Institute of Education


More guidance needed to make strategic special educational needs professional development decisions

20 May 2019

The Department for Education (DfE) should consider publishing guidance on Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) learning outcomes linked to the Early Career Framework for teachers, according to new research by UCL Institute of Education (IOE).

Teacher talking to class

This is to enable education settings to make more strategic SEND-related continuing professional development (CPD) decisions. The research, which was carried out by the IOE's Centre for Inclusive Education and formed a DfE report, found that education settings are generally adopting reactive rather than proactive strategies to identify, implement and evaluate SEND-related CPD. Currently, there is no common framework and little guidance to support schools in this process.

It was consistently reported across all types of responding schools that the two main drivers for SEND-related CPD came from within schools as opposed to external factors and included: 

  • Meeting the identified needs of children on a roll (36% of responses); and 
  • SEND CPD as part of a School Development Plan (35% of responses).

However, the researchers noted that a more proactive strategy should be coupled with responding to the needs of the current pupils with SEN and/or disabilities in their settings.

Employing a mixed methods approach that used online surveys and phone interviews, the study also found that there is no common pathway from Initial teacher training (ITT) to special practitioner status. Only a small number of respondents had progressed direct from Initial Teacher Training to a SEND specialism. 

There was little evidence that respondents had had opportunities to gain intermediate experiences or qualification progression-linked opportunities. Even for experienced Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs), there were few SEND-related training opportunities over time or regular CPD obligations as part of their SENCO status.

Across the SEND specialist workforce, the majority of respondents reported a need for training in how to provide and deliver effective CPD in schools. Thirty eight percent of SENCOs in the sample mentioned that they had never received any training in how to lead CPD training sessions, despite providing the majority of SEND-related CPD sessions. Many rely on on-the-job learning.

Dr Jo Van Herwegen, one of the authors on the report: “As time and workload pressures prevent teachers to find out, search and access what CPD is available, schools could use the soon-to-be published SEND Index more to accurately identify SEND-related issues to help them plan CPD opportunities and tap into SEND-CPD resources that already exist.

“Planning CPD opportunities more carefully will not only benefit the children in the school long term but also allow teaching staff to progress and plan their careers better.”