SEND in Mainstream Schools: Implications of the EEF report for school leaders

Pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND) have the greatest need for excellent teaching and high quality support in order to achieve positive outcomes and have a rich and happy experience at school. This is a key message behind the recent Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) publication ‘Special educational needs in mainstream schools’[1]. The guidance report is based on a focused review of the best available evidence on improving outcomes for pupils with SEND in mainstream schools. It provides five clear recommendations to support schools in reviewing their current approach and implementing evidence based practical strategies

Aim of the EEF guidance

The aim of the EEF guidance is to give an overview of some key ‘best bets’ for improving special educational provision. The report notes that whilst it can be tempting to talk about the challenge of SEND as a specific and distinct issue, the evidence shows that teachers should instead prioritise familiar but powerful strategies to support their pupils with SEND. It highlights the importance of understanding the needs of individual pupils and weaving specific, inclusive approaches into everyday, high- quality classroom teaching. In other words, SEND should not be a ‘bolt-on’ but should be part of the fabric of the whole school.

The 5 key recommendations


A positive and supportive environment for all pupils means placing SEND practice at the heart of school priorities. How can schools achieve this?

  • Promote positive relationships
  • Promote active engagement
  • Promote positive behaviour for learning
  • Promote positive wellbeing
  • Ensure pupils with SEND access the best possible teaching.

Understanding pupils and their needs through early and accurate identification and assessment is essential if schools are to effectively support pupils with SEND to make progress. How can schools achieve this?

  • Focus on understanding individual pupil’s needs
  • Implement the graduated approach
  • Ensure assessment is regular, purposeful and involves input from parents, pupils, professionals
  • Empower teachers to use the information to plan next steps in teaching and learning.            

High quality teaching is the starting point for meeting the needs of pupils with SEND and is based on strategies that will, or can, be in the repertoire of every mainstream teacher. These strategies should be used for all pupils and then applied flexibly in response to individual needs. How can schools achieve this?

Particularly useful strategies for using with pupils with SEND include:

  • flexible grouping
  • cognitive & metacognitive strategies
  • explicit instruction
  • using technology
  • scaffolding

In addition to high quality teaching, some pupils will require additional support in the form of high quality, structured interventions to make progress. Use interventions carefully so they do not become a barrier to learning. How can schools achieve this?

  • Consider the use of structured, evidence-based interventions
  • Carefully target interventions through identification and assessment of need.
  • Consider implementing universal, targeted and specialist interventions
  • Make links between learning in intervention and what happens in the classroom

When well-trained and properly supported, TAs can have a positive impact on pupil progress. Effective deployment of TAs by leaders is therefore crucial. How can schools achieve this?

  • Leaders should carefully consider TA roles
  • Ensure TAs supplement, not replace, teaching from the class teacher
  • Support teachers and TAs to work together to maximise impact
  • Use TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills and manage their own learning.

The ‘Special educational needs in mainstream schools’ guidance makes explicit links with other EEF publications and recommends school leaders consider these reports together, including:

  • Improving behaviour in schools[1]
  • Making best use of teaching assistants[2]
  • Metacognition and self-regulated learning[3]

How can school leaders use the EEF guidance?

The guidance aims to support school leaders to review their current approach to SEND provision and implement evidence based practical strategies. The following summary questions might be helpful for leaders to reflect on as part of the review process:

  1. How effectively are leaders developing an inclusive culture and placing SEND at the heart of improvement priorities?
  2. How do leaders ensure everyone has a holistic understanding of the needs of pupils with SEND?
  3. How effectively do leaders support all staff to deliver HQT for all pupils?
  4. How do leaders ensure there is effective use of interventions?
  5. How effectively do leaders deploy TAs to have maximum impact on pupil learning?

A review of provision can support the SEND development process and enable school leaders to plan next steps to ensure the foundations of effective provision are in place. Following review, next steps might include:

  • Re-establishing school policy and practice to ensure the environment is supportive for all.
  • Reviewing SEND identification to ensure there are clear early and accurate identification processes in place.
  • Ensuring links between curriculum development, whole school teaching and learning high quality teaching for all.
  • Implementing evidence-based interventions and establishing systems and structures to track and monitor additional provision.
  • Carrying out an audit to evaluate how effectively TAs are being deployed across the school.

Provision Map can assist schools with recommendations 4 and 5 in particular. Using the software, school leaders can map out interventions, keep track of which interventions are being used and identify which staff are involved, supporting the planning of TA deployment. Crucially, Provision Map also provides a way of measuring the impact of each intervention to ensure they are effective.

The focus of the EEF report ‘Special educational needs in mainstream schools’ is on improving the quality of teaching and learning in mainstream classrooms. The guidance doesn’t address all of the complexities of SEND, such as funding or availability of specialist provision. However, the five key recommendations are a good starting point for school improvement and will help SENCOs and other leaders to ensure that SEND is seen as an essential part of whole school development.