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The SEND Code of Practice

As you have seen in previous sessions, adapting your teaching practice to support all pupils to succeed does not necessarily mean an increase in workload. The strategies that have been covered so far in this module are all features of effective high-quality teaching. By mastering the use of these methods (e.g. effective scaffolding, deployment of support staff, and flexible grouping) you will be supporting most of your pupils to succeed at a task.

Building these strategies into your everyday practice should be the first step taken to support all pupils to succeed. However, there will be a small number of your pupils for whom these strategies need to be developed further.

There are a number of reasons why a pupil may require further adaptation to practice. For example, it may be permanent adaptation; to support a pupil with a hearing impairment you may learn key signs or wear a microphone. Alternatively, the adaptation may only be required at a specific point in their education, such as the supporting of the emotional health and wellbeing of a pupil whose parents are separating.

Pupils with SEND may need a more personalised level of adaptive practice in order to access and achieve in all areas of the curriculum. The SEND Code of Practice (2014) is a document that supports teachers and leaders to understand their responsibilities and duty of care towards pupils with a special educational need. The Code of Practice itself is 292 pages long, so how can it be used by teachers to help inform their practice? Hear from Kenny Wheeler, from the Driver Youth Trust, as he highlights key points from the document that every teacher should be aware of.

The SEND Code of Practice – Kenny Wheeler

Video transcript

What is the SEND Code of Practice?

The ’sEND Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years’ (revised January 2015) explains the duties of local authorities, health bodies, schools and colleges to provide for those with special educational needs under part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014.

In total, the SEND Code of Practice is 292 pages long. So how can it be used by teachers to help inform their practice?

Key parts for educational settings relate to chapters 5, 6 and 7:

Chapter 5 outlines expectations for Early Years settings such as nurseries. Chapter 6 outlines expectations for schools, this includes identifying SEND, describing the four broad areas of need and special educational provision in schools, including SEN support and requests for EHCPs, as well as how schools will work with pupils, parents and external agencies. This chapter also details what should be included in the schools SEN Information Report and details the role of the SENCo. Chapter 7 outlines statutory duties in post-16 institutions.

The four broad areas of need (chapters 6.28 to 6.35) is helpful as it outlines some of the barriers some pupils may experience in the learning environment.

The broad areas of need are:

Communication and interaction – this is where a pupil has speech, language and communication needs. For example, they may have difficulty communicating what they mean or understanding the rules of social communication. There may also be some issues relating to social interaction and they may not be able to understand the needs of others.

Cognition and learning – this is where young people learn at a slower pace than their peers. Young people might have a moderate, mild or severe learning difficulty which impacts on them accessing the curriculum. This extends to profound and multiple learning difficulties – also known as PMLD - where young people experience profound barriers to accessing the curriculum if there aren’t significant adaptations made to the lesson or additional resources provided.

Social, emotional and mental health barriers – this is where young people experience social and emotional challenges which can manifest in a multitude of ways. For example, some behaviours may be disruptive and attention-seeking whilst others might be more withdrawn. Some behaviours may reflect underlying mental health barriers such as depression or anxiety.

Sensory and/or physical needs – this is where young people have a disability which impacts on them accessing educational provision provided for them. This may include a hearing impairment or visual impairment resulting in the young person requiring additional resources or support to access the curriculum. It may also be the case that a young person has a physical disability which again requires additional resources or support to help them access educational provision.

An important consideration for you, as their teacher, relates to the steps you take in order to deliver high-quality teaching. Part of this involves identifying barriers that pupils may experience and considering how these will influence planning, use of resources, style of delivery and general interaction with pupils.

In part, the Code of Practice encourages teachers to take a step back and consider the information that already exists. Essentially, you are not starting with a blank page, there will be data and other key information that can support you in adjusting your approach to help pupils access the curriculum. For example:

  • Primary schools will have the Early Years profile to draw on and gauge the areas of development for a pupil. There will also be information from the phonics screening as well as internal assessments which show a learner’s profile.
  • Secondary schools will have data and information from feeder Primary schools as well as that produced by the assessments, they run such as CAT scores, reading assessments and again, they will have their own in-house assessment systems that they can draw information from. There may also be additional information by way of reports from specialists which detail where an individual’s relative strengths and weaknesses lie.

Parents will also be an invaluable source of information relating to their child. They will be able to share their own observations, insights and experiences of their child’s development. This insight might also include strategies and approaches that work as well as highlighting key areas of difficulty so make sure you invest time in communicating with them to involve them in the process.

The Code of Practice encourages a consultative approach which can help support you to gather information from a range of sources and then synthesise this information with the support of other key stakeholders such as parents, colleagues and external professionals. Rather than be data-rich and limited with analysis, the Code of Practice encourages you to be reflective, to make sense of the information to hand and use it to inform your teaching.

