SEN support: a survey of schools and colleges – What does it mean?
On the 19th July the DfE published a research report by Helen Johnson, Julia Carroll & Louise Bradley of Coventry University titled “SEN support: a survey of schools and colleges.” You can read the full report here.
Below is a summary of the main points, followed by Nancy Gedge’s thoughts on the report.
Key Findings from the report
Identification of SEN
- Today, schools and colleges have freedom in how they support children with SEN, guided by the SEND Code of Practice. They can choose to ‘buy in’ particular professional/specialist support or programmes, or to provide their staff with training in particular areas. It was felt there was a need to understand how students on SEN support are currently supported, and how this practice can be shared, improved and developed.
- A third (33.8%)of staff in a range of job roles across primary, secondary and college settings said they did not have responsibility for identifying students with SEN. Respondents who did report responsibility for identifying SEN used different methods for doing so, depending on whether they were SENCOs or other members of staff.
- SENCOs received referrals regarding students potentially having SEN from a variety of sources, including parents, teachers and professionals from outside their setting. They often used a variety of assessment methods, including standardised tests, and referred to documentation recorded throughout the school year on whether students were making expected levels of progress.
- Most other members of staff reported that if they identified a student as potentially having SEN, they would pass this information to their SENCO. Many said they would then implement appropriate strategies to support the student, often with advice and guidance from the school or college SENCO. Support for children and young people on SEN support.
Support for Children and Young People on SEN Support
- The most common action to support students with language and communication difficulties was to make a referral to a Speech and Language Therapist. Across all settings, staff also referred to using techniques to modify the language they used to make it easier for students to process and understand. Other strategies differed depending on the type of setting, for example in primary schools visual aids were often used and in colleges there was greater use of assistive technology.
- A wide variety of classroom resources were suggested by respondents across all settings to support students with fine motor control difficulties, including chunky pencils and specialist pens. Staff also reported providing age appropriate activities to build fine motor skills, such as threading beads or building with Lego. Again, in college settings there was a greater emphasis on the use of assistive technology.
- Across all settings respondents used similar strategies to support students with high levels of anxiety. The most frequent was to provide a ‘trusted’ or ‘key’ adult for the student to talk to when needed. Staff also reported that providing a safe space for the student to access when feeling overwhelmed was beneficial, as was supporting the student to develop techniques to manage their anxiety such as meditation and breathing exercises.
- Referrals to outside professionals such as Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or Educational Psychology Services were also reported. When supporting students with reading and spelling difficulties, the most frequently reported strategy was to provide individual or small group teaching.
Respondents also suggested providing classroom resources such as word mats or key word lists. There was also a focus on using materials and strategies to develop enjoyment and build confidence when reading.
- The need to explore difficulties through talking to parents and making referrals to outside agencies was also highlighted.
- Respondents identified a range of strategies they would use when supporting students who found it difficult to concentrate. These included making adjustments in the classroom environment such as considering seating plans, providing fidget toys and breaking tasks into manageable chunks. It was also reported that staff should consider how the language they used impacted on students’ ability to concentrate and attend to instructions.
- When supporting students displaying challenging behaviour, the most frequently reported strategy was to refer to the school or college behaviour policy. Across all settings staff said they would attempt to understand the causes of the behaviour and implement classroom strategies to support the student, including removing distraction and using de-escalation techniques. Staff also suggested providing a safe space, which could be accessed when needed. Building a positive relationship with the student was also highlighted as important.
- Staff also described a number of issues and barriers that impact their ability to provide effective support for students with SEN. Respondents said that implementing interventions could be difficult, often due to not having access to staffing issues and difficulty matching programmes to students needs. It was also highlighted that resourcing issues could act as a barrier, as there could be difficulty accessing outside professionals.
Deployment of teaching assistants
- The majority of primary and secondary schools reported that teaching assistants provided in-class support working with individuals or groups of students. In addition, teaching assistants were also often assigned to provide SEN support outside the classroom, usually through delivering intervention groups. In college settings teaching assistants were often given different job titles and were used to support students to prepare for life in college and beyond.
- Headteachers, Deputy and Assistant Headteachers, and SENCOs reported that the main support that teaching assistants received was through training. This could be delivered either through external courses or, more commonly, within setting. In primary and secondary schools it was reported that SENCOs played an important role in supporting teaching assistants either through regular meetings to discuss their work and by sharing information or through modelling strategies.
- Class teachers reported some barriers they experienced when deploying teaching assistants effectively in lessons. These barriers included lack of time to plan together and teaching assistants not being available for entire lessons or consistently due to other commitments in school making continuity of support difficult.
Sources of information
- Staff named other professionals as their most common sources of information about how to support students with SEN, rather than published resources. Over three-quarters of respondents said they used their SENCO frequently as a source of information, and over half frequently used teachers and other staff in their school or college.
- Similarly, the most common source of information reported by SENCOs was other professionals.
What does this mean?
It appears that across the education system teachers have access to a body of knowledge both in terms of identification of SEN and in creating strategies for supporting learners, however, a major barrier to successful support remains schools’ ability to put what they know into practice and implement change to ‘the way we have always done things’.
The deployment and training of TAs remains a challenging area for schools, centered around timetabling, in particular so that teachers and TAs can have time to plan together, and training, and SENCOs remain pivotal, a point of contact for teachers and outside agencies.
Schools, and the education system, much like the NHS, can be said to be somewhat inward looking, so it falls to partner organisations such as Driver Youth Trust, to seek ways to reach out to education professionals in order to signpost them to support that is readily available, but outside the domain of the school building.