How to adapt SEND provision during Covid-19

Far from being a compromise, the changes made at Charles Dickens Primary School have re-energised parents, children and staff alike, explain Will Cannock and Jemima Rhys-Evans
22nd January 2021, 12:00am
Covid: How Pandemic Has Affected Special Schools.
Will Cannock & Jemima Rhys-Evans


How to adapt SEND provision during Covid-19

Covid-19 has posed many problems for schools, but one of the most urgent has been how to organise SEND (special educational needs and disability) support for those receiving face-to-face teaching when resources are tight and "bubbles" cannot be "popped". There are no easy solutions; it is not just a difficult job to get the right educational provision for the right pupil, but also to ensure the social, wellbeing and logistical needs of each child are met.

The approach that seems to have worked particularly well is that of Charles Dickens Primary School in Borough, South London. Tes caught up with its Sendco, Will Cannock, and Charles Dickens Research School director Jemima Rhys-Evans to find out more.

Tes: Your approach at the school is to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to SEND, isn't it?

WC and JRE: Yes - 13.2 per cent of pupils have an additional need and 2 per cent have an education, health and care plan (EHCP). Before the pandemic, most pupils with SEND were supported through a combination of high-quality teaching in the classroom and targeted interventions. Pupils with more significant needs - some with EHCPs - were taught in class with their cohort in the morning, supported by an additional adult. Four afternoons a week, those children then moved to a mixed-year-group satellite class, which focused on their specific areas of difficulty. This blended approach enabled a sense of membership and belonging with the rest of the class, hand in hand with personalised learning, to meet identified needs. It was informed by recommendations in the Education Endowment Foundation's guidance report, Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools, that all pupils should have access to high-quality teaching complemented by carefully selected small-group and one-to-one interventions.

Then this got trickier owing to the pandemic?

Yes. With children taught in rigid bubbles, this flexible, blended approach was no longer possible. In the interim between the lockdowns, we could not teach pupils from different years in the same room and there were challenges with supporting children for small-group and one-to-one interventions. Our approach was completely disrupted.

So, what did you do?

We adopted a two-tiered approach. A small group of children with complex needs who require a highly personalised curriculum were taught full-time in the mixed-age satellite provision, staffed by the Sendco, a qualified teacher and specialist learning-support assistants. The remainder of pupils with SEND stayed in their classes for the whole day. We had some concerns about this approach initially:

  • What would be the impact on the peer relationships of the children in the full-time satellite class?
  • What was the capacity of teachers to support children with significant SEND for the whole day within the classroom environment, while also juggling the new demands of the stricter rules needed to enforce a Covid-secure classroom?

How did you select those who were placed in the satellite provision?

All children who attend the satellite provision have a complex combination of needs (86 per cent have EHCPs) and require a highly individualised curriculum in a range of areas. Their progress was reviewed on a weekly basis, and decisions made in close collaboration with parents about whether the satellite provision was meeting their academic, social and emotional needs. The group therefore changed slightly over the course of the autumn term, with children transitioning in and out of the satellite class - in a Covid-secure way - based on these reviews.

For those children who stayed in the standard classroom provision, did teachers need more training to properly support them?

There has been some additional training provided, particularly around autism, as a high proportion of our students with SEND have autism. Staff across the school and the satellite provision have also worked closely with our speech and language therapist (Salt) for advice and support in implementing Salt support within the classroom. Staff responses to the training have been positive.

And how did you manage your concerns around the peer relationships of the satellite group?

We regularly survey pupils to gather their feedback. The feedback has been hugely reassuring. For example, "I'm lucky to have new friends"; and "I didn't think we would get on but [I realised] we like the same things and we play together now!"

Children in the full-time provision are happy, settled and learning well, too. It has been a big relief.

So, would you say that the approach has been a successful option in light of the restrictions you have faced?

We would. We have an increased focus on enabling the highest possible standard of support in classrooms. Forensic analysis of children's needs, coupled with detailed and careful planning by class teachers, as well as implementation of advice from external professionals, has enabled children to make strong progress in the classroom setting, despite the changes in the type of support delivered. A greater focus on equipping staff with the skills, knowledge and resources they need to provide higher-quality support in class has led to improvements in academic outcomes, social and emotional wellbeing, and communication for all pupils with SEND. These improvements have been mirrored in the satellite provision, along with additional successes in developing greater levels of pupil independence.

Have parents been supportive?

We were keen to reassure parents that, despite changes to interventions and types of provision available, their children would continue to access a high standard of SEND support. We have been careful to communicate clearly and positively about the changes through virtual teacher-parent meetings and by sharing progress against individual targets, as well as celebrating successes in the classroom.

Obviously things are now disrupted again, but when things get back to 'normal', will you be keeping this approach?

Though we have always been careful to balance the mixture of support in class with additional interventions, the past nine months sent us back to the drawing board. The commitment and skill of our staff and parents in making these imposed changes work has been phenomenal.

A palpable sense of excitement can be felt among parents, children and staff - a sense that this new way of working, which none of us would have imagined a year ago, could lead to significantly improved outcomes for our pupils with SEND. And so it is certainly something we intend to continue for as long as it meets the needs of the children.

Will Cannock is a Sendco at Charles Dickens Primary School and Jemima Rhys-Evans is director of the Charles Dickens Research School

This article originally appeared in the 22 January 2021 issue under the headline "How we…Adapted SEND provision amid Covid restrictions"

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