Five ways to make your school a welcoming place for SEND pupils

Written by: Jemini Patel | Published:
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Award-winning Harrow-based inclusion lead Jemini Patel shares five strategies for making your primary school a welcoming, inclusive environment for pupils with SEND – and their families too

Every school has an inclusion vision – but the steps needed to make that vision real are often neglected. In the seven years since I started working with pupils who have SEND, I have learnt a lot about how to make schools a more inclusive place for pupils and their families, and to turn ideas into action.

The journey began by training myself – expanding what I knew about supporting pupils with SEND – then sharing that training and knowledge with others.

Identify SEND early

This one may sound so simple and obvious, but it is a crucial first step: identify the pupils in your school who have SEND and update and refine your SEND register for each class, in order to pave the way for providing the right resources.

At my school, Whitefriars – where we support pupils aged 3 upwards, many of whom require additional educational support – we begin these kinds of conversations with parents before pupils come to us, as well as speaking with early years SENCOs.

The transition up to primary can be daunting for children and families, but showing we care, and are listening, helps everyone to settle in better. It also helps us pick up issues that might have previously been unsupported.

Class teachers, support staff and our SENCO use a range of assessment tools, expertise and experience to identify SEND. Parental and pupil concerns are also taken into account through regular meetings, with support plans put in place.

Where a SEND is established, the school, in partnership with parents/carers and pupils, will work through a four-step graduated response: assess, plan, do, review, which is cyclical – half-termly reviews leading to revisions in plans and interventions.

Where there is sufficient evidence that a pupil’s needs are still not being met through the graduated response and school’s own resources (including funding), a decision may be reached to request a local authority assessment for an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP).

Create a warm environment for every child

At the centre of inclusive primary schools are the children themselves, and it is vital to acknowledge that every pupil is an individual with unique needs.

Dedicate time to celebrating difference across your primary school with powerful stories. We create our own PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) social stories that help all kinds of learners feel seen and valued. We ensure PECS are used universally within our school and they have a huge impact on all children and their learning and progress.

In my school, we have also gone a step further to establish a “learning lounge” – an area where children with SEND can take part in bespoke activities, learning and growing their language, cognitive and social skills. Families and children feel belonging here and are reassured that we are doing our utmost to help them thrive.

Connect with your communities

Inclusion teams play an important role in valuing the support of colleagues too, as they help the children in our care. At Whitefriars School our inclusion team has an open-door policy. Any member of staff can come to us and know that we will be ready to help.

Whether it is support with challenging behaviours or some further understanding that is needed, we make it clear that we will do our best to help at any time. Alongside this we prioritise SEND training for all teachers, ensuring everyone knows their children inside-out and are empowered to think about what we can do to stretch and challenge every child.

Connections outside of school are also important. Our coaching scheme links teachers with teaching assistants from a local special school, to bring in that extra element of togetherness and support.

We have daily sessions from our autistic advisory teacher who helps us with planning and training our staff. Link with fellow schools more broadly to share training knowledge and CPD. A little time spent investing in these kinds of cross-community approaches goes a long way.

For us, the work we have done in strengthening bonds with the council has had a great impact on children and their families. Invite council members into your setting so they can see first-hand what SEND provisions you have, and what needs to be prioritised. At the end of the day, they are not coming in to judge, but to support.

Take a whole-school approach

The ideal is for inclusion to be on every staff member’s priority list, including part-time support staff, librarians, finance and so on. Your vision must include everyone so everyone can be a part of the journey.

We look at the current areas of need in inclusion, for example, planning for SEND; speech and language; support plans, etc. We break this up according to each phase EYFS, key stage 1, 2 and 3 so the sessions are bespoke, allowing us to personalise the training focusing on key children for each teacher. We also have times where the educational psychologist will join our training so they can help the team further. For some staff working with children on a one-to-one basis, daily briefings offer a regular chance to ask what three things we can do this week to better embed inclusion, which then helps our next planning session.

In addition, meetings between teachers enable staff to share tips that can be applied in other areas. For example, if something has worked well in music or art therapy, how can we bring aspects of this into every lesson, regardless of the subject?

Consistently working with families

Open communication is key to making everyone part of this movement – and the voices of families with children who have SEND are integral to this.

Ask what has been noticed about their child at home and in prior settings; create strategies with parents to establish what is most likely to work or not work and be open about what you and your team are doing, so they get a thorough understanding of what is in place. By showing parents and carers that you are allies, they can become a powerful asset for you in helping to understand pupils and help them thrive.

We are currently introducing inclusion/neuro-diversity coffee mornings to support our parents to have a safe space to talk. We have professionals like the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Services, art therapists, speech and language therapists, and specialist teachers come in, which allows our parents to ask questions, gain information, broaden their knowledge, and gain support from others.

We also conduct workshops, for example on bucket time, where we show parents how to facilitate attention bucket time at home to support attention, listening, and speech and language at home.

Final thought

In primary schools and settings across the UK, we do not have enough specialist staff, or enough special school support, to reach the levels of change and inclusion that so many of us would like to see. We do have, however, the collective power to collaborate and share ideas, changing mindsets, approaches and outcomes for the brilliant children we work with. That power is held by people like you, today. Let’s make those inclusive visions real and make them work, together.

  • Jemini Patel is assistant headteacher and inclusion lead at Whitefriars School in Harrow. Jemini won the Nasen Award for Teacher of the Year 2022.

Headteacher Update Spring Term Edition 2023

This article first appeared in Headteacher Update's Spring Term Edition 2023. This edition was sent free of charge to every primary school in the country. A digital edition will also be available soon via

Further information & resources

For more information and to register for the 2023 Nasen Awards, visit

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