Research School Network: Seeing the Big Picture and Meeting Pupils’ Needs

Seeing the Big Picture and Meeting Pupils’ Needs

by Research Schools Network
on the

Rebecca Pentney, Research Lead at East Cambridgeshire and Fenlands Research School

Do you have a nightmarish memory from reading stories as a child? My memory is being horrified by a scene in The Witches’, by Roald Dahl, where a girl – Erica – is trapped in a painting. As a child, I was left fearful and with countless questions: What were her emotions? Was she aware of her awful predicament?

Now, as an adult, and a teacher, I have many additional questions, all relating to understanding what has happened to Erica, or how she can be helped. This empathy and desire to both understand and support children is the natural work of every teacher. 

The latest guidance report from the Education Endowment Foundation, on Special Educational Needs, offers teachers actionable guidance to support their pursuit to understand and support every pupil they teach. 

The need for understanding runs through the new guidance report very clearly:

  • understanding influences on pupil development;
  • understanding that SEND is an umbrella term and we need to unpick this further to ensure we are effectively identifying and supporting pupils;
  • understanding the importance of a well-structured assess, plan, do review cycle’ that all stakeholders support;
  • understanding that delivery of high-quality teaching is essential for inclusive practice for all pupils and underpins effective provision for pupils with SEND (regardless of placement).

The EEF guidance states that pupils’ development is not linear”. As professionals we see evidence of this every day in amazingly complex ways. We know that effort over time can see impact when we remain consistent in our approach. Conversely, we can also see sudden changes from offering the right scaffolds to learning when a child is struggling with their practice.

Consistent systems and methods of support are essential if we are going to begin to respond to the complex interaction of influences on pupil development. We all know too well the pull on our time from the many hats we wear in our settings. 

A well implemented, evidence-based approach to Special Educational Needs can help ensure that systems are easy to use, efficient and more easily accessible to support colleagues on a day-to-day basis. The guidance report aims to complement the SEND Code of Practice, supporting schools in evaluating and developing their provision, using the evidence base as the starting point for meaningful review.

Accurate assessment of SEND

Assessment helps us see the full picture, leading to better understanding and more accurate responses to pupil needs. 

We may be challenged, for example, by a pupil in year 6 also called Erica, who never arrives to class on time after break. An initial reaction may be to deal with this by delivering behaviour sanctions as a route to solving the problem. But the problem persists. Delving deeper we may uncover the cause of the lateness to be that she finds social interaction challenging and is struggling with the enclosed, noisy environment at transition times. 

Children like Erica can be supported in this environment through considered provision. Small changes, such as a coat peg or locker at the end of a row – rather than in the centre of a busy corridor – would be a tiny, but important change to help her deal with and manage the environment and reduce anxiety. This could be built on by discussing with her ways to further reduce anxiety and an age appropriate social story could be created to support the agreed routine. 

This example also serves to highlight the importance of a holistic view of the child and a reminder that not all pupils with SEND will have a formal diagnosis. We may be the first adult the child has worked with that has noticed or addressed this area of difficulty.

The complex picture for pupils with SEND

Through understanding and exploration of the key issues this report addresses, we can begin to develop and improve our systems to effectively understand and support the learners within them. 

We need to accept that the picture in front of us is not static. As our pupils’ pictures develop we must move with them to ensure our teaching meets our best understanding of current needs and the picture we are presented with. 

Many pupils, like Erica, will not be able to effectively communicate this to us. It is therefore essential that we look carefully at, and ask questions about the picture in front of us, alongside the evidence, to provide for the pupils in our care in the best way we can.

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