Research School Network: Supporting pupils with SEND during testing times The EEF’s Gary Aubin explains how the ​‘Five-a-day’ approach can support high quality teaching and exam preparation.


Supporting pupils with SEND during testing times

The EEF’s Gary Aubin explains how the ​‘Five-a-day’ approach can support high quality teaching and exam preparation.

by Research Schools Network
on the

For the first time in 3 years, Key Stage 2 SATs are here. As pupils nervously turn over the page of their first EGPS paper, Year 6 teachers will know they have done all they can to make their pupils assessment ready’. The period of transferring knowledge and skills is over. It’s up to pupils now.

But what does good exam preparation look like? What can teachers do in future years , particularly when pupils in their class have SEND, to maximise their pupils’ chances of exam success?

The evidence suggests that there is an approach which can successfully support pupils. Better still, those with SEND may not need an entirely different approach to their peers.

The EEF’s SEN in Mainstream guidance report promotes five evidence-based strategies– a Five-a-day’ approach– that support all pupils to make progress, including pupils with SEND.

Five a day plate
The 'Five-a-day' approach

Cognitive and metacognitive strategies

In terms of exam preparation, teaching cognitive and metacognitive strategies’ is crucial.

Cognitive strategies explicitly support pupils to understand and learn. This might mean a teacher introducing new material in small steps to avoid cognitive overload, or teaching a pneumonic that helps pupils to remember new content. Both of these techniques are a key to supporting pupils with revision.

Metacognitive strategies help pupils to think about the learning process. They support pupils to plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning – perhaps involving asking pupils if they have the information that they need to begin a task, or asking them whether they are following the right strategy during a task.

Come exam day though, the teacher is powerless to do more. They must be confident that, in the preceding weeks, they have faded their support so that all pupils are able to succeed in a testj, either completely on their own or with the limited support provided by an exam access arrangement.

How can teachers best fade their support?

The EEF’s Metacognition and Self-regulated learning guidance report’ gives teachers useful guidance, informed by the best available evidence, on how to fade support over time, which is pertinent for exam preparation:

The EEF’s ‘Metacognition and Self-regulated learning'

This promotes the importance of teacher-led tasks, before pupils are scaffolded towards working independently.

The pupils I teach, irrespective of their SEND status, seem to value this. Many require more teacher-led learning than before the pandemic, lacking the resilience needed for longer independent tasks.

Thankfully, the evidence suggests that teacher-led approaches, moving carefully and gradually on to tasks that require increased pupil independence, can support pupils with SEND to make greater academic progress.

Testing times and purposeful practice

Let’s go back to the teacher who prepared their Year 6 class for their first EGPS test. What does a teacher-led approach – leading gradually towards independent practice – look like in practice, when teaching adverbs for example?

The teacher might first have activated pupils’ prior knowledge of word classes, involving all pupils in the process of recalling what they already know about verbs, nouns and adjectives.

They might have provided, if needed, explicit strategy instruction around what constitutes an adverb and how one might be recognised in a sentence, based on the function it serves within that sentence.

They would then have put some examples of adverbs in a sentence, modelling aloud the strategy they have just taught around how an adverb might be recognised in a sentence:

I’m looking at the word dangerously’ and asking myself what that word does. It describes how the child is crossing the road. I know that crossing the road is something you can do, so dangerously’ must be an adverb.”

Following this, the teacher might have modelled what to do when pupils encounter non-examples’, perhaps including non-adverbs that end in ‘-ly’ (lonely, chilly), to address this misconception early.

They might then have asked questions to ensure that pupils correctly understand the strategy of identifying an adverb.

They would have subsequently placed a series of examples on the board, completing the first couple as a class and then allowing independent practice for some pupils, while possibly spending longer guiding other pupils, with or without SEND, who may benefit from additional support.

When the time is right, the whole class would then have independently identified adverbs in sentences, while some pupils might even move on to creating their own sentences and asking their peers to identify the adverbs within those sentences e.g.


Finally, a process of reflection might have taken place, whereby the teacher leads a discussion around the strategies pupils used to identify an adverb in a sentence. For instance, they could explicitly reflect on the lesson’s learning in the context of the wider work they’ve completed on word classes.

This approach – articulated in further detail here – shows real promise as a framework teachers can use to implement some of the Five-a-day’ at the whole-class level, for the benefit of all pupils. It can be useful for all pupils when undertaking test practise, but can prove particularly useful for pupils with SEND, and not only in the run up to exams.

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