Best Practice

Case study: Putting excellent SEND support into practice

For those working in schools today, the government’s plans for SEND reform remain a distant ambition. Suzanne O’Connell looks at what one school is doing right now to support SEND students

Will we ever get it right when it comes to providing a successful and sustainable national framework for our SEND pupils? It doesn’t seem all that long ago that we welcomed the Children and Families Act and the new SEND Code of Practice along with ministerial promises to ensure that our SEND pupils receive timely entitlements and support.

The SEND and alternative provision improvement plan (DfE, 2023) sets out to, and I paraphrase, “fulfil children’s potential and build parents’ trust while providing financial sustainability”.

Whereas the Children and Families Act in 2014 promised more local decision-making and flexibility when it came to the drawing up of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) – this policy paper is proposing a new set of national standards along with an EHCP template. The national standards, we are promised, will:

  • Set out what provision should be available including for those with EHCPs.
  • Clarify what good evidence-based provision looks like.
  • Establish who is responsible for securing provision.
  • Clarify from which budgets support will be provided.

In 2014, we were directed towards bespoke services reflecting the local area. In this policy paper it is recognised that we have ended up with a “postcode lottery” of provision and inconsistent practice – as Headteacher Update has been long writing about (2019).

The improvement plan suggests that evidence-based national standards will restore consistency and confidence in the system.

But however optimistic you might be about the contents of the policy paper, it is clear that things are not going to be changing in SEND practice anytime soon as Headteacher Update’s coverage of the plan’s publication at the time made clear with the headline: “DfE has not understood gravity of the situation” (2023).


A long and faltering timeline

The SEND review began back in September 2019 and there are still no imminent legislative changes planned. In fact, a “significant proportion” of the proposed national standards will not be published until the end of 2025.

As 2025 is also a general election year, you are forgiven for not feeling convinced that this policy paper will reach legislation at all.

And yet, anecdotal feedback from primary schools suggests to me that the need for an effective SEND framework has never been greater, not least thanks to the impact of Covid.

Of course, schools continue to do their best for their pupils with a great deal of success. In spite of the systems in place they have continued to find ways of providing what pupils with SEND require.


Case study: Malvin’s Close Academy

Malvin’s Close Academy in Blyth is a large primary school with 437 children on roll. The SEND department needs to be a large one to support the 25% of pupils at the school who have SEN and the 27 who have an EHCP. Rachel Quinn has been the SENCO at Malvin’s Close for 11 years.

Following their inspection in January, the SEND department was highly praised. With an outstanding judgement overall, inspectors noted that: “Pupils with SEND, or those who may need extra help, are supported exceptionally well. Pupils with EHCPs receive targeted support that meets their needs.”

Ms Quinn explained: “Inspectors wanted to know about the evolving picture of SEND at our school and how we identify need and apply our graduated response.

“They asked a lot about EHCPs because of the increasing number we have. It was a line of enquiry for inspectors. What’s most important is to know your children and what is in place for them. Inspectors will then need to see this applied in the classroom.”


Working together

Ms Quinn has seen the impact of changes in the SEND framework, but for her what is most crucial for SEND effectiveness is the support that those in the department give each other and their classroom teacher colleagues: “Nobody works in isolation,” Ms Quinn explained, “it’s very much a joined-up approach.”

The ethos of collegiality has helped her develop an in-school pastoral and special needs team. The school’s MAT – WISE Academies Trust – provides a network of advice and resources which has been invaluable in developing SEND provision too.

Ms Quinn also has the support of a SENCO who takes an overview of the three schools: Malvin’s Close Academy, Croftway Primary, and Morpeth Road Primary.

The SENCOs from each school meet regularly either online or in person and St Malvin’s has an SEMH (social, emotional and mental health) focus within the group.


Focusing on SEMH

As with all types of special need, Malvin’s Close has seen an increase in the number of pupils with SEMH. In September 2022 there were 18 on the SEMH register, but this increased to 32 by January 2023.

“We’re seeing more speech and language difficulties and problems with self-regulation,” explained Ms Quinn. “In years 2,3 and 4 the children have missed out during Covid and there’s an increase in childhood anxiety and school avoidance.”

One of the strategies which Malvin’s Close has available is its nurture room. They have a dedicated teaching assistant based there who operates a variety of alternatives for pupils. Some of the students can access nurture time according to need whereas others attend the lunch-time group or attend on specific days.

“The nurture group has evolved over time,” Ms Quinn continued. “We vary the curriculum to cover the different issues that children are experiencing. For example, we might have a day when the focus is anger management or developing friendships. They can have lunch in there and take part in specific activities. There is a role play area and we do arts and crafts. It’s a bespoke curriculum with targeted intervention.”

The careful planning of space is an important factor in providing a range of strategies and therapies for addressing the SEMH needs that the pupils are exhibiting.

An additional room enables groups to take part in Lego therapy, drawing and talking. Two rooms have been adapted for children as sensory rooms. One of these used to house the photocopier and Ms Quinn and the pastoral lead helped prepare it specifically to support a girl with complex needs.


Supporting teachers

The school conducts progress meetings every half-term with teachers. Ms Quinn is involved in any discussions such as this and regularly monitors work in the classroom and looks at books.

Malvin’s Close operates a system of “live” marking where work is highlighted in orange or green by the teachers as the students are working. Ms Quinn explained “This provides immediate feedback on misconceptions and allows for same day intervention. Individuals are then either taken out of the classroom for individual support or worked with in the classroom through targeted teaching.”

Ofsted praised the school for this regular and routine checking. The report states: “Teachers have a clear picture of what pupils understand. They check daily in lessons to see how pupils are doing and also use mini-tests to find out what gaps pupils may have in their understanding.”

Targeted intervention is also put into place before new topics are taught with pre-teaching and learning of crucial vocabulary.

A range of additional checks are used to make sure that the correct provision is accurately identified. SNAP (the Special Needs Assessment Profile) from Hodder Education is used to assist in identifying learning and behavioural needs and a research project with Bath University is helping identify who might need nurture provision.


Hopes for improvement

Within the wider community, Malvin’s has had positive experiences of local support. The local authority and health service have been there when required: “We’ve made a lot of referrals and these have been followed up with comprehensive reports that detail what the issue is and what’s needed,” Ms Quinn said.

The school’s teaching assistant for speech and languages has been able to observe the NHS and local authority teams at work and skills are transferred so that in-school staff can continue the provision.

However, Ms Quinn concedes there are gaps, particularly when it comes to specialist alternative provision and this is where she would like to see the SEND improvement plan really taking effect.

“We would benefit from more specialist provision here in Northumberland,” she added. “There simply isn’t enough and the waiting lists are long. We can’t get children into specialist provision even when it’s accepted that that’s what they need.

“We would like to see a flexible shared system by which pupils could perhaps remain within their mainstream class but have additional specialist classes for English and maths. Provision that can address their needs in smaller groups, for example.”

The development of alternative provision is a central part of the SEND improvement plan, but whether it will be in place to benefit any of those currently receiving support at Malvin’s Close is an optimistic aspiration.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.


Further information & resources

  • DfE: Press release: Transformational reform begins for children and young people with SEND, 2023:
  • DfE: Policy paper: SEND and alternative provision improvement plan, 2023:
  • Headteacher Update: Families seeking SEND support left exhausted by ‘adversarial and bureaucratic’ system, 2019:
  • Headteacher Update: SEND Improvement Plan: DfE has not understood ‘gravity of the situation’, 2023: