Navbar button The Headteacher
May 21 BigDug
May 21 BigDug

SEND – How to face a maths challenge

July 12, 2021, 11:42 GMT+1
Read in 4 minutes
  • James Akerman explains how online maths learning benefited special needs pupils during lockdown...
SEND – How to face a maths challenge

Earlier this year, the National SENCO Workforce survey was published.

Produced by Bath Spa University and special needs association Nasen, it surveyed more than 1,000 SENCOs in special schools and mainstream.

It showed that the pandemic has made schools reassess not only their universal offer, but also the potential benefits that learning online can bring, especially for learners with SEND. Those surveyed expressed their concerns.

The first, perhaps predictably, was the digital divide and how to make sure children with special needs had access to suitable technology to use at home.

Staff reported an increase in workload and nearly three quarters of SENCOs highlighted the difficulties of providing appropriately differentiated work online for children and young people with SEND.


Arbour Vale School is an all-age special needs school. Our pupils have a wide range of abilities: some have profound and multiple disabilities and need high levels of personal care as well as educational support.

Others have emotional and behavioural difficulties and for many this means they can become frustrated and disengaged when they do not understand a task. Maths has always been a challenge.

We have learners who have good basic number concepts but cannot deal with sentence-based questions, but we also have those who struggle to add up single figure numbers. We needed accessible and engaging content which would work whether learners were at home or in the classroom.

This meant it had to be an online resource which could provide immediate feedback, rather than worksheets. Our learners love computers and technology.

Pupils on the autistic spectrum and those with ADHD also respond well to gamification. It draws them in and focuses their attention and I have been impressed with the way certain strong maths resources work.

If pupils find the content hard, the technology will help them try again or adjust to their level of understanding. However, many of our learners needed even more support.

For us, a maths resource would need to be appropriate for all ages, be interactive and engaging and cover the whole curriculum.

Our MLD pupils enjoy a challenge, and a competitive element works well for them. Having features such as a leader or achievements board keeps them interested and encourages them to learn more. It would also have to be able to read text out loud so pupils could break down the questions and hear what they had to do.


Lockdown made us realise that we had to keep on top of tracking our learners’ progress, even if we weren’t seeing them in person.

We needed to see their achievements, the number of right and wrong answers, the progress they had made in their understanding of the topics. And the resource we chose also had to record how many times they had attempted a question because when some learners get questions wrong, they start from the beginning again.

If we had clear records of what pupils could do, where they needed more support and where they had succeeded, I could assign activities that would help them make better progress.

For example, if the four times table is too hard, we could revise the two times table for longer. We talked to one company – Mangahigh – and explained that because of the severity of our pupils’ learning disabilities, only ten of them could benefit from their resource.

We needed extra content to support lower key stages. Subsequently, Mangahigh and Arbour Vale School have worked together to develop new content to improve accessibility and support more pupils.

This has led to the introduction of new content for KS1 which can be used across different ages in SEND schools. We want to build independence for every child.

Now we find our pupils are enjoying their learning and as they become more confident in their maths ability, that confidence is spilling over into other parts of their lives.

James Akerman is Head of ICT, teaches secondary pupils at Arbour Vale School. Find out more at