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Special Educational Needs & Disabilities

Supporting pupils with a learning difficulty or disability which requires special educational provision.


Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have a learning difficulty or disability which requires special educational provision. 

They might face significantly greater challenges in learning than the majority of their peers, or have a disability which hinders their access to the teaching and facilities typically found in mainstream educational settings. There is a very large attainment gap between pupils with SEND and their peers.

The impact of SEND on academic attainment is closely related to the EEF’s focus on economic disadvantage: 27% of pupils with special educational needs are eligible for free school meals compared to 12% of pupils without special educational needs.

Guidance Reports

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Toolkit strands

Evidence Summary

Research evidence suggests that the deployment of teaching assistants (TAs) is an important consideration for school leaders in mainstream schools who are concerned about the progress of pupils with SEND. 

Previous research has shown that the use of teaching assistants can have a negative impact on pupils with SEND if the TAs are not properly supported and trained. However, a number of EEF trials have shown that effective deployment of TAs can have a positive impact. This research is summarised in our guidance report, Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants, which contains seven evidence-based recommendations to maximise the effectiveness of TAs.

The Department for Education's SEND Code of Practice, offering guidance for children and young people aged 0 to 25, describes broad areas of need. Three of these areas are considered below, with a description of relevant evidence from the EEF.

Communication and interaction

Students might have a communication need because they have difficulty saying what they want to, understanding what is being said to them, or understanding and using social rules of communication. Our Big Picture theme on language and literacy describes the EEF’s research on developing pupils’ language and communication. 

The EEF has also funded the evaluation of more targeted and specialist interventions, including:

Cognition and learning

Teachers may need to provide extra support when children and young people are learning at a slower pace than their peers. Our Big Picture themes on language and literacymathematicssciencedeveloping effective learners, and feedback present the research evidence on effective teaching and suggest actionable recommendations for practice. 

When combined with careful consideration of a student’s needs and sound professional judgement, this research evidence offers a practical guidance for high-quality teaching for all pupils, including those with SEND, and can inform the design of more intensive support.

High-quality, structured interventions are key to supporting pupils who need additional support to learn. The EEF’s list of Promising Projects and the Institute for Effective Education’s Evidence4Impact database are useful repositories of the evidence on interventions. This evidence base is improving, but still patchy, and an 'off-the-shelf' intervention with a rigorous and positive evaluation might not be appropriate or available. 

Schools may take the different approach of adopting, or creating, an intervention with the features common to other successful interventions. See the EEF's guidance reports on maths, literacy and teaching assistants for more on successful intervention in these areas.

Social, emotional and mental health

There is a growing evidence base regarding approaches that address social, emotional and mental health. 

This evidence is summarised in the EEF’s literature review on non-cognitive skills, our Big Picture theme on character and essential skills, and our Teaching and Learning Toolkit strands on social and emotional learning and behaviour interventions

Much of the evidence described in the Toolkit's entry on behaviour interventions focuses on pupils with specific and severe emotional or behavioural needs, rather than 'low-level classroom disruption'. Ongoing EEF research into the area of social, emotional and mental health includes trials of How to ThriveEngage in Education and Changing Mindsets

Promising Projects

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Nuffield Early Language Intervention

University College London and ICAN

grade promising project

Improving spoken language skills in young children around the time that they start school

Evidence Strength
Impact (months)
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Headsprout Early Reading Evaluation in Special Schools

Bangor UniversityBangor University

A targeted literacy programme aiming to build fluency in essential early reading skills for children with SEND in special schools

Progress: 80%
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EEF guidance reports summarise the evidence regarding effective teaching for all children and young people. They provide a good starting point for whole-class teaching, as well as more structured intervention support for pupils who are struggling to make progress. The EEF is currently writing a guidance report on improving outcomes for pupils with SEND in mainstream schools. 

Our Project SPECTRUM database of measures of essential skills and non-academic outcomes will be useful for teachers and senior leaders wanting to assess social and emotional development.  

The EEF recently closed a funding round focused on improving outcomes for pupils with SEND. More information is available here