If you read articles or listen to podcasts about SEND you'll hear one phrase more often than others:
"What works for pupils with SEND works for all pupils."
Look, here it is from a recent TES article by Rob Webster:
"David Mitchell, author of 'What Really Works in Special and Inclusive Education: Using Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies', says those with SEND “respond to universal approaches in much the same way as non-SEND pupils”.
Put another way, good teaching for pupils with SEND is good teaching for everybody."
The EEF's 'Special Educational Needs in the Mainstream Classroom guidance report says the following:
"The evidence review for this guidance report found strong evidence that high quality teaching for pupils with SEND is firmly based on strategies that will either already be in the repertoire of every mainstream teacher or can be relatively easily added to it."
This is a potentially dangerous phrase to use. Does it mean that we can just carry on teaching how we already teach and in doing so we will automatically be taking care of the needs of pupils with SEND?
No. Because that's the wrong way round.
The phrase doesn't go 'good teaching for all pupils is good teaching for pupils with SEND' but the risk is that that's what time-poor teachers hear.
The strategies that work for all pupils will also work for pupils with SEND but only if we aim the use of the strategies at the pupils with SEND to begin with. Once we have them as our focus, we can then expect many other pupils to benefit.
As we've seen above, these strategies are things that teachers will already have in their ‘arsenal’. This reassuring idea of we do these things already shouldn't be confused with the idea that what works for pupils with SEND works for all pupils. They are two separate, albeit interlinked, ideas. The question is, to what extent are strategies employed with pupils with SEND in mind first? Take explicit instruction for example: is it aimed first at the 'average' or 'core' pupil and without the pupils with SEND in mind? OR, is it aimed first at the pupils with SEND?
The point that is being made when we hear the phrase 'good teaching for pupils with SEND is good teaching for everybody' is that, regardless of condition or diagnosis, the majority of pupils learn in broadly the same ways. You may have to make adjustments so that pupils can engage with explicit instruction, to use the same example as before, but they will all learn via this strategy.
This older study reported that:
"There is little evidence of the need for distinctive teaching approaches for children with specific learning difficulties although responding to individual differences is crucial. The key to appropriate teaching lies in careful and ongoing assessment linked with teaching."
"the wider lens and environment that surround pupils with SEND is as important as the precise lens of personalised provision."
Yes, it is important to assess and really know your pupils with SEND, and to provide for them based on this information in ways which are specific to them, but the way that you respond to this data will, in many cases, be how you respond to assessment data that you gather for any individual pupil. In fact, carrying out formative assessment and acting on it is itself a pedagogical approach that will work with all pupils.
Ben Newmark and Tom Rees' paper for the Confederation of School Trusts and Ambition, which is titled 'Five principles for inclusion', puts it very compellingly, describing the concept of universal design for the education context:
"Great schools plan inclusion by design. Teachers who are inclusive by design plan a lesson with those who struggle the most in mind. In every part of the lesson the pupils with additional needs are in the forefront of their decision making. For example, the teacher breaks knowledge down into small chunks and plans how she will check for learning after each new piece of content. This strategy helps the pupils in her class with additional needs, but also all pupils benefit from the approach.
Inclusive schools see inclusion as core business: it is built into the fabric of the school, not bolted on at the end. They know that centring the school around those that find learning hardest benefits all children."
So, whilst it might be music to our ears that there aren't necessarily completely different approaches to teaching pupils with SEND, it doesn't let us off the hook and give us an excuse not to plan for them. We must ensure that we are using the strategies that we already employ, targeting them in such a way that the needs of pupils with SEND are met first, and that then, by extension, other pupils are also supported.
If you are currently planning for the 'core' or 'majority' first, and then trying to make adaptations, you may need to begin to think of the pupils with SEND first. You may not have to change the way you teach, but you might need to change who your priorities are with regards to who you are aiming your teaching at. Remember, the effort you put in to meeting the needs of pupils with SEND will reap rewards with other pupils, but not vice versa.