Creative reasonable adjustments for SEND learners that don’t have to cost a thing

Today we welcome a new columnist, Susan Lenihan, SEND parent, former headteacher and a SEND Community Alliance campaigner

Some time ago SNJ asked the question on our social media: What is a good example of a reasonable adjustment that’s worked well, (or more than one) that school/college has made for your child/young person, or that you have made in school for your SEN/disabled learners?

I have had the privileged position of collating your responses to this question. It has been a fascinating exercise, partly because of the examples given and partly because no question in the world of SEND is ever really straightforward. I frequently disappear down thought-provoking rabbit holes when it comes to things like this. Every answer and example listed led me to more questions, like, is that example really reasonable? And, if it is genuinely low cost, who decides on the practicability of it and what influences that decision? And what is getting in the way of seemingly reasonable adjustments being in place all the time, in every institution, for everyone, without exception? It clearly isn’t just a question of money.

So, who decides?

It is the law that decides what is or is not a reasonable adjustment. And the law is clear, isn’t it? The Equality Act (2010), the Children and Families Act (2014) for example, set out the legal obligations that schools/colleges must adhere to. The EHRC Reasonable Adjustments for Disabled Pupils (2012) provides technical guidance. The legal duties are also laid out in the SEND Code of Practice (CoP).

They (schools and colleges) must make reasonable adjustments, including the provision of auxiliary aids and services, to ensure that disabled children and young people are not at a substantial disadvantage compared to their peers. This duty is anticipatory-it requires thought to be given in advance to what disabled children and young people might require and what adjustments might be needed to prevent that disadvantage. 

SEND Code of Practice 2015

Note the bold type…must. That bit, at least, is clear. Being anticipatory is preventive, pre-emptive, pro-active, it is in the planning stages, in the design phase, and so clearly not an afterthought or a bolt-on feature. However, much of the wording in law and the CoP doesn’t help. ‘Adjustment’ might have led people to thinking you make some tweak or alteration after you’ve designed the main bit. Also, the CoP is peppered with more ‘school should’ do this, when ‘school must’ do it would have been more helpful. Also, somewhat unhelpfully the Act doesn’t lay out a definitive list of what ‘reasonable’ is. What is considered reasonable under the Act, is dependent on what is reasonable for that particular school, and that school’s unique situation. 

Before we look at the examples, I want to share one further rabbit hole I disappeared into. I wanted to see what current research says about what works well for SEND in mainstream schools. How does this match your examples? So, I compared your responses to a recent evidence review by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF, 2020). They reviewed 'the best available evidence' and it’s a hefty read that also details features of child development applicable to all children. It summarises these as ‘drivers’ and ‘influencers’, such as daily activities and interactions, personal characteristics of educators or other adults, school context and environment, attitudes held, the ethos and culture of a school. 

These features drive how all our children develop. So, if you weren’t already convinced…what is good for every child’s development is entirely applicable to children with SEND. All really does mean all. Not surprisingly, your comments compared directly to these influencers. It also offered a useful insight into where some educators are in their thinking and how this influences the provision (or not) of reasonable adjustments. 

Reasonable Adjustment examples 

By the time I collated them, 123 people had responded to the question posed. Hearteningly, many were able to give more than one example of what they considered a reasonable adjustment. Around 19 responses illustrated that adjustments considered ‘good’ supported the child’s organisation for learning, providing aids and resources that reduced the load on working memory, anxiety, and stress, for example.

Frequently mentioned were

  • visual aids and prompts,
  • extra time
  • planners/checklists
  • chunking information
  • talking through homework tasks
  • providing technological support (e.g, laptops, reading pens and iPads)
  • pre-teaching
  • incorporating interests
  • working within a small group or targeted small group teaching.

I wondered why some of these are considered an adjustment. Are they not merely an accepted feature of high-quality teaching? Maybe they are and that accounts for the comparatively lower figure of 19. Many comments illustrated the power of timely, individualised help from an adult that is available to the child on a daily basis. As one parent put it, 

The single thing that was completely transformative…the support worker…who used her professional judgement as to when and what intervention to make. Overnight my child changed from being frequently excluded and not completing work to being calm and polite…person-centred really works.

Having staff members who truly understand what the person and family are going through
Realising that working with a particular member of staff isn’t working, so immediately changing it without any issues after discussion with the parent.
My son is allowed to wear a baseball cap when he chooses, although it’s against the rules, he feels self-conscious so likes the peak of the hat to pull down…to feel less anxious.

Financial investment for reasonable adjustments

One or two adjustments revealed the variation in what schools can reasonably be expected to offer from a financial point of view. Practical issues like budgets, the school building, staffing size and the training costs popped up. It is true that all schools are not created equal in that sense; what seems easy to achieve for some schools is financially impossible and impractical for others. Some examples are, 

I requested they install HEPA filters for son’s class, to keep him safer…they installed them in his class, and then all the classes in school. 

"Equine assisted learning---a game changer", "...the introduction of a sensory dog."

The school paid for the touch-typing course and his laptop.

Sensory reasonable adjustments

The sensory aspects of school life and the need for some children to physically move more than most featured heavily, being explicitly mentioned in 61comments. Adjustments here really make a difference. Again, they were varied and specific to the child, as they should be. Some are fairly straightforward and easier to provide, like sensory diets, wobble cushions, ear defenders and fidget spinners. Others, like sensory rooms and single rooms for quiet time, may not be achievable in all schools due to available space or staffing. 

