Improving the progress of SEND pupils


Charged with improving the progress being made by SEND students in her school’s English department, middle leader Caroline Dutton describes some of the strategies her team is employing.

Colchester Academy is located in the middle of a council estate in a fast growing, but very old Roman town. Our students live in a part of Colchester that has a significantly high crime rate in comparison to other areas, so ensuring students feel safe at school is a priority for us.

Four years ago Sir Charles Lucas Arts College became Colchester Academy. The predecessor school had many students who did not achieve expected progress levels. However, in our first year as Colchester Academy we achieved our best year 11 results to date, and as results continued to rise so too have parents’ expectations.

Our current student population, although relatively small at only 692, has 50 per cent eligible for the Pupil Premium and 22 per cent on the SEND register. 

On embarking on this project, I had just been appointed team leader of the English Department; the department has two trainees and seven qualified teachers, all at various stages of their careers. This allowed me to think strategically about the project with the added benefit of coaching support and leadership development training.

Analysing the data 

Upon taking on the new role, I soon identified that the schemes of work for key stages 3 and 4 needed developing and reworking to include more skills-based work. I decided to make this an on-going project and have developed some of my team, with the help of our local authority advisor, to address this gap.

After analysing the data, I realised that SEND students needed to be a focus: only 20 per cent of SEND students had achieved A* to C in English language and only 15 per cent achieved this same benchmark in English literature. 

The numbers scared me at first, but they also re-instated a commitment that every SEND student must make at least three levels of progress, regardless of their starting point.

My aim was that 70 per cent of all students leaving in 2015 would achieve at least three levels of progress and 30 per cent of those would achieve four levels of progress in both English literature and language. Using evidence from data, I decided to put particular emphasis on SEND students – I wanted 80 per cent of SEND students to achieve at least three levels of progress.

My challenge now was how to go about implementing changes across my department that would lead to progress in SEND achievement levels. I decided to concentrate on a few things: establishing a team, personalising interventions, establishing a culture of peer review, and creating a SEND toolkit. 

Establishing a team

We already had an excellent head of inclusion who was starting to implement whole-school changes to address the SEND provision in the school.

At a departmental level, we assigned a new post, SEND co-ordinator in English, to one of our learning co-ordinators. She met immediately with our head of inclusion to see how we could best support our SEND students. To make improvements, significant changes needed to happen and data was key. The new SEND co-ordinator now makes sure that all teachers have received relevant information and data if they have SEND students in their classes, and perhaps more importantly, ensures they understand the data so they can implement suggested strategies. 

She also monitors the SEND progress data and holds meetings with teachers when a SEND student does not appear to be making progress to see what, if any, support needs to be put into place. Creating specific roles around SEND has helped to raise the profile and importance of SEND within the department. 

Personalised interventions

We have an array of interventions available to our students, but key to their success is making sure that they are personalised to the needs of the individual. Literacy is a big issue at our school, with many students having a reading age years below their chronological age. We use the Accelerated Reader programme which gives both students and teachers feedback based on quiz results, so the teacher can then set goals for students to achieve. There are many other programmes that can be accessed by the students, but making sure the correct programme is used for the students’ progress is crucial. 

For example, SEND students have benefited from the diagnostic tools on Lucid Exact. Lucid Exact provides an assessment of a student’s literacy needs after a diagnostic test has been administered; this allows for targeted teaching to fill the gaps. Resources Toe by Toe and Lifeboat are both used for the students at the weaker end of the scale – supporting reading and spelling.

Creating an accessible toolkit

Perhaps the most important change has been the introduction of an SEND toolkit. This includes a set of templates that can support all students, not just SEND students, in their learning. Key templates included in the toolkit are: planning, weighing up, high five, story-board and mind-mapping templates, among others. 

These are made available to all students, who can use them as and when they choose if not directed by the teacher, by keeping copies available in the classroom. They are available in all English classrooms so if a pupil moves classes, the resources are still on hand. These have proven extremely useful and have shown us that students can be responsible for their own learning. 

Peer review

Peer review has been a great way of demonstrating progress for both SEND students but also for whole-school learning. After a successful trial in the English department, a new marking policy has been implemented across the school. 

The school has now created a culture of peer and self-assessment called “purple pen” work. After marking, the marker – teacher, peer or individual – suggests ways to improve. The student then uses the purple pen to make the suggested improvements. This encourages the students to continually strive to improve their work and allows them to know what is needed to reach their target grade. This is done in key stages 3 and 4 and is proving to be a successful way of showing progress.

Plan, plan and plan some more

Department planning time once a week is vital. This gives teachers a time to share opportunities and to work with other teachers to progress and develop their ideas when planning future lessons.

Planning for SEND students is crucial. Sometimes the differentiation may only be the change of word other times it may mean a whole section of the lesson has support put in place. For example, a sheet with prompt words or a sheet with the key words explained can help a SEND student to succeed. Often by working together the finer details of supporting SEND students is made easier for all. 

Taking time out for moderation and data checking is also crucial. The correct pairing of teachers is important. Avoid pairing strengths and weaknesses as this can be intimidating for the weaker teacher. Instead try pairing people with an idea of how they can support each other and how they can best plan for a certain group of students. Often a new teacher can look at things from a different perspective and turn a tired and over-used lesson into a creative and exciting one.

Progress to date

It has been an interesting year but progress so far has been encouraging: 70 per cent of the year 10 group are currently forecasted to make at least expected progress levels. We are just a year away from final exams, but I am hopeful that we will be able to exceed the goal that we have set for our department.

Take-away tips for middle leaders 

  • Create an SEND team – appoint someone responsible for monitoring SEND data.

  • Make sure all interventions are personalised and relevant.

  • Ensure all teachers have access to and understand appropriate data.

  • Create a toolkit of useful templates that can be used by all students at all times.

  • Encourage students to support each other through peer review techniques.

  • Take the time out to plan useful meetings and analyse data.

  • Caroline Dutton is head of English at Colchester Academy and a 2013 Fellow on the Teaching Leaders Fellows programme. 

Teaching Leaders
Teaching Leaders is an education charity whose mission is to address educational disadvantage by developing middle leaders working in schools in the most challenging contexts. To find out more, visit


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