High-quality and inclusive teaching practices

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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How should teachers plan to support the SEN children in their lessons? Expert Natalie Packer discusses what inclusive high-quality teaching looks like

“High-quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils, is the first step in responding to pupils who have or may have SEN. Additional intervention and support cannot compensate for a lack of good quality teaching.” Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice (p99), Department for Education, January 2015.

In the not too distant past, if you asked teachers the question – “who is responsible for students with SEN in your school?” – the answer would possibly have been “the SENCO”. Hopefully, this is no longer the case, as there is a growing recognition, fuelled by the key messages within the Code of Practice and the Teachers’ Standards, that all teachers are responsible and accountable for the progress and development of all learners, including those who have additional needs.

In the 2010 report on the teaching of pupils with SEN, subtitled A Statement Is Not Enough, Ofsted noted that the key priority for all children must be “good teaching and learning”.

This may sound like a fairly obvious conclusion, but the Ofsted survey found that some of the most vulnerable students in our schools were not getting the highest quality teaching and learning and this was resulting in underachievement. The outcomes of this report paved the way for the increased focus on delivering high-quality teaching as the key to ensuring all learners make good progress.

What is high-quality teaching?

High-quality teaching for pupils with SEN is about the day-to-day interactions that take place in your classroom and the different pedagogical approaches you use to engage, motivate and challenge learners. It is about the way you use assessment and feedback to identify gaps and help students to move on in their learning. It is about providing both support and challenge in order to enable them to achieve more.

Inclusive high-quality teaching ensures that planning and implementation meets the needs of all students, and builds in high expectations for all students, including those with SEN. This is a basic entitlement for children and young people and should be underpinned by effective whole-school teaching and learning policies and frameworks.

On a practical level, high-quality teaching involves the teacher drawing on a range of strategies that are closely matched to the learning objectives of the lesson (which, in turn, will match the particular learning needs of the students in the class). However, the real “test” of whether high-quality teaching is in place is not necessarily what the teaching includes, but what the students achieve (i.e. the learning outcomes).

As a result of inclusive high-quality teaching, students with SEN will:

  • Be engaged and motivated to learn.
  • Know where they are in their learning, where they need to go next and how to get there.
  • Become independent and resilient (and rise to the challenge).
  • Develop skills, knowledge and understanding across a range of areas.
  • Recognise they have made progress with their learning from their own starting point.

The high-quality jigsaw

So what elements of teaching are most likely to lead to excellent outcomes and what does an inclusive lesson look like? We can think about a lesson as being a bit like a jigsaw that contains many different pieces, each one links in some way to several others.

The jigsaw diagram below outlines nine elements of high-quality teaching for pupils with SEN. This is not to suggest there are only nine elements to a good quality, inclusive lesson, but those identified here are key. If one or more of these pieces are missing, the lesson is likely to be incomplete.

When we tackle a jigsaw, we often start by identifying the corner pieces. In our high-quality teaching diagram, the corners are the foundations that need to come first – they are the elements that the lesson is built upon: for example, we have to know our students well before we can plan to engage and challenge them.

The piece in the middle of the jigsaw – developing independence – completes the picture and is the final piece of the puzzle. Ultimately, our aim as teachers is to develop children and young people who are independent thinkers and learners.

3 B4 Me

One strategy that many teachers use to support all students to become more independent is 3 B4 Me. To encourage students to overcome challenges when they get stuck with their learning, try introducing the 3 B4 Me strategy: Before a student goes to an adult for help they must try the following:

  1. Brain (think for themselves).
  2. Buddy (ask a peer).
  3. Book or board (use classroom resources).


Some of the pieces in the high-quality teaching jigsaw refer to ways in which we might differentiate our lessons. For example, we might use different types of questioning with particular students or vary the amount of scaffolding we provide for individuals.

The purpose of differentiation is to enable all students to achieve by making learning accessible while always providing a high level of challenge and expectation.

It is about anticipating the needs of all students and motivating them to succeed.

This can only be done if we have a good understanding of where the student is in their learning, so we can plan from their starting point. Developing positive relationships and using formative assessment effectively to get to know our students really well is key to this.

Getting to know them

A good place to start to get to know the student with SEN is to look at the their individual support plan (e.g. their Pupil Passport or profile). The plan should provide you with information on their needs and strengths and may also give targets and suggested strategies to use when teaching. Take a look at their work and speak to previous teachers, the SENCO, teaching assistants, parents and, most importantly, the pupil to find out what they’re really like and what helps them to learn.

A reflective practitioner

It is helpful to take time to consider how you effectively implement each of the pieces of the jigsaw. However, you also have a responsibility to consider how other adults in your classroom support these elements of high-quality teaching.

Deploying teaching assistants or other adults effectively in order to move students’ learning on is another key aspect of inclusive high-quality teaching – and that doesn’t mean always asking teaching assistants to work with those students who have needs.

The elements highlighted in the high-quality teaching jigsaw are not the only aspects of high-quality teaching for students with SEN and there will be others you can identify. Considering the pieces in the jigsaw, and any of your own ideas, ask yourself: Are these different to what makes high-quality teaching for any student? The answer should be a resounding no! What we are referring to here is simply good teaching that meets the needs of all students and enables all students to make progress in their learning. That’s what makes a truly inclusive lesson.

  • Natalie Packer is an independent education consultant specialising in SEN and school improvement. She has had experience as a teacher, SENCO, headteacher and SEN advisor. Follow her on Twitter @NataliePacker or visit www.nataliepacker.co.uk

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