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Complex Needs

A review of literature highlights that the term ‘complex needs’ and ‘multiple needs ‘are often used interchangeably.

Rankin and Regan (2004) identify the essence of complex needs as encompassing both:

  • Breadth – multiple needs (more than one) that are interrelated or interconnected and
  • Depth of need – profound, severe, serious or intense needs.
Pupils with complex needs are therefore likely to have a range of different needs and will therefore require support from a number of different services and agencies in order to fully address these needs (Weston, 2000). This might include pupils assessed as having a moderate general learning disability and a sensory disability (breadth of need).

The term ‘complex needs’ also includes pupils assessed as having a severe or profound level of disability (depth of need). Examples include pupils with severe /profound intellectual disabilities or pupils with a moderate general learning disability with associated seriously challenging behaviour or children with severe visual impairment. (National Council for Special Education Policy Advice, February 2011).


Rankin J & Regan S (2004), Meeting Complex Needs: The Future of Social Care, London: Turning Points/ Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR). (Rosengard, Laing, Ridley and Hunter, 2007).

Weston J (2000), “Choosing, Getting and Keeping a Job: A Study of Supported Employment for People with Complex Needs”, Edinburgh: Scottish Human Services Trust

NCSE (February 2011) The Future Role of Special Schools.