Equally, the Code of Practice highlights that classroom teaching is effectively the first line of intervention or support, so before seeking to place a pupil on a provision that is different from or additional to normal provision, you should aim to understand what is going on in the classroom first of all. Only once you have a clearer understanding of what is happening within the classroom and have gathered evidence of what is working and where barriers persist, can you then really make more informed decisions of what would constitute the most appropriate provision in the future.

Four broad areas of need

As mentioned in the video, the Code of Practice highlights four broad areas of need. These are:

  • Communication and interaction needs such as Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Cognition and learning needs such as dyslexia
  • Social, emotional and mental health difficulties such as an attachment disorder
  • Sensory or physical needs such as visual impairment

It is useful to know which of the broad areas of need your pupil’s diagnosis falls into, as it can then help you with the identification of strategies to support you in adapting your practice.

Any SEND reporting will ask for the pupil’s ‘primary’ area of need. However, it is highly likely that a pupil may have learning needs that fall into more than one of the broad areas so this should be considered when planning any support.

The graduated approach

When supporting pupils with SEND to access the curriculum, the Code of Practice recommends adopting a graduated approach to your practice. This approach helps you to find out what strategies will support pupils to access their learning, and crucially, which strategies aren’t working for them. It involves working with many different stakeholders such as the pupil themselves, parents or careers, outside agencies and very importantly, the SENCo at your school. The extent to which these stakeholders are involved will depend on the pupils’ needs. The graduated approach can be used to support any pupil who requires more personalised adaptions in order to access learning; they do not have to be diagnosed with SEN.

The graduated approach consists of four stages: assess, plan, do, review. It is designed to put the pupil at the centre, and each stage supports the teacher to make adaptations to their learning environment or practice to better support the individual pupil.

The cycle is continuous and can span a short period of time (around 2 weeks) or can be used over a longer period (over a half-term). As such, it enables the teacher to be responsive to what is working well, and to stop actions that aren’t having the desired impact.

The pupil works through the graduated approach in a cycle, moving from Assess to Plan, Do and Review.

Each stage of the approach is outlined in the Code of Practice. However, listen again to Kenny Wheeler as he explains each step of the approach with some tangible examples.

The graduated approach – Kenny Wheeler

Video transcript

Chapter 6.44 to Chapter 6.56 of the Code of Practice highlights the graduated approach that teachers can take in order to find out what may help a pupil and what might not help them.

From the outset it is worth stating that we are looking at the behaviours exhibited or experienced by the individual. We are observing where difficulties occur and how they manifest or impact on the individual accessing the curriculum. What we are not doing is trying to diagnose or label an individual as having a learning difficulty. At the initial stage of the graduated approach we are collecting evidence and then using this to help inform future practices, approaches and strategies that we might use with an individual.

Although we are referencing the SEND Code of Practice, good practice dictates that we review where a pupil is performing and look at what we can do to assist them in accessing learning within the classroom. This does not mean that we are saying that the individual has SEND; it is more a case of looking to see what works, what doesn’t, and what needs revising.

The first stage of the graduated approach is ‘assess’.

At this point we are gathering / collating the evidence we have to hand; this might be from:

  • our own observations within the classroom or around the school
  • assessments that we may have carried out
  • assessments from other members of staff such as previous class teachers or teaching assistants
  • paperwork that may have been shared by the SENCo (also look on the shared area where info is often stored)
  • the pupil themselves describing where they feel they experience difficulties but also where they feel they have relative strengths
  • we might seek views from parents (although this could come later on once you have more information and a clearer idea of what we feel the issues actually are) What is the issue? What are your concerns relating to the pupil, what is it that you have noticed within the classroom? What behaviours are we seeing? We are looking to gather evidence, we are not looking to come up with a diagnosis – that might come in a subsequent assess, plan, do and review cycle and would be the carried out with the involvement of outside professionals.

Then we are looking to ‘plan’.

Knowing what you feel the issue may be, the next step is considering what you need to do in order to help the pupil access the curriculum and engage with learning activities within the classroom.

Things we might do at this stage could be:

  • Modelling tasks and making each step explicit for the pupil
  • Having worksheets to look at rather than working from the board
  • Giving pupils additional processing time
  • Providing scaffolds to support writing or independent tasks These plans need to be shared so that all staff adopt a consistent approach. For some of you that might be talking with teaching assistants so that they complement what you are doing.

Then we move on to the ‘do’ part of the cycle, putting into action what you have planned, trying out different approaches and seeing their impact. Most importantly, doing something rather than waiting for someone else to take responsibility.

The final part of the cycle is ‘review’.

What did you notice? What have other staff noticed?

What was the impact of specific approaches you used?

What worked and what didn’t work?

In what situation or context did the approach work / not work?

How did different approaches impact on the pupil accessing the curriculum and the progress they made?

What does the pupil feel about the different approaches that are being used with them?

How does this information help us in having a clearer idea of where a pupil may be experiencing difficulties? What do we now know that we previously were not aware of? So with our newfound knowledge and understanding of the pupil, what would we do differently?

We can then start again, but we now have more information at the assess stage because we have our findings from our first cycle. It may be the case that if difficulties persist then after our own initial cycle, we may then go through the cycle again and involve other stakeholders such as the SENCo, parents, pupil, other professionals more intensively.

