NQT Special Edition: Supporting SEN pupils

Written by: Michael Surr | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Supporting SEN in the mainstream classroom is a key duty for all teachers, but one that can feel like a huge challenge for NQTs. Expert Michael Surr offers his advice and reassurance

With the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) latest statistics finding that more than 1.2 million pupils in the UK have SEN, NQTs need to be prepared to not only teach these pupils, but support them too. However, as an NQT, you have lots of brand new learning that is there to be shared, and you can – and will – have a hugely positive impact on the children you are teaching, including those with SEN.


Behaviour can often be a significant issue or concern for NQTs. Challenging behaviour could be a symptom of an underlying cause such as learning difficulty or social/emotional issue, so ensure you consider these possible reasons when developing your approach to behaviour management.

For example, a child with SEN may act out if the work is too difficult because they cannot access what they are being given, so using the graduated approach of “assess, plan, do, review” (see later) will help to identify any changes that might be needed to help the child to engage more effectively with work.

Distinguishing between labels and needs

It is important that we distinguish between labels and needs. A label can be a good starting point, but it won’t necessarily establish the specific kind of support or provision that a particular young person needs.

So, for example, provision for dyslexic students may include providing them with different coloured paper. However, while this might help some children with dyslexia, it won’t help all of them, so it is important to recognise that all students have different needs in the mainstream classroom; every child is unique, so we need to look at the person as well as the label.

In fact, most of the needs you come across are not going to have a label anyway. For instance, some learners may have a general learning difficulty, in which case there will not be a specific label, which is why it is really important to follow the graduated approach.

The graduated approach

Being a reflective practitioner is essential. A good place to start is to ask yourself: why didn’t it go so well and what can be done differently next time? What can I do to improve? And, if the lesson went well, reflect on why it effectively engaged the class. This will enable you to develop provision to help all students in your classroom.

Don’t forget that part of being a reflective practitioner means thinking not only about the students, but also your own practice: for example, is there anything that you need to adapt regarding delivery?

The graduated approach is central to SEN support, as outlined in the SEND Code of Practice, but it is something that teachers do anyway. It consists of four steps in a cyclical process – assess, plan, do, review.

First, you need to assess students’ needs either formally or informally, through observation and looking at work in books for example.

Second, use this information to plan for their needs, thinking about what kind of provision and resources will help them to achieve successful learning outcomes. This can be something as simple as looking at where they sit in the classroom and working out if this needs to be changed to help engage with them better, or more complex planning, such as using IT to photograph homework or classwork or record lessons, and then making it available on the virtual learning environment, so that students can refer back to it when they are at home.

Third, implement the plan and, finally, review it: what worked well, what could be done to make it more impactful?

As well as using the graduated approach, to help you meet individual needs it can also be a useful cycle for wider reflection. In one secondary classroom that I visited, I saw a student with SEN who found it hard to sit still, so the teacher had given him a clipboard so that he could stand up to work and move around if he needed. Although this may seem a little obscure, it demonstrates the graduated approach in action. The teacher had identified a need (assess), planned a possible solution (plan), put the solution into practice (do) and then evaluated the success or otherwise of the intervention (review).

The outcome of this particular intervention was that the student concerned appeared more engaged and was able to get something down on paper. The others in the class, although distracted at first, soon began to ignore the fact that one of their peers was standing up.

Developing provision

Within the SEND Code of Practice, it is a requirement that parents should be engaged at every stage. Parents know their children, so we need to listen to and involve them (and the students themselves). This can lead to successful strategies for use both in the classroom and at home.

When it comes to seeking support and opportunities for CPD, NQTs should be proactive. However the school’s SENCO should be the first port of call. They are the people that provide the strategic leadership for SEND in the school and will have lots of knowledge and experience. In addition, read your school’s SEN report (you’ll find it on the school website), as this will include information about your school’s approach and provision for supporting learners with SEN.

Other NQTs can also be an invaluable source of support and advice, as they are facing the same pressures and challenges as you. It is important, too, that as an NQT and a professional you aren’t just the consumer, but that you also give back your learning to support colleagues. Likewise, other colleagues in your setting are likely to have copious amounts of experience, which is a fantastic resource that should be tapped into. Most of us regularly peruse social media, and this too is a highly valuable resource.

In terms of external sources, there are a huge number of places that NQTs can turn to, including nasen. We offer useful resources on the website, including the Focus On SEND training, which is a free course, developed with funding from the Department for Education, for mainstream classroom and subject teachers to help develop good-quality practice for SEN. There is also the SEND Gateway which brings together all sorts of different information, provision and providers from the world of SEN.

The teachers of the future

It is really important as an NQT to remember that you do not have to be an expert in all types of SEN. And, as part of the graduated approach, you should not be afraid to try something new – just like giving a student a clipboard may have seemed ridiculous, your ideas could actually really improve a student’s engagement with learning. Never think that you can’t make a contribution, although you might be surrounded by colleagues with various levels of experience and knowledge, you may just spot something that they have not, so don’t be afraid.

  • Michael Surr is education development officer with special needs association nasen. To sign up for the Focus On SEND course, visit http://oln.nasen.org.uk/ or for more information on nasen, visit www.nasen.org.uk

Further information

NQT Special Edition: Free download

This article was published in SecEd as part of our November 2016 eight-page NQT Special Edition. The Special Edition, which was published with support from the NASUWT, offers best practice advice and guidance ranging from classroom practice and wellbeing to workload and your rights and entitlements as an NQT. You can download the entire NQT Special Edition as a free 8-page pdf via http://bit.ly/2fAp3q0


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