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The importance of relationships when providing SEN support

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Abby Williams
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Abby Williams is the KS2 Special Educational Needs (SEN) Coordinator at St Peters Church of England Primary School in Wirral. Here she shares her advice for providing quality SEN support in school.

I know it’s a cliche, but I've always wanted to teach. What I didn't know is how much I would love working with SEN children and their families from the moment I had my first class.

I have a passion for building relationships with SEN children. When providing SEN support, whether in the classroom or across the whole school, the most important aspect of support is being able to create key relationships for children. They often have higher anxiety levels and lower tolerance levels than neurotypical children. Building relationships with members of staff helps the child to feel safe and challenge themselves to make progress. My belief is that a school could buy into every SEN resource available but if they don't have those key relationships children just won't thrive.

Start with quality first teaching

At St Peter’s we apply a 3-wave model of support; wave 1 is about quality first teaching, wave 2 focuses on intervention support and wave 3 is about individualised support. As a school we prioritise wave 1. I believe in always starting with quality first teaching strategies. All children, especially those with SEN, will learn best in a classroom environment. It promotes teamwork, socialising with peers and learning from each other.

As an inclusive practice, we provide resources that allow all children a chance to understand and manage their own behaviour. This includes classroom apparatus, such as a wobble cushion or therabands for sensory seeking children, or the chance for daily (or sometimes multiple) debriefs for children with anxiety.

Tools at your disposal

I recommend having a variety of tools at your disposal that can be catered to a child’s individual needs. Below are some quick tools and activities I find particularly effective in supporting children with SEN:

  • Visual timetables in the classroom. A clock face is a great way of encouraging children to learn to tell the time. I write lesson times on the boards, so they know what’s to come next too!
  • Humour. Applying humour to lessons can work particularly well when children are going into shutdown.
  • Distraction techniques for when behaviour is getting particularly challenging. For example, asking about a child’s favourite animal, food, or hobby when they are in shutdown can refocus their thoughts.
  • Sensory rooms or a safe space helps with de-escalation, offering a safe place for children to access as and when required. For example, some children use the room prior to starting the school day to help prepare and become at ease with the environment.
  • Sensory diets. Staff have received training on sensory diets and how this can support a child's sensory seeking needs or if they need sensory stimulation. These can be as simple as wall sits, push ups, a glass of cold water or handing out books for proprioceptive movements.
  • Mental health support. We have two trained emotional literacy support assistants and we work closely with the local authority SEND team and mental health support team to help children and their families, offering a non-judgemental listening ear/shoulder to cry on as and when required.

The Government has published the SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan, setting out a clear roadmap to establish a single national system that delivers for every child and young person with SEND. To read the improvement plan in full, visit GOV.UK.

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