Back to news Blog


'The key change in the SEND landscape and my advice to educators'

Earlier this year, ASDAN commissioned Richard Aird OBE, a SEND expert with 30 years’ experience as headteacher of four special schools, to undertake an independent review of our provision for learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). In this Q and A, Richard analyses the SEND landscape, provides top tips and reflects on what the future holds.

What is the key change we’ve seen in the SEND landscape in recent years?

Because of previous Ofsted inspection criteria, many headteachers in special and mainstream schools adopted an overly generic approach to educating learners with SEND. They placed more importance on teaching the national curriculum rather than focusing on the individual needs of students. Their intention was good – the philosophy at the time was about providing equal opportunities for learners. However, there has been a significant shift in recent years towards greater personalisation of learning ­– individual student priorities now take precedence. Ofsted appreciates how important tailored intervention is, particularly when research and school data show the effectiveness of this approach.

What does the focus on personalised learning mean for young people?

Students can engage with the learning process more effectively, whether their needs are sensory, based around emotional difficulties or cognitive impairment. Learners are going to achieve the targets set for them in their education, health and care (EHC) plans more easily if learning is personalised. Tailored learning also develops young people who, as a result of specialist intervention, are:

  • more independent
  • better able to integrate into their communities and live meaningful and rewarding lives
  • have the best chance of securing employment

What’s your top advice for educators and senior leaders in special schools?

Special schools need to ensure their curriculum meets the four broad areas of need outlined in the SEND code of practice (2015). These are:

  • communication and interaction
  • cognition and learning
  • social, emotional and mental health
  • sensory and physical need

The four broad areas of need are a pre-requisite to planning a curriculum for the learner and they provide a holistic and balanced approach to personalised learning. Special school leaders must also ensure that all of their practice is based on evidence of impact and progress.

What advice do you have for mainstream schools?

Headteachers at mainstream schools should ensure their practices and policies around exclusion do not unfairly penalise learners with SEND. The rate of pupil exclusions from state secondary schools in England rose sharply last year. Pupils with special educational needs accounted for just under half of all exclusions.

It is therefore important that school policies are sensitive towards pupils with SEND. Mainstream schools should work in partnership with local special schools, which may have the capacity to provide outreach services for pupils at risk of exclusion.

What would you like to see more of from SENDCOs?

It is important SENDCOs do not work in isolation within their schools – they need to work in partnership with local special schools and teaching schools. This helps them access all the support available, learn about best practice and find effective solutions quickly. In addition, if SENDCOs want to go to their leadership team and suggest changes to policy or practice to benefit SEND learners, it is important to provide sound evidence of how their recommendations have had a proven impact elsewhere.

What is your top tip for parents of children with SEND?

Parents need to be closely involved in drafting EHC plans for their children. They may find it helpful to identify an advocate or critical friend to provide extra support when liaising with the school and local authority. Such an individual can provide encouragement for a parent who may need to say to the school that the provision for their child is not working. The time young people spend at school passes quickly and many parents are left with a son or daughter who has reached 19 but may not have developed the life skills or independent living skills you would have expected after so many years of schooling. Parents need to have the confidence to play a leading role in the collaboration with the professionals in relation to drafting EHC plans. Though the professionals have an extremely important role to play and their views must be taken into account, it is the parents ultimately who know what’s best for their child.

How does the future look for ASDAN’s SEND provision?

ASDAN is incredibly well placed because of its loyal customer base. For other awarding bodies, SEND provision is perhaps an add-on to their core area of work. But for ASDAN, provision for young people with barriers to learning is at the very heart of the organisation. Through my review, I have seen the huge drive and commitment from senior leaders at ASDAN to continue to provide high quality courses that meet the needs of students now and in the future. ASDAN wants to continuously learn and improve so that its SEND provision is the best available.

What’s next in the SEND landscape?

Recent changes to policy across the UK mean we are moving in the right direction – personalised learning for students with SEND is now widely recognised as the most effective approach, giving them every chance to succeed. Even a change of government will not stop this momentum.

In the last two years, I have delivered lectures to more than 3,000 headteachers and educators and I’ve been struck by how driven teachers are to make a difference. In my view, there is more energy in special education now than there has been for a long time. As someone who has recently retired from the sector, I find these positive signs very encouraging.