SEN Support in schools: Finding out what works in practice

Title of post: SEN Support in schools

Tania’s note: We concentrate a lot on EHCPs on this blog, but far more children are on lower levels of SEN help in schools, now called SEN Support. But how do teachers know what help to put in, when and how much?

SEND researcher, Amy Skipp, Director of ASK Research, who has already set up the EHCP Journeys website in the wake of , has turned her attention to this and produced a new resource for mainstream leaders, teaching and support staff working with pupils and students with special educational needs and learning difficulties and disabilities.

Am explains in an article today more about her research and its findings about what works for SEN Support.

Researching what works in practice for SEN Support by Amy Skipp

Since the introduction of the SEND Reforms a lot of focus has been on those pupils with EHC plans. Almost 15% of the school population have SEND and while around 3% will have their needs set out in an Education, Health and Care EHC plan (see for more detail of this), the remaining 12% will be on ‘SEN support’ (previously School Action or School Action Plus).

Similarly around 19% of 16-19 year olds in mainstream Further Education have a self-declared learning difficulty or disability, that won’t necessarily mean they have a EHC Plan. This means that there will typically be three or four children or young people requiring SEN support in an average class of 30 pupils, although rates obviously vary greatly.

The significant majority of young people with SEND will therefore be in the ‘SEN Support’ category. Yet there is little discussion of the best ways to work with, support and plan for meeting the needs of these children.

All children and young people are entitled to an appropriate education; one that is appropriate to their needs, promotes high standards and the fulfillment of potential, enabling them to:

  • Achieve their best
  • Become confident individuals living fulfilling lives, and
  • Make a successful transition into adulthood, whether into employment, further or higher education or training.

Every school and college is required to identify and address the SEN of the pupils that they support. Yet what do we know about the best way to support the wide and varied needs of these students? And what evidence is there of what actually works in terms of this support?

ASK Research and Coventry University were commissioned by the DfE to produce a resource to help leaders, teachers and support staff in mainstream primary schools, secondary schools and colleges to reflect on their practice in supporting such pupils.

The final products (a full review  and summary for school and college leaders ) are based on two strands of research:

  • Evidence – from a rapid evidence assessment of robust published research relating to interventions for pupils and students with special educational needs. Read more about this here
  • Current practice – detailing the real-life support for pupils and students on SEN support in settings rated good or outstanding. Read more about this here

Expert input

For the current practice strand we interviewed 15 sector experts – many of whom will be familiar names to SNJ readers – about what they believe good SEN support looks like. We then asked them to tell us where we could ‘see’ this support in practice. We visited or interviewed 20 schools: seven primary, seven secondary and six colleges to find out the detail of what they were doing that was proving effective.

The big issue across all of these strands is something that we all know: the SEN cohort of children and young people is very varied. One young person with communication needs may need very different support and approaches to another with similar needs. Therefore what’s proven to work with 99% of a group of similar children may well not work for your child, or the child in your class. Similarly if you find something that works well for that child, but there is little evidence to support such an approach it doesn’t mean it’s bad and should be stopped.

This level of variation, between types of needs, different children and different settings can make pulling together definitive data on ‘what works’ difficult. However what we did find consistently were 7 key underpinning features of effective support. These are:

  1. Culture, Leadership and Management
  2. High quality teaching
  3. Use of Expertise
  4. Personalisation
  5. Flexible use of evidence-based strategies
  6. Use of evidence for tracking progress
  7. Communication and collaboration

You can read more about what each of these involves and looks like in practice here

We have presented our findings by category of need – so pulling together the evidence on what works for a child’s particular needs, and how to implement it. We also highlight though that thorough assessment, planning and reviewing are vital and that an individual young person’s needs very often extend over more than one ‘category’. Knowing the child really well so that you can understand their needs and the various aspects of it, as well as what they enjoy doing and are good at was seen as a crucial part of their support package.

As an example of our findings and how we present them, in terms of the area of literacy needs for secondary-aged young people with learning and cognition needs the evidence shows good support for small group literacy teaching, instruction on reading comprehension and computer assisted instruction. We then list a number of interventions that Priestnall school use which they believe have a positive impact on learners in their school with these needs. See page 93

What doesn't work...

What is interesting is that the review also looked at any existing evidence for approaches that have been shown not to work. Somewhat controversially there is a body of evidence that shows using coloured overlays has no impact on pupils with literacy needs. See page 86 Yet when we asked a wide range of practitioners what strategies they were using, this one was probably the most commonly mentioned. This suggests that either this approach does work for children with certain needs, or that school staff just use it without really understanding if, or what, benefit it is having.

Apart from how to account for individual variation, what struck us was how little evidence there was about how to support young people over the age of 16. This is an area where we hear of ever-growing need and so we would hope to see more focus on robust research on what works for the post-16 cohort and how schools, colleges and universities could be best supporting young people to achieve their potential in the future.

We hope that the results of this project will start a discussion amongst practitioners, parents and researchers about what they have found to be successful strategies, and more sharing of lessons learnt. We also hope that it encourages more reflection on how to build packages of support which meet the individual needs of children and young people requiring SEN support.

Download the report here.

Amy Skipp, ASK Research

Read Amy's earlier post on SNJ here about her SEND research and check out the EHCP Journeys website here:

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Amy Skipp

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