6.4: Working with the SENCO

Time allocation

40 minutes


  • Read the information and look at the examples provided.
  • As you do this, make notes in response to the key questions below.
  • You will need to take the notes with you to your mentor session for discussion with your mentor.

The intended outcomes of this activity are for you to:

Learn that
5.7 Pupils with special educational needs or disabilities are likely to require additional or adapted support; working closely with colleagues, families and pupils to understand barriers and identify effective strategies is essential.
8.6 SENCOs, pastoral leaders, careers advisors and other specialist colleagues also have valuable expertise and can ensure that appropriate support is in place for pupils.
Learn how to
Develop an understanding of different pupil needs, by:
5c Working closely with the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) and special education professionals and the Designated Safeguarding Lead.
5d Using the SEND Code of Practice, which provides additional guidance on supporting pupils with SEND effectively.

High-quality teaching is a key component to improving life chances for all children. Within each classroom, all pupils will require different levels and types of support to succeed. However, some pupils with special educational needs or disabilities are likely to require additional or adapted support.

The Department for Education’s SEND Code of Practice states that:

All pupils should have access to a broad and balanced curriculum. […] Teachers should set high expectations for every pupil, whatever their prior attainment. Teachers should use appropriate assessment to set targets which are deliberately ambitious. Potential areas of difficulty should be identified and addressed at the outset. Lessons should be planned to address potential areas of difficulty and to remove barriers to pupil achievement. In many cases, such planning will mean that pupils with SEN and disabilities will be able to study the full national curriculum.

Types of need are categorised as:

  • Specific learning difficulties which refer to a specific aspect of learning, e.g. a difficulty with numbers (dyscalculia) or literacy (dyslexia).
  • General learning difficulties refer to a child who finds it difficult to learn, understand and do things compared to other children of the same age. General learning difficulties can be moderate, severe or profound.

Most pupils with severe or profound learning difficulties will receive support through an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP). These outline the individual needs of the pupil and the provision in place to support them. It is important that you familiarise yourself with the EHCP, and any equivalent plans your school has in place, for the pupils you teach.

Pupils identified as having moderate or specific learning difficulties may not have an EHCP and it will be up to you to implement support for them. Many students in your class and school may be identified as SEN support and will likely require a very personalised approach to best meet their needs. Close collaboration and positive relationships with colleagues – especially the SENCO and TAs – families and pupils support us to identify and address potential barriers.

The SEND Code of Practice (2015) highlights the vital role that parents play in supporting children and young people with SEND. Parents can help you understand the needs of individual learners and ensure you provide the appropriate support for them.

Parents are the best placed individuals to provide details on:

  • The health and early development of their child 
  • The support they have received outside the school system
  • Whether any difficulties have been noted at home or elsewhere

Consider how you communicate with parents and carers of SEND pupils and capture their views. Have you thought specifically about whether the information you share with families is accessible and whether they feel comfortable and confident to respond and communicate with you? 

Some parents of SEND pupils may have faced negative experiences in communications with their child’s school previously. Some may themselves have additional needs. This might result in them finding it difficult to engage with teachers and school leaders and will require a personalised approach. For example, a parent may find meeting in a classroom or office intimidating. Instead, you could arrange to conduct a meeting in a soft-seating area in the school or build up to face to face meetings in the school after you have built a strong relationship through phone calls and email.

In your notepad

  1. How many parents/carers of the pupils with SEN have you had conversations with?
  2. What have these conversations told you?
  3. What further conversations would be useful to have?
  4. When will you have these?

The four broad areas of need and support are:

  • Communication and interaction
  • Cognition and learning
  • Social, emotional and mental health difficulties 
  • Sensory and/or physical needs

Examples of the different types of need and potential classroom strategies are listed below. You will need to liaise with your school SENCO or other specialist colleagues to identify how best to use these types of strategies with individual pupils:

Type of need

Classroom strategies

Communication and interaction

  • Pupils with speech language and communication needs (SLCN) 
  • Pupils with communication and interaction difficulties 
  • Pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
  • Use visual supports around the classroom to support communication. These could be pictures/symbols/
    Makaton signs or a combination of them all.
  • Give clear directions/instructions using key words. Avoid lengthy descriptions which make it challenging for pupils with SLCN to access key messages.
  • Consider your classroom environment and seating arrangements. Many pupils with SLCN will benefit from having a clear line of sight and close proximity to the teacher.
  • Make sure you give pupils the appropriate time to process a question or instruction (this will be different for all pupils). Teachers often fail to provide enough processing time.
  • Graphic organisers can support pupils to become more independent by presenting information through a combination of images and key words.

