Despite the incredible work achieved by staff in many settings across the country, there is no doubt that support for children with special educational needs and disabilities is under pressure. Social media is awash with comments about the struggle to get needs identified, to get support for those needs once identified, and to get funding in order to provide for those identified needs. For the staff of educational settings, the families and children involved, this can be a frustrating and challenging process.
This term alone I have several friends who are in the midst of this struggle, in no way critical of the schools they are working with, but frustrated nonetheless by the system. A comment from one resonated, however. She said, “If we could be sure that all classrooms were SEND-friendly, we would be part of the way there.”
The notion of the SEND-friendly classroom is not new, but perhaps we could all appreciate a reminder. Clearly it is harder to achieve for those of us teaching in further- or higher-education, or other itinerant teachers without a classroom base, but where possible, relatively small adjustments can enhance the support we offer.
Michael Surr, Education Development Officer at NASEN (the National Association for Special Educational Needs) is supportive of this sentiment. He told me, “All teachers are teachers of young people with SEND. This means that in each classroom there will be learners with additional needs. Creating an inclusive environment and cultivating inclusive practice, where the strengths and needs of every individual are recognised and then appropriate provision is made, will not only benefit those young people with a special need but all young people.”
Given that there is diversity in any group of people, Surr’s comments about inclusivity are powerful for any seeking to focus on the experience of children and young people in education. He also recommended exploring the SEND Gateway on the NASEN website, in particular the What Works section which contains links to free resources that are categorised according to the 4 broad areas of need that should be planned for (communication and interaction, cognition and learning, social, emotional and mental health, and sensory and/or physical needs).
If you are focusing on developing your SEND-friendly classroom, these ideas may help:
- Sit in your room as if you are a child in your class. Are you affected by anything in the fabric of the classroom? Flickering lights? Too much light flooding in the room (some classrooms can be particularly badly hit in summer months)? Obstructed view of where you typically speak to the whole class? Clutter in your field of vision?
- Review the identified and suspected needs of the children in your class(es). Knowing your learners as much as possible will help tremendously in ensuring your room is appropriate for all.
- If you have space, consider developing a calming area with minimal stimulation where children can sit quietly or read.
- Keep a box of sensory toys for children to use when necessary.
- Consider using a full or partial seating plan. This can help those with specific needs (for example, those who need to sit near the front for sight or hearing purposes) ensure that they always have access to the seat they need. It is also a way of keeping some children apart if necessary and of giving others the space they need in order to concentrate. There is no law or ideal when it comes to seating plans. It is entirely down to the teacher to determine whether they will support learning and how they should best be deployed.
- Develop classroom rules and routines and stick to them. Make sure changes are implemented appropriately.
- Simplify instructions as much as possible. Use clear language on noticeboards and eliminate doubt or ambiguity when setting up activities.
- Make sure necessary adjustments are done in good time.
- Consider whether noise needs to be dampened in your room. Is it particularly noisy when furniture is scraped on the floor? Are you bothered by noise from other classrooms? Is outside noise a distraction? Is there anything that can be done to minimise these distractions?
- Cultivate a culture of responsiveness. Be open to suggestions from children and their families about how things might be improved for them and generate a sense of community in your room so that all who use it take ownership of the need to be SEND-friendly.
- As a school you might want to consider focusing on one specific aspect of being SEND-friendly each term or half-term. For example, you might want to take each of the four broad areas of need and explore what supporting children with those needs actually looks like in your classroom.
These suggestions are offered merely as a starting point, and many will already be on the case. The creation of a truly SEND-friendly classroom is necessarily an on-going process and will need to reflect on the needs of the children using the room in a dynamic way. There is no definitive checklist, but being aware on a daily basis of how children are accessing learning in your room, and whether there are any blocks to learning that can quietly be removed, just might transform school life for those most in need.
Find out more…
- The NASEN website can be accessed here
- NASEN miniguides are free to access and download and can be found here
- The Driver Youth Trust website can be accessed here. It carries information on supporting all children in SEND-friendly classrooms.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.