The more we know about a pupil then the more we can do to support the pupil by making adjustments to our practices, give strategies to the pupil and help ensure that all staff adopt a consistent approach to working with the pupil.

When supporting pupils with additional learning needs, it’s important that you don’t feel alone. You have the right to support from other staff in your school such as your SENCo and/or members of the senior leadership team. As indicated in the EEF’s guidance report (2020), support is most effective when a holistic approach is taken to assess, plan, do and review.

The graduated approach: activity

Watch the video below to hear from Kelly Challis from the Driver Youth Trust, as she explains how she uses the graduated approach to adapt her learning environment and practice to support pupils with dyslexia.

Using the Graduated Approach – Kelly Challis

Video transcript

Difficulties with reading and spelling not only create many challenges for those who have dyslexia*,* but also for those other young people who are quietly struggling with literacy difficulties in our education system without a diagnosis*.*

When using the graduated approach, I need to make sure there is movement around the four stages of action; these stages being assess, plan, do*,* and review. The information I collect helps me to understand the needs of pupils with literacy difficulties and dyslexia*,* and as a result I can put into place strategies to support these learners, working with them to make good progress and ultimately to secure good outcomes in their education.

In the ‘assess’ stage, I not only use summative and formative assessments, but I also take into consideration the views and experiences of the learner’s parents and carers, as well as the learner’s own view:whatare they finding difficult, and why? It is important at this stage to discuss with the SENCo any standardised scores from educational psychology assessments to make sure I understand their meaning and application to my planning.

In order to teach according to each child’s educational needs as far as possible, it is essential to see them as a*whole* person, complete with individual strengths and weaknesses. The information I gather helps me personalise my teaching and address their specific needs.

In the ‘plan’stage of the graduated approach there are 2 areas which need to be considered. First of all, what can I include in my teaching to respond to my pupil with dyslexia’s identified needs? If they have a poor working memory, I must ensure I do not overload this, taking care not to give several instructions at a time. In addition, I need to plan mini-plenaries or Q&As to refresh their memories and gauge their understanding. The SEND Code of Practice is clear that research informs us that the most impact on learner progress comes from the quality of teaching in the classroom.

The other area to plan for is targeted provision. Intervention forms an important part of assessment. For example, a learner with dyslexia may need a phonics intervention, an input of vocabulary, both everyday and subject specific, or extra reading practice to develop fluency and comprehension. It is important that teachers work closely with teaching assistants or other staff to assess the impact of such targeted interventions and have clear entry and exit criteria.

The ‘do’ stage of the graduated approach puts my plans into action. The minor adaptations I can make to day-to-day practice and to the learning environment can, in turn, make a huge difference to those learners with literacy difficulties or dyslexia. An added bonus is that all learners will benefit from these changes.

So what do these changes mean for my learners? It means they can navigate texts with more ease and I can signpost without telling them the answers; it allows the learners to problem solve using my displays rather than raising their hand for me to help them; it means I am confident that the teaching I am delivering is pitched at a level that all learners can engage with.

Some of the adaptations and considerations I have made in my teaching to support my learners with literacy difficulties and dyslexia are:

  • I make information on the white board as clear and uncluttered as possible. I also number the start of each line or topic clearly.
  • My displays around the classroom are informative and updated regularly. I explain and talk about what is in the displays , illustrating how they can be helpful and supportive.
  • I consider the readability of worksheets, for example the layout, size and type of font. I tend to use Arial, 12 point, and avoid underlining by using boxes or bold. If learners are to write on the worksheet then I make sure they have enough space to write legibly. These adaptations help learners to navigate texts with more ease and allows them to problem solve using resources, such as displays, independently, rather than raising their hand for me to help them.

At the ‘review’ stage, when looking at the impact of teaching a learner with literacy difficulties or dyslexia, I cannot overstate the importance of listening to the views of both my learners and their parents or carers. Their input provides me with valuable insights and informs my subsequent planning.

The majority of my pupils with literacy difficulties or dyslexia will have their needs met through high-quality teaching and*,* if necessary*,*targeted intervention. The responsibility of their progress lies with us, the class or subject teacher, and not with the SENCo or learning support department. As teachers, it is absolutely essential that we remain flexible and sensitive in all our teaching when working with pupils with SEN.

Having heard from Kelly, now think of a pupil in your class who has a learning need. Consider:

  • steps you have already taken to overcome any barriers to their learning
  • where those actions fall in relation to the stages of the graduated approach (plan, assess, do, or review)

Note down how you would help this pupil using some or all of the following graduated approach prompts (you can download this example to help you with this activity).


Build a holistic picture of the pupil’s learning needs by gathering information from several sources.


Using the information gathered above, generate a hypothesis about the type of support that could work.


Implement the planned support.


Did the support work?Any information gathered in response to the testing of a hypothesis is useful.

You can discuss your notes at the final mentor session of this module.