SEND & inclusion: An award-winning approach

Written by: Marie Beale | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Whitefield Primary School won the Award for Primary Provision at the Nasen Awards. SENCO Marie Beale gives us an insight into life in a school where supporting students with SEND is a priority, and explains the key tenets of their practice

The work of our amazing team of staff has given Whitefield Primary School in Liverpool a fantastic local reputation for delivering an inclusive curriculum which helps learners with SEND to succeed.

We feel incredibly proud of this recognition, and it has led to growth as parents and carers promote our offers to others, but it has meant that the percentage of students with SEND on roll is higher than the percentage of students with SEND in the local population – currently around 30% of the school are on the SEND register.

In practice this does put a strain on our funding and ability to support children in the way we would like. Inclusion requires trained, skilled staff, and the national funding model is based on school’s meeting an arbitrary first £6,000 of provision for children with complex needs.

The more children who are on the SEN register, the higher the impact of this baseline on the budget. It is important to recognise this, but to work tirelessly to develop strategies that help us to provide a whole-school environment that supports every pupil.

Invest in a solid team

Our first focus is always on ensuring that core elements of high-quality teaching are in place, and that staff understand how to tailor their approach according to the needs of their cohort.

This starts with the recruitment and training of staff and ensuring our new teachers are supported in an apprenticeship model involving them working closely with experienced teachers who understand what inclusive teaching looks like at Whitefield.

Over the last 12 months we have recruited highly trained support staff who not only work with leaders to directly support children, but also work alongside and coach wider teaching and support staff.

Staff personal development meetings are also very important. They give us the opportunity to set out the different roles and responsibilities in working with our children with SEND so that it is seen as a team effort.

I hope all staff feel able to ask for help and, as a SENCO, a large part of my day is talking through how we can support children with complex needs, what routines are and aren’t working, what resources would help, and what training we need to access.

Senior leaders must by visible

Although we are a small leadership team, we actively seek to be visible in classrooms. This ensures that the ethos of inclusion is modelled and emphasised continuously so that any issues are identified quickly, and we listen carefully to understand why children might be struggling.

This involves a significant investment for senior leaders, particularly when we have new children or at times of transition but investing this attention and time in the short-term does help to prevent situations from escalating.

Think about the environment

Across the school, levels of neurodiversity and the impact of attachment and trauma mean that if this is not managed well, children can quickly become dysregulated resulting in a huge impact on learning.

It is a key priority of ours to ensure that the school environment is carefully planned to maximise a sense of calm, clarity of expectation, and low sensory arousal. Our routines are set out carefully and all staff are highly trained to communicate with clarity, and to listen to all the children carefully.

We have also reviewed our play-time and lunch-time offer. We have extended play-time supported by class-based staff which hugely supports children to be ready to learn in the classroom, while developing wellbeing and social communication.

We have taught children how to sit at lunch tables, use a knife and fork, explained our expectations for noise-levels and how to talk to your neighbour. Children no longer queue up for lunch, they are served by staff. This is a different approach to many schools, but we find this really supports inclusion and makes for a calming lunch experience.

We also teach all children to understand and have the necessary language to explain their emotions, as well as learn strategies to manage them. Within our Growth Curriculum, children learn that we have different brains and that not everyone needs the same things.

Look at your systems

The paperwork attached to high levels of SEND can be overwhelming, and in a small team the SENCO is also responsible for many other areas of leadership. The systems to support our inclusion are continuously developing, however the use of technology is vital to us. It not only helps us to collate and share information from external professionals, but also within school to ensure shared understanding and shared responsibility.

Improving our data management has also enabled us to look closely at our pyramid of need across the school and focus on children being supported in the right way and progressing as individuals.

The head and I meet termly with class-based staff to review progress and barriers child by child. This is also a large investment of time, but it enables us to look at change at the level of individual children and strategically across the school.

Another huge cog in our system is our admin support team and Family Liaison Officer – I don’t know what I would do without them! They ensure those small but important things are communicated well, and parents find them really approachable.

Impact of Covid on parental engagement

Pre-Covid we worked closely with parents and carers in school developing strong relationships. Through lockdown, the pandemic offered opportunities to deepen some of our key parental relationships as we supported students and their families with regular calls and check-ins.

On the flip side, Covid has also resulted in constraints on having parents in school, meaning that we have missed getting to know our newest parents coming into the early years and sharing our approach and ethos.

We have had to be imaginative in the way that we communicate our policies by using online information and presentations to empower our parents, their understanding and acceptance of the challenges of inclusion.

We are working on a project funded by SHINE to support parents to understand emotional regulation and how to support their own children – we hope by doing this work it will enable children to develop and thrive.

Inclusion matters – always

Inclusion and attachment and trauma-sensitive practice has been a priority for school development for some years and we were proud to be awarded the Nasen Award for Primary Provision 2021 as well as the Alex Timpson Trauma Sensitive Schools Award.

We have put an immense amount of hard work into developing the school we have today. Of course, we are aware that high levels of SEND may impact on the school’s academic performance. While this might worry some school leaders, I cannot imagine another way to run a school – for our team inclusion it is a moral imperative.

In an ideal world my desire would be that children would access the same quality of inclusion whichever school they attend, so that all children with SEND have the best possible outcomes and education.

  • Marie Beale is deputy headteacher and SENCO at Whitefield Primary School in Liverpool. Whitefield Primary School won the Award for Primary Provision at the Nasen Awards 2021. Visit

Further information & resources

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.