Isolation amongst SEND pupils and their parents is becoming an increasingly prominent issue in many primary schools across the UK, forcing teachers and SENCos to re-evaluate their SEND provision in order to continue offering a high-quality education on a smaller budget.
To navigate spending cuts without widening the gap between SEND children and their peers is a daunting task, but one that we’ve spent the last few years tackling face-on.
We needed to find a way of adapting our SEND teaching so that we could give SEND pupils the necessary extra provisions without making them feel different from their classmates.
As a school, we had to think less about introducing new and potentially isolating measures, and more about adapting our existing teaching methods.
Increased classroom isolation
When I started working as the SENCo and inclusion manager, we had very few systems and processes in place to ensure that we seamlessly integrated SEND pupils into each lesson.
Although most colleagues knew how to include the whole class, including those with SEND, in group work and class discussions, many teachers were struggling to cater to the entire class without planning a series of separate tasks for children with more specialist needs.
As is the case in many schools, SEND pupils were beginning to feel isolated from their classmates during lesson time – not as a result of bullying or a lack of attention, but because of a teaching style that differentiated them from their classmates.
It soon became clear that we had to change our mindset about what it means to be responsible for children with special educational needs. As a school, we needed to move away from our usual SEND teaching provisions and transition to methods of adaption rather than differentiation.
Becoming a strong unit
We knew that in order for this transition to prove successful, we needed to involve the whole school. We gradually wove SEND into different areas in the school’s annual improvement plan, including teaching, curriculum content and leadership actions.
Not only did this make SEND provisions a weekly focus in senior leadership meetings, but it also highlighted the key message that the inclusion of children with special educational needs is everyone’s responsibility – not just the SENCos.
Over several months, staff members took part in a series of training sessions based on ‘adaption’, wherein SEND pupils received the same learning experience as their peers, with the added scaffolding of different resources and adult support.
Using the Heuristic Scaffolding model, a framework designed to encourage pupil independence, we taught teaching assistants how to support SEND pupils without isolating them from the rest of the class.
This could be something as simple as including more images on the screen during presentations to help children who need visual stimulation to spark their imaginations.
The key was to make all pupils and staff aware of how to support those with special educational needs without making them feel singled out.
On World Mental Health Day, for example, we held a ‘Hello Yellow’ event where we encouraged everyone to talk about mental health. Pupils learnt about strategies they could use themselves and to help others.
Transparency is key
At the risk of stating the obvious, parents are the experts on their own children. An important part of integrating children with SEN more seamlessly into a classroom setting involved really getting to know them as individuals.
Through discussions with their parents and carers, we were able to form a clearer picture of each child’s specific needs. We used this information to create detailed support plans.
These support plans were accessible to all staff across the school community, including teaching assistants and the senior leadership team.
Not only did this enable wider discussions on how to adapt learning environments throughout the school, but it also encouraged all staff members to take responsibility for the pupils with special educational needs.
Building confidence from early on
An important part of adopting a Heuristic Scaffolding model is encouraging SEND children to become more independent with their learning.
While it is important to ensure that each child feels supported, intervening too early can lead them to become dependent on extra help.
To overcome this issue, we do everything we can to make our children with special educational needs feel valued and capable. Teachers and teaching assistants work closely with each child to build their self-esteem and confidence levels using specific praise.
Rather than making a general comment about how good a child’s piece of writing is, for example, we would comment on how well that child had used descriptive words in their work.
We’ve found that this helps children with SEND take more control over their learning without the need for teachers to plan separate tasks or group activities, both of which pose the risk of making those children feel isolated from their peers.
Adaption in action
Since integrating the new adaption approach to planning lessons, we have seen a huge spike in confidence amongst our pupils with SEND.
One example that makes me proud of how far the school and staff have come since I joined as the SENCo three years ago involves a child who transferred to us from another school. He has severe ADHD and had been refusing to participate in English lessons at his former school, sometimes skipping school altogether.
When he first joined us, we spent a lot of time getting to know his individual needs, which then allowed us to provide the scaffolded support to be able to create fully accessible English lessons that he would feel confident involving himself in.
Having spoken to his mother recently, she can’t believe how much his self-esteem has improved in such a short space of time and was over the moon that he was happy attending school every day.
I never thought that such a fast transformation would have been possible when I first joined the school. Although we are always searching for ways to improve our SEND provision, the progress we have made over the last few years is a strong indication of the positive change that adaption and scaffolded support can have on a child’s educational experience.
How to integrate adaption
- In order to ensure adaption is effective, it is important to carry out a thorough assessment. Teachers, SENCos, parents and carers can all contribute to this evaluation, where you establish the child’s educational and personal needs as early as possible.
- After building a clearer picture of each child, take a step back and start by looking at what they can do rather than what they struggle with. This will then help you bridge the gap to what they should be doing for them to make the most of their learning experience.
- When considering the child’s learning journey, always have the long-term outcomes in the back of your mind. Think about each child’s next stage of education and what they need to do to successfully reach it.
- When planning lessons, use the information gathered by SENCOs and other teaching staff to create scaffolds which will help you to adapt these lessons in such a way that every child can access the learning.
- Remember to reflect on the successes and pitfalls of your chosen approach and consider how it can be improved for next time. Ensuring each child can access each lesson is a process of trial and error, one that is far more achievable when teachers, SENCOs and parents work together.
Celina Walsham is SENCo and inclusion manager at William Martin Church of England Infant School & Nursery and Junior School.