63% of teachers say their school’s insufficient support for children with SEND is a barrier to pupil learning

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A new survey of 6,000 teachers and senior leaders across England shows supporting children with SEND is one of the top five expected challenges in schools over the next 12 months.

The 2023 Pearson School Report showed 69% of teachers responding said the current education system is ineffectively supporting SEND pupils in their aspirations and achievements. Just under three in five (60%) teachers say the same for disadvantaged pupils, while around one in four teachers also think that LGBT+, Black, Asian and minority ethnicities, and gifted and talented students are also being let down. Which seems like most children…

As well as SEND, the Pearson School Report cited funding, workload, staffing levels and well-being as anticipated difficulties for the next school year. While three in five (60%) teachers believe education is more inclusive and diverse than it was five years ago, they also expect mental health, attendance and SEND to be the biggest barriers to their pupils’ learning over the next six months. A greater proportion of teachers in secondary schools anticipated mental health and attendance to be barriers, whereas SEND was more commonly selected by primary teachers.

63% of teachers anticipate support for children with SEND as being a barrier to pupil learning over the next six months (last year 57%). The Cost of Living Crisis was a big concern for pupils themselves, with a bigger percentage of children from the North West, Yorkshire and North East facing poverty and hunger as barriers to learning.

Top five challenges that teachers expect schools to manage over the next 12 months
) Budget pressures (59%)
Teacher and school leader workload (52%)
Teacher recruitment and retention (48%)
Supporting pupils with SEND (37%)
Staff mental health and wellbeing / Pupil mental health and wellbeing (34%)

However, more schools are offering NO interventions to pupils for issues they face:

Top concerns

  • Teachers witnessing a rise in pupil anxiety around mental health and well-being (now 61%, was 41%) rising cost of living (now 36%, was 16%) and social injustices (now 18%, was 11%).
  • 71% of teachers say the current education system is NOT developing tolerant, sustainably minded citizens of the future (was 61%).
  • 63% of teachers anticipate SEND support as being a barrier to pupil learning over the next six months (was 57%). Curiously, only 46% of their school leaders expect supporting students with SEND to be a challenge to manage over the next year (was 32%).
  • 64% of school leaders expect budget pressures to be a challenge to manage over the next 12 months (was 54%).
  • 48% of school leaders expect teacher recruitment and retention to be a challenge to manage over the next 12 months (was 40%).
  • 11% of schools are offering no interventions to support pupils with the issues facing them (was 5%).

Inclusive curriculum? Only if you’re “normal”

Despite more teachers saying schools are increasingly diverse and inclusive, the Pearson School Report reveals, “six in 10 teachers say the national curriculum is designed to support pupils defined as ‘normal’ and not those on the margins. This was most notably reported by teachers in primary schools (62% as opposed to 49% in secondary schools), Q4 schools (60% as opposed to 53% in Q1), and classroom teachers (60% as opposed to 48% of headteachers). [Q= quarter, as in quarter of a year]

Spotlight on students' views
When we asked students which topics they were feeling worried about, the top three were:
Rising cost of living (39%)
Mental health and wellbeing (34%)
Climate change / environmental issues (31%)
87% of students say getting good grades is important to them
94% say being happy and mentally and physically healthy is important to them

What would help?

When asked what could be done to help make mainstream schools more inclusive for children and young people with a broad range of additional learning needs or SEND, teachers spoke of needing additional teaching assistant support and teacher training, more resources, and easier access to diagnostic testing. Many said the biggest block to support was a lack of funding, either for teaching assistant support or to facilitate smaller class sizes.

It found that while digital solutions are transforming access to education and outcomes for learners across England, school-wide digital inequalities are limiting their potential. Over the past two years, 34% of teachers state that technology has increased accessibility for learners with SEND (in addition to supporting flexible learning (48%) and student engagement (34%).

Positives: Remote exams to help pupils with additional needs to achieve

There is good news however, Pearson, an international education (and more) resources company, has enabled over 100 learners, many with SEND, anxiety or health complications, to complete their exams online from home this summer via a remote invigilation pilot. One student at online school, King’s InterHigh, used her trampoline throughout her exam to help her manage her medical condition and support concentration on rest breaks, while students with neurological differences were able to make noise and move around in ways that they could not have done in an exam hall. 

Sylvie, who would usually be unable to sit an exam due to her myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), was also able to sit two exams from home:

Being able to do my exams online was an absolute game changer for me. With my condition, I honestly don’t think that I would have been able to do them in person, or I would have just been so exhausted when I got there that I would have done terribly. My remote invigilator was fantastic, so patient and helpful, and the team at Pearson supported me amazingly every step of the way. I felt really supported and confident throughout.”


“The pilot between King’s InterHigh and Pearson, has fundamentally rewritten the rules on what inclusive access to assessment means. By using digital technology to bring secure, high-stakes online assessments into student’s homes, we have widened access to qualifications to students who otherwise would have been unable to achieve their potential. Particularly beneficiaries of this approach are students who are unable to attend a physical school, whether due to SEND, anxiety, health complications, or international access to exam centres. This pilot has not only shown the transformative impact of technology, but it has also shown how through innovation we can change the future outcomes and life chances for those students for whom a mainstream education does not work.”

Ashley Harold, CEO of the Online Schools at Inspired

Findings in the 2023 report also show that half of secondary students would like to take exams on computers and 91% of all learners say that being prepared for their future in a digital world is important to them. However, Hayley White, Vice President, Assessment, Standards and Services at Pearson said while technology has the power to transform education for all learners, “…there are striking school-wide digital inequalities that must be unlocked to ensure all teachers and learners can access the same technology and reap its rewards fairly.”

Assistive tech is hard to find in schools

Although 99% of educators reported using some form of digital solution at school this year, the report found that fewer than 1 in 10 schools have access to assistive technologies like screen and braille readers for students, with access to software to support students with SEND and additional needs almost three times more prevalent in primary schools than secondary schools (30% primary; 12% secondary). Just 15% of state-funded schools have access to regular training on digital learning tools and edtech advancements, compared to 35% of private schools. [DB1] 

Read the Pearson School Report in full

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Tania Tirraoro

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