Ensuring SEND education is a whole-school responsibility

Written by: Elizabeth Burns | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

All teachers are teachers of SEND and as such SEND education is a whole-school responsibility. SENCO Elizabeth Burns discusses how her school ensures that all staff are equipped to support students with SEND

All teachers retain responsibility for the progress of all students, including those with SEND (SEND Code of Practice 2015). SEND is therefore a whole-school responsibility and not simply that of the SEND department.

To ensure this happens, schools need to build capacity, which means all staff feel confident in meeting the needs of all students and removing barriers to learning.

At St James’ Catholic High School, there are a number of ways we ensure that SEND is a whole-school responsibility.

SEND introduction

First of all, there is an introduction for all staff to SEND at the start of every school year.
Changing staff can make it difficult to build capacity, and passing on knowledge about ways of teaching pupils with SEND should not be seen as the sole responsibility of the SENCO.

The induction of new staff should be seen as part of the whole-school process of INSET, meetings and shared practice. Every September, the staff’s collective knowledge of SEND depends on how many staff have moved on and where the new staff slot into the organisation.

New staff can be teaching assistants, teaching staff, staff who are middle leaders, members of the senior leadership team, cover supervisors or support staff in school – but all will have varying degrees of SEND knowledge.

At the start of the school year, we have a SEND update session with key reminders about the process of Assess, Plan, Do, Review which has been mapped to the strategies used in our school. Our school SEND criteria for students is shared and discussed.

An hour-long session to discuss the new year 7 students who are potentially vulnerable, who are in receipt of Pupil Premium or have SEND is attended by all teachers of year 7, form tutors, cover supervisors and the senior leadership team. The pupil profiles of students who have SEND are discussed too, including strategies for removing barriers and setting suitable learning challenges.

Whole-school INSET around teaching and learning always has a SEND aspect around differentiation, which is delivered by members of the teaching staff and teaching assistants.
Our school’s Teaching and Learning Handbook, which states our best practice, is given to all staff members. It includes sections on Assess, Plan, Do, Review and other SEN issues in our school.

Induction of new staff

New staff meetings are used to share key information about how SEND is delivered in our school. For example, as a SENCO, I deliver a session looking at where to find key information – we have an area on the intranet with a SEND Toolkit. Sessions on differentiation are delivered by other members of staff. This develops a culture that does not see SEND as an area of the SEND department, but rather one of shared practice.

New teaching assistants are trained in “effective questioning” within the first two days of term. They spend two or three days shadowing more experienced teaching assistants, and are given a more experienced colleague as a mentor.

Everyone in the department has a Teaching Assistant Handbook with information including ways of working with different needs, and every Friday morning we have a 20-minute meeting during which we discuss ways of working with students and look at individual case studies. Again, this strengthens everyone’s knowledge of SEND.


Another way in which responsibility for SEND students is clearly shared is the way that INSET is delivered. Whole-school INSET takes account of the needs of pupils with SEND, for example, when working on marking and feedback policies.

This is led by the teacher delivering the INSET on feedback and not the SENCO. We also have an optional INSET on a monthly basis about SEND issues. The topics vary and are based on a SEND audit of staff needs in the summer term. On average, 10 to 15 members of staff attend the optional INSET sessions. Teaching assistants are also involved in delivering these sessions.


We hold three staff briefings a week, and set aside 20 minutes to deliver information about the curriculum and teaching strategies. Awareness of and knowledge about SEND in the school is well developed, so that when staff from different departments deliver briefings, they often include information about how the strategy works with students who find learning challenging.


Our department is known as the Curriculum Access Support Team (CAST). In 2011, we introduced a monthly newsletter known as the CAST Observer. It features information about different aspects of SEND along with strategies to remove barriers to learning. The needs of individual students are also highlighted, which helps staff to keep certain students in mind.

Students who are featured in the CAST Observer may have been highlighted by heads of student learning. Feedback from staff indicates that they find this a useful way of learning about new SEND students or policies.

If information needs to be circulated about a student who has SEND, the head of student learning and I discuss who should send the email, spreading the responsibility for disseminating key information, and ensuring that students are not seen as the responsibility of one department.

When an issue arises with a student at a departmental level, whether it be learning or behaviour, discussion revolves around how best to support the student and who should be involved. As SENCO, I might simply give advice and not be directly involved in the next steps.

Teaching assistant-teacher agreement

Teaching assistants make a difference when they are well deployed, know what is expected, are prepared, and have knowledge of the subject. We have a Teaching Assistant-Teacher Agreement which makes clear what support should be given, to whom and when.

The agreement outlines a starting point for discussions around students’ learning, encouraging teachers to use teaching assistants to move learning on for all students.

The agreement is a two-sided pro forma. Side one includes sections on what is expected at different parts of the lesson and is divided into introduction/starter activity; whole class and paired/group work; plenary sessions at the end of the lesson; and after the lesson. The design technology, PE and science departments have adapted the agreement to include a section for practical activities.

Side two has a grid with specific strategies for teaching assistants to use with individual students and the whole class as appropriate. Some of these activities are: explaining of tasks, refocusing specific students and scribing/reading as appropriate. The agreements have sharpened practice, with teachers and teaching assistants working with all students.

Final thoughts and key questions

Ensuring that SEND in school is everyone’s responsibility is not an easy process; it is a journey. It is essential to identify who can help you deliver key messages and how. The more voices giving the same information, the better.
Here are some key questions to think about:

  • Have you identified a series of INSET sessions for SEND over the year?
  • Have you thought about different ways of giving information – newsletters/emails?
  • Have you used staff briefings?
  • Have you identified other key members of staff to help you deliver key messages?

It is the responsibility of everyone in the school to know how to remove barriers to learning and to share this knowledge.

  • Elizabeth Burns is the SENCO at St James Catholic High School in Barnet and member of special needs association nasen’s SENCO and Learning Support Advisory Group. For more information about nasen, visit www.nasen.org.uk


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