Resource support

SEND support: How to adopt a whole school approach

For a long time in education, there has been a widespread belief that teaching a child with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is somewhat different from teaching most students.

This had consequences. Teachers worry that if they haven’t had specific training on how to support students with autism or children with dyspraxia, they can’t teach a child with those diagnoses. In effect, they become disqualified.

This needs to be addressed and school leaders have a fundamental role to play in this regard.

The first step is for them to ask themselves a simple question: “Who leads SEND in our school?” If the answer is “ask Sendco”, think about the message that gives. He suggests that knowledge of children with special educational needs is the exclusive domain of a SEND expert.

This has a direct impact on the beliefs and behaviors of the rest of the school. It explicitly shifts responsibility for classroom leadership and teaching, and implicitly places responsibility on teaching assistants and Sendco.


Read more:


In 2021, Ofsted reported on mainstream schools and their support for children with SEND, and found, among many structural challenges, that teachers simply did not know their pupils well enough with SEND. The Sendco and the teaching assistants had become an unintended barrier, keeping their experience separate.

Rather than relying on delegation, we need shared responsibility. In other words, teachers need to know the child, understand how they learn, recognize their strengths and work in collaboration with the Sendco, TA or specialist teacher, who can share their expertise.

SEND support: adopting a whole-school approach

Many schools claim they already do this. But when we look at the bigger picture, we begin to encounter what researcher Brahm Norwich has called the “dilemma of difference”: the need for additional, personalized support can lead to opportunities being rejected or denied. relevant.

So how does a school embrace a process of change?

It all comes down to leadership. Leaders must design school systems and processes that enable effective teaching of children with SEND, and help teachers see this ability as a bonus, not a burden.

There are many review tools that can help you here, such as the Whole School Send Review guide.

Leaders can also check out 2011 research from the University of Manchester to get an idea of ​​how far along their journey is. In this study, the researchers observed leadership models that favored a whole-school approach to the task of supporting SEND, rather than a few specialists targeting a small, discrete group of students as a bolt on to the rest of the school’s work. ‘school.

The framework describes leadership for SEND as having five dimensions: values, teaching and learning, resources, distributed specialist leadership, and integrated services. It provides comparisons in each of these dimensions to show what the whole school approach looks like compared to ‘bolted’ practice.

This framework remains relevant today and provides a list of strategies to help leaders move toward the whole school model.

No one claims that this job is easy. With growing pressures on school finances and the continued increase in demand for education, health and care plans, schools will need the right systems and processes to cope.

But, in this difficult climate, enabling the competence, confidence and ability to SEND is essential, now more than ever.

Margaret Mulholland is a Special Educational Needs and Inclusion Specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders

She will speak about SEND’s leadership at the Tes SEND Show 2022, which will be held on October 7th and 8th. You can find out more and register your interest here.