Defining SEND outcomes under the new Code of Practice

Written by: Alison Wilcox | Published:

The SEND Code of Practice has an outcomes-focused approach, but what do we mean by outcomes? Alison Wilcox looks at the key shift in thinking following the SEND reforms

The SEND Code of Practice asks practitioners to start with desired outcomes and then to work out what SEND provision is required – or whether it is even required at all.
The code sets out that “this should then help determine the support that is needed and whether it can be provided by adapting the school’s core offer or whether something different or additional is required”.

While this is concerned with the outcomes that may or may not be achieved by intervening immediately and across the current academic year, it also resonates with the wider educational agenda.

Changes to the assessment process to move away from national curriculum levels and data-tracking and focusing on agreed outcomes which support the young person to prepare effectively for a fulfilling and independent adult life offer an opportunity for a slightly different approach.

These changes move us away from the old system that focused on measuring success through how much provision was given, rather than the progress that resulted from it.
Statements often placed the emphasis on working towards objectives by documenting provision rather than looking at how these all contribute to the bigger picture of development in the longer term.

As this was standard practice for so long, it should be no surprise that the time is right to examine the nature of meaningful outcomes and plan how we achieve them.
The principle of reformed practice should be to support children and young people to get the most out of all interventions by linking through to wider life aspirations and preparation for adulthood.

An outcomes approach can help make the support that is offered more pupil-focused and needs-led by identifying what works well and what could be improved.

For children and young people with SEND it can be all the more important to think in the longer term and have some clarity about what everyone is aiming for and, crucially, how their own contribution ensures their educational journey goes in the right direction. This is where outcomes are so useful.

So what are outcomes?

Outcomes can be defined as the changes we can see being made to an individual, based on something we have done to create that change and is not solely related to academic achievement and progress.

This said, the code of practice makes it clear that all children should be empowered to achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes.

This obviously raises questions for those in the education sphere about the value of academic outcomes.

Yet most importantly, what do children and young people and their parents see as the key outcomes to be working towards?

Providing real and meaningful engagement of children and young people and their parents is of paramount importance. This can be achieved through person-centred working, as well as taking a partnership approach with the help of all those involved in a child’s education to determine positive outcomes.

A good outcome is created by building on something that has been working well, then working to change aspects of a strategy that doesn’t work well, addressing the needs of that person in order to support/direct them towards their future aspirations.

If the outcome that is being sought does not address this fundamental aspect of a young person’s future, then that is not the ideal outcome.

When it comes to defining a “person-centred outcome”, what we should be looking for is something that is specific to the individual and measurable, as well as coming from a personal perspective.

Typical mistakes when trying to devise outcomes are embedding the solution or provision into the outcome. Often you will see outcomes that describe the solution as part of the outcome itself, or they describe the provision that will help the outcome to be achieved, such as “to have three sessions of extra spelling tuition each week”.
In addition, it would be incorrect to devise outcomes that are not specific enough to be able to measure whether they have been successfully achieved. For example “to improve my independence”, as an outcome statement, is not specific to the individual and there is no way of measuring if it has been achieved.

We don’t know what being independent looks or feels like to this person or what is important to them about developing their independence. Reworking this example outcome could give us: “To move around the school building independently ready for my transition to secondary school.”

Where longer term outcomes are expressed, they would effectively scaffold the thinking around constructing all the small steps needed to reach that outcome over an academic year or educational phase.

Measuring progress

So, how do we measure progress towards outcomes? Although outcomes should be measurable, measuring them can (and some would argue should) be a creative endeavour whereby we consider the most suitable method for gathering information according to the people involved.

This approach encourages us to think in a more personalised way; how can children and young people demonstrate that the outcome has been met? How do we see that “difference or benefit” made to the individual which evidences the outcome?

Some of the options could include interviews, self-completion tools such as surveys, diaries and tests and group activities, which are useful for collecting outcomes information when participants have a shared experience of outcomes.

Observation may identify changes that people themselves are unaware of, capture information that other tools miss, and may not rely on verbal communication or specific language skills.

Visual methods that can be used to capture outcomes information include using photographs, drawings, collages or videos to illustrate or provide evidence of change.

Finally, social media such as blogs, podcasts, video storytelling and social network sites can be used.

Ultimately, the best outcomes are those arrived at through a process centred on high aspirations and expectations that results in parity for the school, parent and pupil.

Beginning with the best possible outcomes for the pupil then working back from there to identify the provision and support that may be necessary gives us a much more person-centred and admirable practice. Crucially though, it gives the pupil the best possible start in life.

  • Alison Wilcox is education development officer with special needs association nasen. Visit

Further information

The SEND Code of Practice (DfE, January 2015):


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