What works in supporting children with Special Educational Needs in the classroom? A literature review and teacher survey


Department of Education




Julia Carroll, Helen Johnson

Project team

Louise Bradley, Hayley Crawford, Angela Thompson, Penny Hannant

Project objectives

This project aimed to understand what the evidence showed was effective in supporting learners with special educational needs, to allow the creation of a resource for teachers, which is now available free on the Nasen’s SEND Gateway

Our reports are available on the Department for Education website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/special-educational-needs-support-in-schools-and-colleges

Impact statement

In early 2017, the DfE commissioned us to carry out a review of the research evidence on what works in supporting learners with special educational needs. We decided to structure this review around the four broad ‘areas of need’ described in the Code of Practice for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. A literature search found more than 1,000 articles, and we have worked to find the key themes within the research.

We found some interesting contrasts between the different areas. The evidence suggested that while whole school approaches are successful in improving social skills and emotional wellbeing, small group approaches are more useful for different areas of cognition and learning. For individuals with mental health difficulties support from specialists, such as counsellors or psychologists, was recommended, while for reading and language, there was strong evidence that well-trained teaching assistants could make real improvements.

On the other hand, there were some consistencies. Whatever the area of weakness, there was evidence that no approaches are successful for all children, so educators should be willing to try another approach if a child isn’t making progress. We also found that interventions that focused on the outcome skill tended to be more effective in general: for example, if you want to improve handwriting, teach handwriting rather than focusing on finger strength exercises.

In November 2017, the Department for Education used the findings from the report, as well as a set of case studies carried out by ASK research, in an accessible resource for teachers. We hope this will be a really useful means of finding out different ways that schools can use evidence-based practice to support children with special educational needs in the classroom.

The resource is hosted on the Nasen’s SEND Gateway and the Education & Training Foundation Excellence Gateway.

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