We know that pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in mainstream schools have the greatest need for high-quality teaching and this requires daily decisions regarding the school learning environment and classroom management. Such high-quality teaching – adjusting, adapting and assessing in the classroom – is of course crucial for the progress of all pupils.
Whilst providing focused support to children who are not making progress is recommended, creating a multitude of differentiated resources is not.
Differentiation is an important factor to consider when adapting teaching, but in practice, its definition is unclear1. It is helpful to draw a distinction between differentiating by outcomes and differentiated support2. Whilst providing focused support to children who are not making progress is recommended, creating a multitude of differentiated resources is not.
The Early Career Framework, which entitles new teachers to continued training following their Initial Teacher Training, references “adaptive teaching”, moving away from the term “differentiation” altogether, which is an important distinction to explore further. Having a full understanding of every child is extremely important in adaptive teaching. Time needs to be diverted to identifying reasons for learning struggles, not just the struggles themselves3. As such, pupils’ physical, social, and emotional well-being, including their relationships with peers and trusted adults, are fundamental . Schools need systems that ensure regular communication between teachers, families and the young people themselves to understand barriers and to share effective strategies.
The success of adapting teaching also lies in careful diagnostic assessment, in order to avoid prescriptive and inflexible delivery4.
Five high-quality, impactful teaching strategies are identified in the EEF’s guidance for special educational needs in mainstream schools. At first glance, these strategies may seem commonplace. However, effective implementation, developing a shared understanding of what they look like in practice across a school, is a challenge.
Scaffolding aims to provide students with temporary supports that are gradually removed or ‘faded out’ as they become increasingly independent. It is a common component of guided practice within instruction. Teachers are used to the idea of first, now, next- building the bigger picture and making connections for learning
Scaffolding can also be used to reinforce consistent expectations for behaviour – for example, what equipment is needed for each lesson, classroom routines within the school day and communicating any changes to these routines.
It is important to monitor task, effort required and independent working time given as these can impact pupil effort, attention and persistence in the classroom5.
Research shows that sharing scaffolding strategies with parents and carers is associated with improved self-regulated learning6.
High quality teaching is crucial to the progress of pupils with SEND and teachers are vital orchestrators of ‘assess, plan, do, review’ – the graduated response process detailed within the SEND Code of Practice10. This is the first step in identifying barriers and developing strategies to support all pupil, including those with SEND.
Adaptive teaching strategies sit firmly at the heart of this: adapting planning prior to the lesson and adjusting practice during the lesson.
There is still lots to explore around adaptive teaching: what it means for our pupils and teachers in school and what we share with parents and carers to support home learning. A shared language and understanding of what works in each context is vital
Questions for reflection
- Are adaptive teaching strategies within the toolkit of every teacher in your school?
- Is there a shared understanding and shared language for adapting teaching?
- Is teaching adapted before and during a lesson?
- What diagnostic assessment procedures are commonly used in your school?
- Are there ways to communicate and celebrate successful strategies across classes and with families at home?
 Deunk et al (2018) Effective differentiation Practices: A systematic review and metaanalysis of studies on the cognitive effects of differentiation practices in primary education. Educational Research Review 24, pp31-54.Davis et al, (2004) Teaching Strategies and Approaches for Pupils with Special Educational Needs: a scoping study. London DfES.
 TES (2019) Does Ofsted’s use of research require improvement? | Tes News Kevan Collins
 Lake, R., Olson, L. (2020) Learning as We Go: Principles for Effective Assessment During the Covid-19 Pandemic. CRPE.
 Davis et al, (2004) Teaching Strategies and Approaches for Pupils with Special Educational Needs: a scoping study. London DfES.
 Van de Pol et al (2015) The effects of scaffolding in the classroom: support contingency and student independent working time in relation to student achievement, task effort and appreciation of support. Instructional Science, 43, pp615-641.
 Deans for Impact (2015) The Science of Learning.
Pashler et al (2007) Organising Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning, NCER.
 SEND Code of Practice (2015) – particularly chapter 6.