SEND: 3 ways to make pen portraits more useful

Individualised information sheets have a role, says Nicole Dempsey, but more inclusive practices can benefit everyone

Nicole Dempsey

SEND: How to make pen portraits more useful for teachers in schools

Whether you call them pen portraits, one-page profiles or something else, using individualised information sheets to ensure SEND students’ needs are known to their teachers is fairly commonplace in schools.  

These are usually used alongside the assess-plan-do review cycle (for individual education plans (IEPs), annual reviews and so on), and they can be a useful at-a-glance solution to sharing information about a student across the staff team. But they are not without their pitfalls and problems.  

For the Sendco, they can be time-consuming and onerous to produce and keep up to date, and in mainstream secondaries – where each teacher sees numerous classes – they can result in a quantity of paperwork to read and incorporate that is difficult for the teachers to manage.

This can result in information not being fully known and understood, and students’ needs not being met.  


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Even when the profile is read and understood, it can highlight differences and reinforce a message of segregation instead of keeping the focus on how the school environment and routines can be developed to create greater inclusion for all learners.

There is, of course, a place for individualised information-sharing and bespoke provision, but the systems that we have come to accept as the norm for our SEND students can be further streamlined and developed to support our continuing journey to being more inclusive by design. 

The more inclusive practice you have built into what you are doing for all students, the less additional and different practice is needed and the more students will thrive and succeed together.  

Here are three ways in which the purpose of the pen portrait can be incorporated and embedded, reducing paperwork and separation, and developing whole-school inclusion within your school:

SEND: Strategy summaries

Providing summaries of strategies instead of individual students can bring together ideas that will work for multiple students, reducing workload for the Sendco and teachers whilst keeping the focus on how we can develop our practice to be more inclusive for more children.  

At my school, we have strategy summaries by need type (autism, vision impairment, dyslexia and so on) and, although we do list the students who we know need those strategies on the document, too, we keep the focus on things that can be done at the whole-class level, that the teacher can incorporate into their normal way of working, and that promote togetherness.  

Every student is different, and what works best also differs from classroom to classroom (what works best in English might not be right for an art lesson). We use the documents as a kind of toolkit, providing a range of tactics and ideas for the teacher to try to make things work in their own lessons.

Staff briefings

The strategy summaries are available to all staff at all times via our shared drive, but we also use staff briefings to highlight key strategies and changes (for example, if a student has been added) and to give teachers the opportunity to ask questions and discuss what is and is not working.  

We use these briefings to spotlight students whose needs have changed or where we have found a particular set of strategies have worked well, and we promote how best to use the strategy summaries in lessons and in medium- and long-term planning, too.

Sendco voice

Probably most importantly of all, though, is having the Sendco present and involved in decision-making about every aspect of school routines and culture.

Whether it is a teaching and learning strategy, behaviour policy, reward event or anything else, incorporating how it will meet the needs of all learners, including those with SEND, from the very beginning, is key to ensuring that needs can be met. 

Nicole Dempsey is assistant principal at Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford

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