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Top tips on ensuring SEND learners thrive in secondary mainstream

Experienced former SENCO and Assistant Head Pauline Trapp provided advice in her first blog on how secondary mainstream schools can make their SEND provision outstanding. In this follow up article, Pauline turns her attention to the skills and experiences that are necessary for every SEND learner to reach their potential.

What are the most important skills SEND learners need?

Skills developed by learners with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) should be linked to raising self-esteem and employability as well as being transferable.

Literacy and numeracy skills are crucial and schools should use technology to boost progress and motivation in these areas in particular. So many pupils feel demotivated through years of perceived failure and Ofsted wants to see pupils enjoying their learning. ASDAN has courses designed to boost progress in English and mathematics at GCSE (Accelerating Progress) – these programmes are relevant, practical and engaging for many SEND learners. In addition, timetabling literacy and numeracy in the mornings is preferable, when learners’ concentration is better.

Schools should be preparing pupils to thrive in the 21st century, a different and more complex landscape than previous generations are familiar with. Pupils today require, to a greater extent, intercultural competence, for example local and global citizenship (awareness of rights and responsibilities), as well as religious education skills (reflection, empathy, peace studies) and science and technology skills. SEND pupils will benefit hugely from these, as well as core skills such as creativity, problem solving, communication, teamwork and initiative.

Why is employability crucial for SEND learners?

Schools should always have employability as an end point. ASDAN courses, with their focus on developing employability skills are particularly good at this.

Without employability skills, learners with SEND are particularly at risk of struggling to find a job, being isolated at home with their parents or carers and ultimately becoming lonely and isolated from their community. Everyone loses in this situation.

I’ve seen through my own experience the massive benefits for SEND learners of developing employability skills early on. For example, a learner with Down’s Syndrome at a school I worked at developed his employability skills and confidence by doing work experience at a café. He later got a paid job at the café because he had developed core skills and learned how to communicate with people.

Another reason to prioritise employability is because it’s an important aspect of EHC plans. When learners with EHC plans have their annual review from Year 9 onwards, there is a key section on employability and what is being done to prepare them for adulthood and work.

How can schools ensure they are meeting the needs of SEND learners in relation to spiritual, moral, social and cultural development?

By concentrating on the learning and development of the whole child. Schools need to allow curriculum breadth for as long as possible as well as access to extra-curricular activities. This involves investing in PSHE provision and may include running assemblies and clubs. ASDAN has published an excellent, redeveloped PSHE Short Course that has all the resources schools need to provide engaging PSHE.

Why are extra-curricular activities particularly important for SEND learners?

The one area where a SEND learner achieves may be in an extra-curricular activity. Any form of achievement gives learners peer recognition, which then generates confidence and boosts status. Confident young people are more likely to be able to make the transition into work. Therefore, if learners have passions outside of school, try to encourage these.

I have often seen SEND learners who have strong interests outside of school succeed in getting a paid job related to their interest. A learner who is good at swimming could for example become a lifeguard, which may pave the way for a job at a sports centre and later potentially management. The effects of this approach can be far reaching and therefore schools should be creative in the full offer they provide to learners.

What are the key benefits for schools of focusing on SEND?

If you raise standards for SEND, you are raising standards for all learners. This is because you are asking educators to think more deeply about learning and how children learn. Moreover, by focusing on SEND, you are making a powerful statement to your wider community about how your school has the right pathways in place for all students regardless of their background or ability. This is particularly important for comprehensive schools that pride themselves on inclusivity.

Moreover, by focusing on getting SEND right, learners’ behaviour and attitudes will improve. Students that are being catered for through a variety of pathways and personalised learning are far more likely to be engaged, motivated and make progress. Every school wants learners with these attributes and qualities. High quality SEND provision creates a positive and nurturing school culture where every pupil matters.

What are the main challenges facing SENCOs today?

Summative assessment – the reliance at GCSE on assessment by terminal exams chips away at the confidence of many young people with SEND. There is tension in the education system currently between attaining academic results and providing the best opportunities and life chances for pupils.

Formative assessment, on the other hand, is a key confidence builder for many young people with SEND because they can see their achievements accumulate. It reinforces what they can do rather than what they can’t. ASDAN’s unique pedagogy is based around formative assessment – experience has shown that this method of assessment (eg gathering evidence of achievement through a portfolio) is particularly effective in boosting progress and achievement for SEND learners as well as those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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To find out more about ASDAN’s courses for learners with SEND, please visit our website.

About the author 

Pauline Trapp is an ASDAN Trustee and works as an Education Consultant specialising in SEND. As a former SENCO and Assistant Head at Churchill Academy and Sixth Form, she was part of a team that oversaw three outstanding Ofsted inspections at the North Somerset school.