Cognition and learning 

  • Pupils who have difficulties with attention, memory, problem solving, reasoning, transfer of learning, language or literacy
  • Explicit teaching of reading. Teach pupils the different aspects of reading and explicitly teach the link between reading, spelling and writing.
  • Use of visual support / key words and cues to help students to be more independent in their learning, e.g. a wall display to show you to layout writing.
  • Focused, clear objectives.
  • Model your thought process to show your cognitive process.
  • Learning through talk and discussion with peers and adults. Teachers explaining and commentating on activities can be an effective strategy.
  • Scaffolding break down the work for the pupil into small achievable steps. (See Block 3 for more information on this.)
  • Graphic organisers. Use graphical organisers such as cognitive maps or story frames to teach story structure and help reading comprehension. 
  • Creating “sticky knowledge” books can support students in making links in their learning and develop their ability to transfer and generalise learning.

Behavioural, emotional and social development

  • Pupils who have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD)
  • Pupils with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Develop routines and use positively reinforcing language around behaviour. See Block 1 for more information on this.
  • Work with pupils and families to identify key motivators and design high-interest activities that you know will be engaging.
  • Create a personalised positive behaviour support and engagement plan to share with all teachers and support staff.
  • Collect data for a pupil and identify the times they are highly engaged and also when they find it difficult to regulate. What do you notice? Are there patterns around times of day/certain activities that a pupil finds difficult? Can you adapt the environment to better meet their needs?
  • Peer-monitoring. Pupils are given a “buddy” to support them with behaviour, reminding them when they deviate from the targeted behaviour.
  • Self-monitoring. This asks the pupil to recognise a targeted behaviour and then take positive steps to alter the behaviour, e.g. a pupil has a vibrating pager which goes off periodically and reminds them to self-check.
  • Positive reinforcement. Appropriate behaviour is immediately recognised and rewarded (see Block 1 for more detail). 
  • Headphones. In an individual task a pupil is given headphones which play white noise so that they can effectively block out distractions.
  • Pupil logs. Provide pupils with a log to identify and write down preparation/behaviour difficulties. Reflect and review together.
  • Prompts. Provide pupil with prompts they can refer to or tick off, e.g. Did I get my pen out? Did I remember by reading book? Did I write my homework down?

Sensory and/or physical

  • Pupils with visual impairments (VI)
  • Pupils with hearing impairments (HI)
  • Pupils with multi-sensory impairments (MSI)
  • Pupils who are physical disabled (PD)
  • Talk with your pupils and their families to discover their sensory preferences and how they respond to different stimuli.
  • Create multi-sensory areas in your classroom and a portable sensory suitcase that can follow a student around school. 
  • Adapt the environment to increase access to and participation in learning. You might need to adapt seating plans, desk layout and organisation so that specific needs are met. 
  • Explore and research different technology that can support sensory learners. 

It is imperative that you know, understand and are able to action the safeguarding policy your school holds. You should:

  • Familiarise yourself with the safeguarding policy
  • Identify the designated safeguarding lead
  • Familiarise yourself with actions to take if you need to enact safeguarding procedure

In your notepad

  1. Who is the designated safeguarding lead?
  2. Where can they be found?
  3. When should you contact them?

As we have seen, many people in the school community can help you understand barriers and identify effective strategies for teaching pupils with SEND. In particular, the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO), has a vital role in leading schools’ approaches to supporting these pupils. As a teacher, you need to be proactive in establishing a working relationship with the SENCO.



Building effective relationships

Video type

Talking head 

Short description

SENCO talks about their role.

Video transcript

I am a SENCO of a mainstream primary school with 250 children on roll from nursery through to Year 6. I am a class teacher for three days a week and have two days a week non-contact time to concentrate on my SENCO leadership and management role. There are 62 children on the SEN Register, and many more who we are monitoring closely. We follow government and local authority guidance, using documents like the SEND Code of Practice to plan our approaches to supporting pupils. 

