed to supplement professionals already working in the field, or those seeking a general introduction to topics within special educational needs and disabilities. In general, this includes educators already working with students with special educational needs and disabilities, support workers in places such as a university or workplace disability service unit, a social worker or nurse providing care for persons with disabilities, someone working for a non-governmental organization dealing with disabilities issues, or a staff member of a Ministry of Education or Ministry of Health, amongst other things. This programme is notintended to be a training programme for Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs), nor will it provide specific teacher training to directly work with students with disabilities in education or health settings.

If you are interested in a part-time, distance learning programme, please see our Inclusion and Special Educational Needscourse.

The Department of Disability Inclusion and Special Needs (DISN) within the School of Education also has a number of other courses relating to special education that provide more specific training for those with limited initial experience that seek to work directly in the field following university training. For more of a speciality focus, there is also a MA course in Management of Special Education in Developing Countries that is offered in the Department of Education and Social Justice (ESJ).

To help you decide which level of award you need to apply for, please view the Level of awards table (PDF). This table provides an overview of the different awards, modules and credits needed to achieve the Postgraduate certificate (PGCert); Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) or Masters (MA) qualification.


Special Educational Needs and Disabilities: Analysing Research

Semester 1

Compulsory for MA/PGDip/PGCert

20 credits

This compulsory module is primarily concerned with developing your understanding of the underlying concepts which relate to children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. You will learn to identify, through examination of current research and literature, aspects of relevant developments in theory and practice. Specific topics of research, linked to practice, which reflect current educational / SEND issues will be identified. e.g: 

  • Theoretical, philosophical and historical perspectives related to research in SEND 
  • Special educational needs in the UK 
  • What works in Special Education?


Assessment is by a 4,000 word assignment.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities: Evaluating Practice

Semester 1

Compulsory for MA/PGDip/PGCert

20 credits.

This compulsory module will develop your evaluative skills related to the quality of education and life for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Specific topics for reflection will be identified for analysis and discussion and these will relate to current educational / SEND issues. You will also develop your understanding and critical appraisal of current literature relating to evaluating concepts, practice and theories. You will also consider the principles and practicalities related to policies, research and provision that will improve standards for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities for example:

  • The practicalities of identifying and assessing SEND 
  • Families and inclusion in the community 
  • Different approaches to SEND in practice


Assessment is by submission of a 4,000 word assignment.

Practitioner inquiry in Education (PIE)

Semester 1

Compulsory for MA optional for PGDip.

20 credits

This module will focus upon research design and methods in order to prepare students to undertake research or investigation into aspects of practice in the field of education and related SEND. If you are a full time student who is either not currently practicing or is yet to practice you can still focus on research which can help practice, because after all, education is essentially a practical activity. The main criteria for selecting a topic is that it is broadly relevant to the field of education. The topic and the dissertation supervisor will be agreed in discussion with the programme leader. 


The assessed work for this module is a 4,000 word assignment which takes the form of a proposal for the research that is at the centre of your dissertation. You are required to demonstrate knowledge and understanding in carrying out a small scale study.

Practice based Research

Semester 2

Compulsory for MA/PGDip

(Dependent on successfully obtaining a DBS check, which will be arranged by Admissions and for which a small fee will be payable. Any student without an enhanced DBS will take a Special Studies module as an alternative).

20 credits

This compulsory module will provide a practice based opportunity for you to apply the learning and skills you have acquired. Students will be paired with a mainstream or special school in agreement with the programme leader and a practice based research question will be identified which will need to be investigated and undertaken within the allocated time. You will be allocated a practitioner within the setting who will act as your mentor and you will also be visited by the programme leader.

The emphasis in this module is primarily concerned with carrying out research in a specified area of SEND in a practical context. You will be expected to apply your knowledge of research and methodology as well as subject knowledge to investigate the research question. You will be expected to identify aspects upon which to reflect through examination of current, relevant developments in theory and practice related to the research methods and specific area of research.


Assessment will be by a portfolio of 4,000 words, compiled throughout placement. You will be encouraged and expected to reflect and analyse your academic, personal and professional development gained throughout this module. 

