Education Endowment Foundation:Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools

Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools

Five recommendations on special education needs in mainstream schools

Pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) have the greatest need for excellent teaching and are entitled to provision that supports achievement at, and enjoyment of, school. The attainment gap between pupils with SEND and their peers is twice as big as the gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and their peers. However, pupils with SEND are also more than twice as likely to be eligible for free school meals.

This is why we’ve developed this guidance report. It offers five evidence-based recommendations to support pupils with SEND, providing a starting point for schools to review their current approach and practical ideas they can implement.

Guidance Report

Version First Edition


Evidence Review

Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)


School Phase


Create a positive and supportive environment for all pupils without exception

An inclusive school removes barriers to learning and participation, provides an education that is appropriate to pupils’ needs, and promotes high standards and the fulfilment of potential for all pupils. Schools should:

  • promote positive relationships, active engagement, and wellbeing for all pupils;
  • ensure all pupils can access the best possible teaching; and
  • adopt a positive and proactive approach to behaviour, as described in the EEF’s Improving Behaviour in Schools guidance report.

Build an ongoing, holistic understanding of your pupils and their needs

Schools should aim to understand individual pupil’s learning needs using the graduated approach of the assess, plan, do, review’ approach.

Assessment should be regular and purposeful rather than a one-off event, and should seek input from parents and carers as well as the pupil themselves and specialist professionals.

Teachers need to feel empowered and trusted to use the information they collect to make a decision about the next steps for teaching that child.


Ensure all pupils have access to high quality teaching

To a great extent, good teaching for pupils with SEND is good teaching for all.

Searching for a magic bullet’ can distract teachers from the powerful strategies they often already possess.

The research suggests a group of teaching strategies that teachers should consider emphasising for pupils with SEND. Teachers should develop a repertoire of these strategies they can use flexibly in response to the needs of all pupils.

  • flexible grouping;
  • cognitive and metacognitive strategies;
  • explicit instruction;
  • using technology to support pupils with SEND; and
  • scaffolding.

Complement high quality teaching with carefully selected small-group and one-to-one interventions

Small-group and one-to-one interventions can be a powerful tool but must be used carefully. Ineffective use of interventions can create a barrier to the inclusion of pupils with SEN.

High quality teaching should reduce the need for extra support, but it is likely that some pupils will require high quality, structured, targeted interventions to make progress.

The intensity of intervention (from universal to targeted to specialist) should increase with need.

Interventions should be carefully targeted through identification and assessment of need.

Interventions should be applied using the principles of effective implementation described in the EEF’s guidance report Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation.


Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)

Review of the evidence used to inform the Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools guidance report