My role is to lead on developing our policies and make sure that teachers are supported effectively to follow them. People think that my role is largely to do with paperwork: submitting referrals to outside agencies such as Speech and Language Therapists, Education Psychology, Autism Outreach, and completing applications for Education Health Care Plans, and it is true: this takes up a great deal of time. However, I am also here to monitor the quality of classroom provision for all children with SEND and advise teachers on how to make classrooms, and teaching and learning, more inclusive. I can signpost staff to other specialist help on specific needs, e.g. dyslexia and dyspraxia, and can also link teachers into CPD activities to support them to develop. 

One of the things that is part of my role is to team teach or observe in class to look at a specific child or group of children and work with the teacher to develop provision for them. This can be helpful if children don’t have a diagnosis or any extra hours allocated to them as it is something the teacher can do themselves.

In your notepad

  1. What is the SENCO’s role?
  2. What support does the SENCO provide to teachers?

In your notepad

How have you engaged with the SENCO in your school up to now?

  1. Which pupils whom you have identified as having potential difficulties could you discuss with your SENCO?
  2. Choose one or two of these pupils and arrange a time to talk to the SENCO about them. Discuss the following: 
    • How does the SENCO use the SEND Code of Practice to plan support for pupils?
    • What are the potential barriers to learning of these pupils? 
    • What suggestions can the SENCO give on how you can support and help the pupils overcome these barriers (e.g. types of tasks that support them, pupil groupings that help them etc.)? 
    • What out-of-class interventions do your pupils engage in? 
    • How can you draw on these to support your teaching of these pupils?
  3. Note any advice they provide about how best to support the pupils you identified. 
  4. How can you link the support a pupil is receiving outside of the classroom to the support you provide in your lesson?

Read through the following scenarios and potential action steps. Decide which one is closest to your current situation and which actions might be useful for you to implement.


Actions you may take

You have been given a class list and there are three students who have special educational needs
  • Talk to the previous teacher and ask them to share any key insights or strategies that were successful.
  • Contact the SENCO for support and advice.
  • Search for the “SEND Gateway” which will have resources, advice and research that will support your practice.
  • Adapt teaching to support individual pupils. For example, if you had a pupil who was dyslexic, you might use cloze exercises in which you give the pupil a worksheet with key information you will be covering in the lesson with words blanked out. The pupil would then be able to use that to take notes.
  • Make any necessary adjustments to seating plans. For example, a pupil with a slight visual impairment would need to be moved to sit near the front of the room to be able to see the board clearly.
  • When talking to parents/carers, show awareness and understanding. Ask for any insights or strategies that have been previously successful.
  • Set up an ongoing dialogue with parents/carers so that you can discuss any issues that arise.
  • Work with the TA to adapt your approach for each pupil.
A pupil you teach who has special educational needs is clearly struggling
  • Contact home and ask for support.
  • Contact the SENCO for support and advice.
  • Reach out to other colleagues who might be able to help you, such as the pastoral lead who may be able to offer insights into other things that might be going on.
  • Reflect on any changes that might be impacting on the student. Gather information and data around the challenges the student is facing and how/when these are presenting. This information will support you in making the necessary adaptations and changes to support the student.
  • Talk to the pupil and ask them to share any issues or concerns.
  • If necessary, set up a meeting with all stakeholders to make an action plan.
You think a pupil might have a special educational need but they have not been flagged to you
  • Contact the SENCO. There is a chance the pupil is already on their radar.
  • Ask the SENCO for strategies that you could try putting into place for the pupil to support their learning.
You are concerned about the safety of a pupil
  • Immediately contact the Designated Safeguarding Lead.
  • You should familiarise yourself with the safeguarding protocol in your school.
A pupil makes a disclosure to you
  • Stay calm.
  • Listen to the pupil.
  • Reassure the pupil that you are taking them seriously.
  • Do not promise confidentiality. 
  • Tell the pupil that you have to tell the people who will be able to help.
  • Avoid asking leading questions.
  • Let the pupil explain in their own words.
  • If possible, take notes.
  • Immediately contact the Designated Safeguarding Lead.