Cross-cultural issues in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Semester 2

Compulsory for MA/PGDip

20 credits

This compulsory module will enable you to gain an understanding of the trends and trajectories in the development of SEND and inclusive education. You will undertake a critical analysis of the cross-cultural dimensions of special educational needs and disabilities and inclusive education, paying particular attention to dimensions within your own context. You will also engage in critical reflection on the positive and negative impact of cross-cultural dimensions, in their own contexts and those of others, on professional identity and practice. The potential of ‘interventions’ that have a cross-cultural basis (eg in disability studies, philosophy and the arts) to stimulate inclusive policy and practice will also be examined.


A 4,000 word assignment based on an analysis of cross-cultural issues within your own context


Special studies

An independent investigation on a topic relating to the education of learners, allowing students to develop their investigative skills and reflect on their own practice


Between April and September, MA level students will complete a dissertation on a SEND related topic. The topic and the dissertation supervisor will be agreed in discussion with the programme leader. Examples of topics chosen in the past include:

  • A comparison of transition arrangements for pupils in Year 6 of two special and two mainstream schools
  • Introducing 30 Makaton signs and symbols to children with Down's syndrome in a preschool setting in Korea
  • What are the challenges facing special education teachers in resource rooms in Saudi Arabia mainstream primary schools?

Support will be provided through tutorials with your supervisor.

Assessment is by a  15,000 word dissertation

Fees and funding

Fees Home/EU 2015-2016

  • Code 297A PGCert  £2,070
  • Code 300A PG Dip  £4,140
  • Code 301A MA £6,210

For the PG Dip and MA an enhanced DBS/police check will be required and it will be necessary to pay a small additional fee. 

Fees overseas 2015-2016

  • Code 297A PGCert £4,714
  • Code 300A PGDip £9,427
  • Code 301A MA £14,140

For the PG Dip and MA an enhanced DBS/police check will be required and it will be necessary to pay a small additional fee.

Learn more about fees and funding

Scholarships and studentships
Scholarships may be available. International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government. More details may be found on the international scholarships page

For further information contact the School directly or the Student Funding Office via online enquiries

Entry requirements

Applicants must have:

  • a relevant or related 1st degree and some relevant experience with children or young people with SEN.
  • an enhanced DBS/police check if applying for the PG Dip and MA. A small additional fee will be necessary, in addition to the standard fees 
  • demonstrate that you have a good level of written and spoken English. (see 'English Language Requirements' below).

There is only one intake per year at the beginning of the Academic Year (September/ October).

For further information please refer to the School of Education entry requirements webpage   

English language requirements  

In order to undertake the SEND programme of study, you will need to demonstrate that you have a good level of listening skills, reading comprehension, written and spoken English. You can demonstrate your level of English with IELTS or alternative qualifications. The following link, to the English language qualifications page, will give you more detailed information about English tests excepted at the University of Birmingham and the required grades you will need to achieve.

Alternatively, or in addition, you may want to take and successfully complete one of our pre-sessional English courses for international students courses, based at the University of Birmingham. 

International students

We accept a range of qualifications, our country pages show you which qualifications we accept from your country.

How to apply


When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

Learning and teaching

The SEND programme commences annually in September. The modules are offered over two semesters (Autumn and Spring), with the MA dissertation due at the end of the Summer. If you are studying for an MA, you will conduct the data collection and analysis for your research dissertation and complete the final write-up between April and August. This research can occur in the UK and/or your home country. Thus, the SEND programme is approximately 11 months in length if pursuing the MA award.

For planning purposes, the following is an outline of the academic calendar for the SEND programme:

  • September – December: Semester 1 (on campus)
  • Winter Break (off campus; approx. 3 weeks)
  • January – April: Semester 2 (on campus)
  • April – August: MA students work on dissertation (off campus)


Employable skills that are learned through completion of the SEND programme include analysing and conducting research, evaluating practice, policy analysis, and academic writing. Because of the self-directed and project-based nature of this programme, you will be encouraged to set your own skills and knowledge objectives. Your advisor will work with you to facilitate meeting these. 

Whilst the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) award does not qualify you to become a teacher in the UK or elsewhere, it is ideal for graduates who wish to deepen their knowledge and understanding of special educational needs and disabilities in educational settings. Upon completion of this course, you will have experience of issues relating to special educational needs which could be applied to a wide range of professional roles. There is also the opportunity to work towards a further professional qualification in the field of Education, which includes progression to a PhD or EdD.