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EEF Blog: Five evidence-based strategies to support high-quality teaching for pupils with SEND

How can schools best support learning for pupils with SEND in the unpredictable year ahead? That's the question our Learning Behaviours specialist, Kirsten Mould - who also works at Mary Webb School and Science College in Shropshire as Head of Personalised Learning/Transition and SENCo - addresses here, proposing five evidence-based strategies that can help...

Pupils with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) are rightly at the forefront of our planning for the new academic year. Refreshing our repertoire of high-quality teaching with colleagues is something I am thinking about as we plan for the full return of pupils at my school.

Having a sharp, well-defined repertoire of approaches will help ensure high expectations for all are maintained, next steps are well-informed and pupils with SEND thrive.

The EEF’s guidance report on Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools aims to support schools in evaluating and developing their provision, using the evidence base as a starting point to inform practice. Knowing our pupils is an important thread within the evidence on improving behaviour, but also in supporting pupils with SEND.

So, how can we best adapt what we plan and do in the classroom?

The EEF evidence review underpinning this guidance report found strong evidence that high-quality teaching for pupils with SEND is firmly based on strategies that will already be in the repertoire of every mainstream teacher, or can be relatively easily added to it. 

The five strategies outlined here were identified as having relatively strong evidence for their effectiveness in supporting pupils with SEND:

1. Scaffolding

What is it?

‘Scaffolding’ is a metaphor for temporary support that is removed when it is no longer required. Initially, a teacher would provide enough support so that pupils can successfully complete tasks that they could not do independently. This requires effective assessment to gain a precise understanding of the pupil’s current capabilities.


  • Support could be visual, verbal, or written. 

  • Writing frames, partially completed examples, knowledge organisers, essay prompts, bookmarks, structure strips, sentence starters can all be useful.

  • Reminders of what equipment is needed for each lesson and classroom routines can be useful.

  • Scaffolding discussion of texts: promoting prediction, questioning, clarification and summarising

2. Explicit instruction

What is it?

Explicit instruction refers to a range of teacher-led approaches, focused on teacher demonstration followed by guided practice and independent practice. Explicit instruction is not just “teaching by telling” or “transmission teaching”.

One popular approach to explicit instruction is Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’.


  • Worked examples with the teacher modelling self-regulation and thought processes is helpful. A teacher might teach a pupil a strategy for summarising a paragraph by initially ‘thinking aloud’ while identifying the topic of the paragraph to model this process to the pupil. They would then give the pupil the opportunity to practise this skill.

  • Using visual aids and concrete examples promotes discussion and links in learning.

3. Cognitive and metacognitive strategies

What is it?

Cognitive strategies are skills like memorisation techniques or subject specific strategies like methods to solve problems in maths.

Metacognitive strategies help pupils plan, monitor and evaluate their learning. 


  • Chunking the task will support pupils with SEND - this may be through provision of checklists, instructions on a whiteboard or providing one question at a time. This helps reduce distractions to avoid overloading working memory.

  • Prompt sheets that help pupils to evaluate their progress, with ideas for further support.

4. Flexible grouping

What is it?

Flexible grouping describes when pupils are allocated to smaller groups based on the individual needs that they currently share with other pupils. Such groups can be formed for an explicit purpose and disbanded when that purpose is met. 


  • Allocating temporary groups can allow teachers to set up opportunities for collaborative learning, for example to read and analyse source texts, complete graphic organisers, independently carry out a skill, remember a fact, or understand a concept.

  • Pre-teaching key vocabulary, using the Frayer Model is a useful technique here.

5. Use technology

What is it?

Technology can assist teacher modelling. Technology, as a method to provide feedback to pupils and/or parents can be effective, especially when the pupil can act on this feedback.


  • Use a visualizer to model worked examples.

  • Technology applications, such as online quizzes can prove effective.

  • Speech generating apps to enable note-taking and extended writing can be helpful.

(You can download this list as a PDF  here: High-quality teaching for pupils with SEND)

It will be helpful to ask your SENCo for advice if you are unsure about particular SEND strategies linked to specific needs. Talk to teachers who have worked with certain pupils previously. Using these strategies to deploy teaching assistants to supplement what you do as the teacher, not simply replace your instruction, would be a best bet.

Nothing new here? Excellent… High-quality teaching for pupils with SEND is good teaching for all.

This phrase trips off the tongue but it is sometimes difficult to define how it looks in school. Every teacher must find what works in their classrooms, for their teaching and their pupils. Do teachers in your school have a repertoire they can draw on? Is training required to add in additional strategies? 

Weaving in these specific approaches enables us to deftly adapt our teaching, bringing out strategies at appropriate times, well-matched to content and individual needs. 

Having a sharp, well-defined repertoire of approaches will help ensure high expectations for all are maintained, next steps are well-informed and pupils with SEND thrive. 

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