SEND as a Superpower
Supporting pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to achieve well and have happy and productive experiences at school is a core goal for which we all strive, as well as being an entitlement. As with all ambitious goals, however, achieving this essential outcome involves navigating a wide range of challenges. Common barriers with which you might be familiar with include limited resources; the need for specialised training for teachers; finding time to design inclusive curriculums; managing parental expectations and communicating these effectively… I could go on.
These challenges might sometimes seem overwhelming. However, as a school improvement team, my colleagues and I frequently visit schools who are continuously developing and reflecting on their inclusive practice: who are delivering high-quality provision, day in, day out for those who need the greatest support, and who are seeing the positive outcomes of their efforts. What we see in these schools is the much wider positive impact of prioritising provision for learners with SEND: as Ruth Gately, our Lead Specialist Adviser for SEND, often says: ‘SEND can be a superpower’. This can apply to pupils themselves: in the right environment and with the right support, pupils with SEND can thrive. But it’s also an idea applicable to schools themselves; simply put, if we make our schools inclusive for these pupils, we improve the provision for all, increasing the quality of education for everyone in our schools and creating the conditions for exceptional learning and progress. After all, a high-quality curriculum is one which meets the needs of all; schools that design ambitious curriculums for all their learners do so by not imposing an artificial ceiling on what they can achieve – including those learners with a SEND diagnosis.
Pupils with SEND are not a homogenous group who can all be supported in the same way. Nor are they problems to be solved.
Effective schools we have seen ensure that teachers have the information and the tools to really know their students, through appropriately specific, easily-applied and impactful strategies, as well as consulting students themselves: young people can provide valuable expertise on their own needs.
You might recognize some of the approaches below as ones that you use successfully in your own setting; and there might be ideas here that could be considered.
Good Teaching for SEND is Good Teaching for All: Effective Classroom Strategies
The Malling School, which has a large number of teaching assistants (TAs), has provided a physical toolkit that contains resources that are useful across the curriculum, for example, laminated task boards and Frayer model frameworks to use and wipe clean, etc. These can be taken to every lesson and deployed to support a wide range of pupils in a wide range of subjects.
Having an outline of tasks, activities or outcomes for the lesson clearly displayed for the teacher to refer to and to support pupils to understand what they are doing, how aspects connect to each other and pupils’ wider schema development, and to provide some motivation. Royal Harbour Academy in Ramsgate has implemented these across the school, where they can be found in the same area of the whiteboard in every classroom. This consistency of approach supports and empowers pupils with the information that they need to successfully navigate each lesson.
At the VIAT multi academy trust, each school decides on a pilot project to trial in relation to SEND provision. The results of these projects are shared annually and presented to the governors of all the schools in the Trust as well as the Trustees. Over time, this has created a bank of evidence-informed trials and data that all schools in the Trust can take and adapt for their own context, collaborating where appropriate to learn from the experiences of others. Another school in Kent had training around effective use of the Mainstream Core Standards which was attended by both staff and governors. This shared message ensured clarity of vision and is supporting the governing body to support the school.
Embedding SEND in All Aspects of the School
Confident teachers are ones who are fully informed. In the area of support for learners with SEND, it can sometimes feel like that knowledge of strategies to support individual pupils can sit with the SENCO. Many schools now invest in software packages to put strategies at teachers’ fingertips. Sometimes tied to the school MIS, these packages, where used best, enable teachers to confidently adapt their lessons based on an accurate and expert understanding of what each pupil needs to succeed. Such packages also ensure that updates and changes can be immediately communicated to all staff, with no delay or confusion resulting from sharing information via email or other forms of communication.
Jo Cyman, the SENCO at Thamesview in Gravesend, conducts regular learning walks, looking at pupils with specific areas of need in a range of classrooms, and comparing both the quality of work these pupils are producing, as well as identifying where and how the strategies on each ‘Pupil Passport’ are being effectively deployed. These successes are then celebrated in staff briefings, reinforcing the importance of effective strategies and the impacts that these can have on individual pupils and keeping inclusion ‘on the agenda’ for all.
Sometimes, even with the most efficient information systems, teachers have specific questions or need some more bespoke advice. Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys makes use of a regular ‘drop in’ slot in the staff room (biscuits provided!) where the SENCO and inclusion team are available for teachers to ask questions or share things that have happened in their lessons with particular pupils – without the need for formal reports or waiting for meetings.
More Than Just Outcomes
Schools who are monitoring the participation of pupils with SEND in the wider life of the school, for example in extra-curricular activities; trips; student leadership opportunities, have a much clearer picture of the extent to which they are meeting the needs of all of their pupils. Increasingly there are technological tools to support with this - we have seen schools making innovative use of QR codes to record attendance at after school clubs, for example – but a personal approach works well here too. Asking pupils themselves why they do/do not choose to participate in wider activities, and then using that powerful knowledge to explore further. Where participation is low: what is the barrier? And as leaders what can we do to try to remove it?
A heartfelt well done to all of you who work so hard to get this right for all the pupils in your settings. If you’d like any further information about any of the approaches mentioned above, please get in contact. All the best for the year ahead, with all the challenges and opportunities that entails.
Senior Improvement Adviser - School Improvement (Secondary and Special Education)