Creative reasonable adjustments

But individualised support was not always described as coming exclusively from teaching assistants, nor from adjustments that carry higher costs. Inclusive, creative thinking from teachers simply has huge impact, as this parent recalls.

My son can’t cope with exams/tests so the teachers changed the word test exam to a quiz. It may seem small to most people but what a difference it made.  

Allowing my daughter to doodle in class…such a trivial thing but makes a HUGE difference to her. Despite its simplicity…

My son is a whreelchair user and his entire class use the ramp with him to in and out for lunch and to the playground so he is never travelling around school in isolation.

Other examples pointed to ways in which it was entirely the individual school or teachers’ approach and response to the child that really made the difference. Some examples included:

  • The creation of calm environments
  • Making sure multi-sensory approaches are always adopted
  • Being mindful of how language is being used in instruction and interactions
  • Providing a quiet corner or workstation in the classroom
  • Lego breaks
  • Being given ‘special errands’
  • Regular reassurance and check ins
  • PowerPoints being sent in advance of the lesson
  • Providing time out cards and creating secret signs

Again, nothing unreasonable or costly there (except Lego). What matters is making sure that the reasonable adjustment provided is the right one. We have to get away from just ticking the box, as the quote below shows:

I have Dyslexia. I was given 10 minutes extra time and a dictionary in exams, which was useless as I didn’t know how to spell the word to find it

Allowing movement breaks when needed and allowing some choices and freedoms. If he can’t manage to sit on the carpet because he’s feeling fidgety, he can go to his table and start his work instead. Just generally following his lead around self-regulation and allowing him the respect to make his own responsible choices.
Bluetooth headphones, connected to my son’s phone, which the teacher looks after. Once the teaching is done, the teacher presses play, and he can listen to his music on his headphones while working independently.
Our son can ride his scooter into the school grounds and once round the playground as it massively helps the transition from home to school. We arrive after everyone is in class, it’s safer and less disruptive. 

A whole-school approach to reasonable adjustments

Often, comments mentioned how whole-school policy and approaches are adapted for the child. Frequent flyers here included:

  • adjusting uniform policies
  • relaxing rules and behaviour expectations
  • being flexible with start times and timetables, not staying in assembly, adjusting break time and lunchtime procedures to provide a quiet corner, parking in the staff car park, providing a school locker/ lunch seating that stays the same every year, and adapting the curriculum and assessment policy as far as possible, including no homework.

But many children have had poor experiences:

When in detention not repeatedly writing out the school behaviour policy. 

Never give a punishment for behaviour related to their disability. 

Never known one to even attempt to adjust for needs.

Every day is a battle with that school!

We are on our third school; good communication isn’t a given.

These leave me speechless. They are so wrong. Realistically, we won’t always get it right either. There are always going to be ‘in the moment’ adjustments for things we didn’t anticipate. Children are not static, and they simply don’t always respond to the proactive planned reasonable adjustments in the way we hoped. They have a habit of throwing us curve balls. Having a just in case repertoire of reasonable adjustments, just in case your planned reasonable adjustments fail, is required. Regardless, there has to be a watertight commitment, at all levels, to finding solutions to children’s barriers to learning, and to the environmental barriers many schools face. 

Yet, some of your comments illustrate that this commitment is not always there. But many more pointed to something more than just reasonable occurring, something really special. The real ‘influencers’ are something more influential than any bought in intervention, aid, or resource. They are born from that genuine partnership with children, young people, and their parents. They require an attitude, a set of values. A can-do approach, married with a full understanding and celebration of the child, just as they are. They are best illustrated by the examples below. 

When scanning all the written comments, words like choice, flexibility, allowing, realising, listening, and the all-important, preparation are across these comments. It is clear, reasonable adjustments are many; inclusive practice is there and is happening. There were very few things listed in the examples that should ever be considered unreasonable…post it notes do not cost a fortune. Scaffolding the learning in a variety of ways is surely, by now, simply high quality, reflective teaching. It is the job, not a reasonable adjustment. 

In the end though, the common themes that underpinned what is working were born from an inclusive attitude and authentic human relationships…between teacher and parent and teacher and child. It becomes about being heard and seen, knowing that the realities you face as a person are understood. It is about empathy and as one parent puts it; a child can sense if you understand or not.

Read the responses here and here

Communicating with post-it notes…Have to say it’s massively satisfying when you’re clearing out his bag and you find a variety of colours of post it notes with ‘are you ok?’ ‘Do you need help?’ ‘X isn’t in today, so the teacher is Y’ ‘just a reminder………is happening later’.
Doing PE in uniform not PE kit, not having to wear 'compulsory' school jumper, not having to do homework, using a laptop, quiet space to work, doing speaking assessment just to teacher & TA.
When in mainstream: leaving 10 mins early, lunch in a different room, sensory breaks, chill out tent, access to snacks all day, extra forest school session, home school diary, changing area due to toiletting needs.

Also read:

Don’t miss a thing!

Don’t miss any posts from SNJ - simply add your email address below. You must click the link in the confirmation email you’ll receive to activate your free subscription.

You can also keep up with us by following our WhatsApp Channel!

Want more? Be an SNJ Patron!

SNJ is a non-profit company and everyone who writes here does so voluntarily. We need your support to help us with costs by donating once or as a regular patron. Regular donors get an exclusive SEND update newsletter as thanks! Find out more here

Susan Lenihan

We LOVE to hear what you think... please take a minute to add your views here, so your comment is seen by all!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.