The latest reports on pupils with SEND

Since school fully opened on March 8th we have seen a number of new reports published about pupils with SEND. In this blog I share with you five of these reports and their findings and recommendations. It is hoped that the Department for Education (DfE) take into account some of the findings in these reports as part of the SEND Review which is currently taking place.

Identifying pupils with SEND – Education Policy Institute and Nuffield Foundation – 19th March 2021

This research report written by Jo Hutchinson has a core aim of assessing how fairly and effectively SEND are identified in England.  The report examined which groups of children are most likely to access SEND support, as well as where and in what circumstances fewer or more children than expected.

Key findings:

  • Which primary school a child attends makes more difference to their chances of being identified with SEND more than anything about them as an individual.
  • There is a mis-match between what schools focus on in assessing SEND needs and what local authorities focus on at the higher-level assessment.
  • Academy schools are associated with depressed chances of being identified with SEND.
  • Although children living in disadvantaged areas had substantially higher odds of being identified with SEND, the effect was the greatest for the least disadvantaged children.
  • Children who moved schools or neighbourhoods during early primary school were less likely to be identified with SEND.
  • The same was true for children who experienced frequent absences from school.
  • Children who were subject to child protection plans for abuse or neglect or have just been taken into care, had reduced chances of being identified with SEND.

This has huge implications following the disruption caused by the pandemic. Children who have not been in-school or visibly engaging in remote learning may find there is a delay in their identification of SEND in the primary years.


  • Provision of specialist SEND training for all current and prospective school leaders
  • Increased access to educational psychologists in schools when providing early support or making a case for support at the higher level
  • Greater use of age-standardised assessments where appropriate instruments exist to increase consistency in assessment
  • The development of a framework of national expectations defining the kinds of adjustment and support that any mainstream school should make available as a matter of course
  • The framework should be developed in consultation with parent groups, with costing and feasibility planning undertaken by school leaders’ representative bodies
  • Curriculum and pedagogies designed to foster secure and equal personal, social and emotional development for all children
  • Development of services and assessments capable of engaging with children at home, both in response to the COVID pandemic, and for children who miss school for other reasons
  • Further research to unpick whether the ethnic disparities they report represent real deficits in support, why and where they come from
  • Making sure the most disadvantaged children and those who move around are monitored and safeguarded
  • In terms of SEND Support, using inspections to gather evidence of compliance with national expectations and recognise best practices that exceed the expectations
  • Rationalising high needs funding across local authorities according to the risk factors we have identified – the risks of reducing funding can be avoided by providing additional funds to top up those areas that are under-funded relative to their risk profile
  • The needs assessment function of local authorities conflicts with their role as budget holder for SEND support. Separating these two functions would open up the opportunity for more outcome and quality-focused practices in local authorities
  • Evaluating the possibility of class sizes of 20 or fewer in reception in the most deprived neighbourhoods, alongside better training and clearer expectations for SEND support. An intervention on this scale should be evaluated, and with specific reference to the outcomes and long-term costs of support for children with SEND

There is an excellent commentary on this report from Special Needs Jungle.

Forgotten. Left behind. Overlooked: The experience of young people with SEND and their educational transitions during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 – APPG for SEND – March 2021

This is the first report published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for SEND. The members of the APPG were particularly keen to focus on how the transitions that young people with SEND face had been impacted by the significant changes in education provision since March 2020. The inquiry was launched at a meeting of the APPG for SEND on 15 July 2020.

Key findings:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the problems and issues that were already present in the SEND system
  • The manner and speed in which the lockdown and closure of school happened had a negative impact on children and young people with SEND and their families. Many were left without support
  • Funding for SEND provision has been of long-term concern with local authorities, school settings and families reporting deficits in the high-needs budget. The impact on schools of Covid-19 related costs and losses of income has exacerbated this crisis
  • The government guidance for special schools and alternative provision was frequently published later than guidance for mainstream schools. This led settings and young people with SEND to be seen as, and feel like, an “afterthought”
  • The Coronavirus Act and the reduction in requirements of local authorities and schools to make ‘reasonable endeavours’ has had a negative impact of the support available for young people with SEND and their families. There is concern that this impact could be long-lasting
  • In some cases, risk assessments were used to refuse attendance in school for young people with SEND. These assessments were often conducted without the input of families or the young people themselves.
  • Delays in the process of assessing for and implementing Educational and Health Care (EHC) Plans impacted on the transitions of young people with SEND. This meant they started in a new setting without the provision they required or, in some cases, not attending school. Not being able to visit new settings increased the anxiety of transitions for young people with SEND.
  • Specialist resources and support that are available for young people with SEND in school settings cannot be replicated in the home environment, which has an impact on their ability to learn
  • Therapists and technicians who support the provision for young people with SEND have in many cases not been allowed on to school sites due to COVID restrictions.


