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5 Ways to Support SEN Students in the Mainstream Classroom

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Approximately 15% of students have Special Educational Needs (SEN), or nearly 5 students in a class of 30 students. SEN support is becoming a priority not just for special schools, but for mainstream teachers as well.

According to research, the greatest influence on children with SEN is their classroom teacher. However, mainstream teachers are unsure how best to support the growing number of children with SEN without the expertise of special education teachers.

Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) recently published a report on supporting SEN in mainstream schools. In it, they offer 5 recommendations for both primary and secondary schools.

The following is a summary of these 5 recommendations.

Create a Positive & Supportive Environment for all pupils, without exception.

According to the report, schools and teachers should aim for inclusivity as their top priority. As such, it means eliminating barriers to learning and participation for students with special education needs, providing an education tailored to their needs, and promoting high standards for all students.

This can be accomplished by:

  • Developing positive relationships with students, cultivating active engagement, and nurturing their well-being.

  • Providing the most effective learning experience for all students.

  • Taking a positive and proactive approach to behavior. For example, modeling, promoting, and rewarding positive behavior; understanding why students misbehave when they do; taking student needs into account when managing misbehavior; maintaining consistency and regularity in behavior management.

Build an Ongoing, Holistic Understanding of your pupils & their Needs

It was also emphasized in the report that teachers and schools must understand each pupil's individual learning needs. EEF suggests four steps for developing this understanding:

  1. Assess - gather information from multiple sources to develop an understanding of your student's needs.

  2. Plan - Using this information, determine what type of support might be most beneficial to the student, which should include research-based teaching strategies as well as any strategies suggested by specialist professionals.

  3. Do - implement the plan.

  4. Review - Did the support work for the student or do you need to update your understanding of the student’s needs and develop different support?

Furthermore, the report recommends that regular, organized assessment should take place rather than ad hoc one-off assessments to gain a deeper understanding of each pupil.

When trying to understand the needs of their students, teachers and schools will also benefit from looking at the bigger picture. Parents, carers, specialists, and pupils themselves can all contribute valuable input. Teachers can make better decisions about how to teach a student when they have a comprehensive understanding of their needs in this way. It is also imperative to note, that children’s needs can change over time. Some children may start a class with an SEN which they later lose, or conversely, the child may start without an SEN, but develop them as they get older.

Ensure All Pupils have access to High Quality Teaching

Good teaching practice for children with SEN is often like good teaching practice for children in general. Teachers may be reassured by the fact that many of the skills they need when working with SEN students are already ones they are developing and using with the rest of their students. To quote the report, “searching for a ‘magic bullet’ can distract teachers from the powerful strategies they often already possess.” Teachers can, therefore, emphasize certain teaching strategies with SEN students with which they may already be familiar. These strategies can be used with all students, applied flexibly, and adapted according to each student's needs.

The strategies are as follows:

Flexible grouping 

There can be a tendency to group children with SEN or low attainment in the same classes. However, this does not consider individual strengths and weaknesses and can negatively impact learning, therefore this should be avoided.

Wedge classroom white boards are ideal for small group intervention activities because they are portable.  Targeted group work gives SEN pupils the opportunity to collaborate and increase their knowledge and understanding of a subject, helping to improve their learning outcomes.  

Teacher supporting SEN students in mainstream classroom using A2 Wedge board for targeted small group work allowing SEN pupils to collaborate to increase their knowledge & understanding
Teacher using A2 Wedge Whiteboard for small group interventions with SEN pupils.

In addition to using Wedge Whiteboards in the classroom, there are many benefits for children having a small whiteboard at home.

Cognitive & Metacognitive Strategies

Developing students' understanding of how they learn and think.

  • Explicit instruction - An instructional approach that involves demonstrations by the teacher, guided practice for exercises, and then independent work. A great example of this is Rosenshine's Principles of Instruction.

  • Using technology – for example apps that help to develop reading, writing and communication skills.

  • Scaffolding - Providing support to students on tasks, and gradually removing it until they can complete them on their own.

Complimenting High-Quality Teaching with Carefully Selected Small Group & One-to-One Interventions

In our discussion, we discussed the importance of high-quality teaching, but it's not the only thing that counts. Small groups or one-to-one support are also needed for some students with SEN. A well-structured, carefully executed, and tailored small group/one-to-one intervention should be implemented in tandem with the assessment of a student's needs. As per the second recommendation, teachers can determine the kind of targeted small group support that students require if they develop a thorough understanding of their needs. According to the report, the intensity of the intervention will depend on the needs of each student:

  • Low need - universal intervention

  • Medium need - targeted intervention

  • High need - specialist intervention

Work Effectively with Teaching Assistants

EEF's final recommendation is that teachers should work effectively with teaching assistants (TAs). Students and their learning benefit from TAs just as much as they do from their classroom teachers. The report advises teachers to pay attention to the role of TAs and their positive effects on children with special needs.

EEF tips for using TAs effectively are provided below:

  • Teaching assistants should complement classroom teachers rather than replace them.

  • TAs should not only be used for informal teaching with low-achieving students.

  • TAs should assist students in developing independent learning skills.

  • It is essential that TAs are well-prepared for their role in the classroom.

  • The use of TAs for small group/one-to-one interventions can be highly effective (recommendation 4).

Don't forget that there is no 'golden nugget' of information to be found. The most effective way educators can support the learning and achievement of their students with SEN is to emphasize those powerful teaching strategies with which they are already familiar with.


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