3 questions to ask about every SEND intervention

Targeted SEND interventions can be effective – if schools ask the right questions at the start, says Nicole Dempsey

Nicole Dempsey

SEND: How teachers and schools can run effective targeted interventions

Having the flexibility to select a small number of students for targeted intervention is a golden opportunity but, for our special educational needs and disabilities learners, it is too often an opportunity that is missed.

Staffing, resource and timetable limitations can result in SEND learners being placed in interventions not because they have been objectively identified, but simply because they have SEND. These students are likely to be the learners who need the most careful consideration of input, the most rigour and staff accountability, and the most honest appraisal of what’s working and what isn’t if they are to be successful. 

So how can we make sure that any intervention we put in place is going to deliver what we want it to – better outcomes for our SEND learners?

SEND: Targeting interventions

Here are some key questions that you should ask yourself before you put any intervention into practice.

1. Is it evidence-based?

The evidence to support your intervention could come from the intervention programme provider, objective research or through your own experience in school, but evidence of time (mainly the student’s learning time) and money well spent should always be a prerequisite. 

Interventions have a habit of becoming an established part of the core offer of a school, but this shouldn’t be allowed to happen unless they are evidence-informed and responsive to current need. No intervention should be in place simply because it has been for years.

2. Is it of equitable quality?

The teaching and learning strategy that has a proven track record of getting results time and time again is high-quality teaching, in the classroom, with a qualified, accountable teacher. Anything that takes a student away from that has to be pretty good to stand up against it. Ask yourself: does the intervention have the same strong evidence base? Is it being delivered by someone equally qualified and accountable? And if not, why not? Is less enough for some learners?

3. What are students losing?

Inevitably, withdrawing students for intervention means missing out on some aspect of the timetable that their peers are still getting, and so any intervention has to be weighed up against what those students are losing out on. It may be that the non-core and art-based subjects are more vulnerable to having students withdrawn from their lessons, but what are we saying by this? Arts subjects, and a broad curriculum in general, can be crucial to a child’s wellbeing and coping capacity in school, not to mention that any child can have a talent in those areas, and so denying access to them has to be well justified. 


It might seem that, once these considerations have been taken into account, there’s little room left for intervention at all, but that is not the case. Timely, high-quality intervention is a crucial contributor in the education of all students, but particularly those who are falling behind or have additional learning needs.

Any intervention is only worth the time, cost and potential disruption to curriculum access if it is done with care, consideration and honest reflection, because it is too easy to rely on received wisdoms and habits of convenience.  Maybe, sometimes, it is the interventions themselves that need a little intervention.

Nicole Dempsey is assistant principal at Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford

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