  • In future, any guidance that is published by the DfE for schools and other settings is fully cognisant of the complex range of needs and challenges for SEND children, schools, families and carers and that such guidance is timely and considered as a priority both during national emergencies and as we emerge from the current lockdown measures
  • That an urgent and time-bound parliamentary review is undertaken by government in order to assess the impact which COVID-19 has had upon children with SEND in order to ensure that the support provided is focused on the most vulnerable
  • That new and additional funding is made available in the short, medium and long-term to support SEND children and young people with the COVID-19 recovery
  • Specific funding to be given to addressing the delays and backlog in the process of assessments for Educational and Health Care (EHC) Plans and that the process of applying and assessing for EHC Plans is made simpler and more compassionate
  • That urgent funding is given to support the mental health of young people with SEND as part of recovery from the pandemic. That all mental health provision is fully accessible for
  • young people with SEND and tailored to their needs
  • An urgent review of high-needs funding is undertaken. This has been long-called for, but the pandemic has highlighted issues in the funding of provision for SEND. Funding will be crucial in the recovery from the pandemic
  • That the Secretary of State for Education publishes the long-awaited SEND review and commits to working with the APPG SEND and allied APPG’s in order to ensure that SEND Children and Young People are placed at the centre of government’s policies and decision making

Deployment of Specialists in Mainstream Schools – Sea View Trust, Whole School SEND, nasen and Blackpool Research School – March 2021

The Sea View Trust and East Lancashire Inclusion Partnership, supported by Blackpool Research School, undertook research to provide an in-depth understanding of the effective deployment of specialists in mainstream settings. The aim being to increase awareness amongst school leaders of the wider range of support available to schools to enrich their provision at the whole school (universal) and Special Educational Needs (SEN) support levels.

Key findings:

  • A whole school commitment to inclusive culture and practice is key to the success of specialist deployment
  • Effective practice was underpinned by strong, trusting relationships built between school staff and specialists; these, in turn, supported schools and specialists in developing positive relationships with parents and other external agencies
  • Whatever the deployment and commissioning arrangements, it appears that, where the school takes ownership of the intended impact of the deployment, there is evidence of a greater impact
  • Specialist deployment was most impactful in schools where the deployment of specialists was embedded in the school’s continuous improvement cycle
  • Where robust tracking systems were in place there was greater clarity of impact thus providing evidence which in turn supported schools in making a stronger case for funding allocations


  • Establish an Inclusive School Culture
  • Build Positive Relationships
  • Establish a Vision
  • Think Sustainability
  • Build an Impact Evidence Base

As I have often said – We need to build a 21st Century workforce to support the individual needs of the 21st Century children and young people that we teach.

Supporting SEND – Ofsted Research Report – May 2021

This study was developed to explore how the needs of children and young people are met in mainstream schools and how approaches vary between providers. It has to be emphasised that this research was conducted using a very small sample of schools and pupils.

Key findings:

  • Schools often took a pupil-centred approach when identifying needs and planning provision, but staff did not always know the pupils well enough to do this
  • Pupils with SEND regularly spent time out of class working with teaching assistants (TAs), but there were some concerns about social exclusion and over-reliance on a single adult
  • Occasionally, schools were teaching a curriculum to pupils that was not properly sequenced or well matched to their needs
  • Collaboration between practitioners and families supported schools in meeting pupils’ needs more effectively
  • Mechanisms for co-production with parents and carers were often in place but implementation was not always meaningful. This is likely to impact how far schools can tailor provision to children’s needs
  • School SENCos were essential for mediating provision but experienced a range of challenges in carrying out their role
  • Schools employed a range of tailored strategies to meet pupils’ needs, sometimes supported by multi-agency services
  • Local authorities had strong ambitions for multi-agency collaboration, but this did not always translate into improved practice and positive experiences for schools and families
  • Some pupils received support from external services, but not always to the extent they need
  • This research raises questions about what ‘success’ looks like in terms of supporting children with SEND in mainstream schools

The report highlights the:

  • Importance of all professionals within the SEND system working collaboratively to understand the child and co-produce the plans for provision with families
  • Need for a robust curriculum and subject knowledge alongside a strong understanding of SEND to be present to maximise the learning and development of pupils with SEND
  • Variability in provision is not ensuring that the system is working effectively for children with SEND
  • Importance of a full range of appropriate multi-agency expertise being present and available to both plan and provide support that meets pupils’ needs, and for support plans to be co-produced with children and their families
  • Broader issues for debate about what ‘success’ looks like in supporting pupils with SEND
  • Fact that school staff sometimes have difficult decisions to make about how best to support their pupils – they may take longer to master particular areas of the curriculum, they may need to study a reduced number of subjects or receive interventions out of the classroom to ensure that they learn as much as possible
  • Need for school practitioners to engage in regular continuous professional development to strengthen and update subject and curriculum knowledge as well as practitioners being familiar with the wide-ranging debate around the use of labels for SEND and the potential problems this can create for effective inclusive practice and possibly for pupils themselves
  • Need for all practitioners to understand pupils as individuals with unique strengths, removing barriers to learning and providing support that meets needs and makes a positive difference.


Back on Track: Guidance for schools and families on supporting pupils with SEND in response to COVID-19 – UCL Centre for Inclusive Education  

This document is slightly different to those above as it sets out to provide free guidance to both families and schools as part of the wider Back on Track” programme that is being offered by the UCL Centre for Inclusive Education.

This guidance offers a number of interventions to support learners with SEND including:

  • Literacy Learning
  • Early Years
  • Supporting children with Autism
  • Wellbeing and Mental Health
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