What schools can do to ensure that learners with SEN get the support they need
Too many children with SEN and disabilities are not making the progress they should be. SEN is still seen as a “special issue” when, in fact, it is a pressing issue in most classrooms around the UK. There is clearly no quick fix when it comes to SEN support but there are a number of teaching, learning and management strategies that can positively influence the development of children with SEN.
For the past four years, members of the SEN team at London Leadership Strategy have visited a large number of schools and SEN departments. This article introduces what we have identified as the top ten characteristics of effective SEN provision.
1: Coordinate provision and use a clear system of referral
It is important to ensure that the provision of SEN is not duplicated. Putting in place several interventions at once can make it difficult to measure the impact of individual interventions. Where possible, try one intervention at a time and measure its impact.
Full and cohesive support for students with SEN comes from a shared understanding; know what your team is doing, who they are doing it with and why they are doing it.
2: Use effective evidenced based interventions
It makes sense to use interventions that have a track record of success, but a surprisingly large number of schools don’t take the time to select their interventions based on evidence and outcomes.
3: Develop on-site expertise
The reduction in SEN services available via the local authority means that it can be more difficult for schools to access appropriate services and funding. Building a team of skilled practitioners on-site, and where necessary pooling resources with other local schools, can be beneficial.
It is important not to rely solely on external SEN consultants to develop expertise. Most of the answers to establishing outstanding SEN practice already sit within the system. However, we all need to get better at sharing information on what works.
4: Use resources efficiently
The aim is to improve and develop the offer for all pupils in order to reduce, from the start, the number of children who need help with their learning or behaviour. Where children need increased support, time-limited small group intervention can sometimes be all that is needed to help them make progress. Use highly personalised programmes when and where appropriate.
It is not necessarily the volume of resources that makes the difference to outcomes for children, but the way resources are targeted and implemented.
Too many SENCOs spend too much of their time working in an administrative capacity. High-quality administrative support allows them to work far more strategically.
5: Use rigorous assessment to precisely identify SEN and match interventions to individual needs
The right interventions cannot be put in place if the child’s needs have not been correctly identified. It is important to take the time and engage the appropriate professionals to do this.
Too many schools use interventions based on their current offer, rather than drilling down into the precise needs of the child and then personalising support around them.
6: Track and monitor the students’ progress across different subjects
Look for patterns of progress across SEN groups and curriculum areas. This can help to inform strategic decisions regarding interventions and collaborative working alongside subject areas and individual teachers.
7: Evaluate the impact of interventions and adjust provision accordingly
Know what works and what doesn’t. Use academic data to do this, but don’t ignore other key indicators, such as improved attendance and reduced exclusions or behaviour data.
8: Work with pupils and parents
The Lamb Inquiry of 2009 highlighted the importance of schools communicating openly, frequently and honestly with parents and children with SEN.
Pupils must be given the opportunity to have a voice and invest in their own development. Parents have to trust schools to put in the appropriate provision for their child. This trust must be earned and this starts with excellent communications and transparency regarding provision.
9: Ensure strong teaching and learning
High quality teaching is the foundation for progress for all children. It is believed that the difference between poor teaching and highly effective teaching is just under half a year’s extra progress for most students (Machin, Murphy and Hanushek, 2011).
When children don’t make the expected progress, the first port of call should be to assess the quality of classroom teaching before assuming a child has SEN.
Make sure you provide a relevant and flexible curriculum and invest in teacher development. A curriculum that addresses the needs of all learners, particularly around points of transition, can have a significant impact on attendance, punctuality and behaviour, as well as on academic achievement.
10: Prioritise leadership of SEN
SEN leaders play a critical role in supporting children, establishing the ethos and approach to SEN within the school and ensuring that SEN has a high profile. Without strong leadership in this area, the individual needs of all children are not recognised and listened to. Have high expectations and ambition for all children.
The purpose of collating these strategies is not to highlight weaknesses in SEN provision in UK schools but to promote the positive and easily accessible routes to improvement that, in the main, already exist in the system.
We are currently ignoring our greatest resource in raising standards for children with SEN – teachers and school staff. We must quickly realise the opportunity for teachers, SENCOs and inclusion leads to share their knowledge and good practice through school-to-school collaboration.
Changes in SEN provision are coming but schools are struggling to engage with this because of the massive overhauls taking place in the wider education system.
Interventions used in SEN should be measured by their impact on children’s attainment, just as they are for all children. Wellbeing, happiness, attendance, low exclusion rates and freedom from bullying are, of course, all important measures, but we must place emphasis on attainment levels also. We have to start aspiring for each and every one of our children and young people.
David Bartram is Director of SEN for London Leadership Strategy, Assistant Headteacher at Lampton School and works for Challenge Partners and a number of academy chains.
At a recent ministerial roundtable on SEN reform, David unveiled a video highlighting the top ten effective characteristics of SEN provision, as described above.