Learning environment: whole school approaches

This unit looks at a whole school approach to MLD. It considers national data about the attainment of pupils with SEND and guides you through the steps you can take to compile information about a pupil with MLD.

This unit covers:

  • How to create suitable learning environments for pupils with MLD.
  • How you can work with pupils, colleagues and parents to build a profile of the strengths and needs of a pupil with MLD.
  • Provision at a whole school level.
  • Interventions that can be made at class teaching level.

Tasks 1, 2 and 3: interviewing colleagues

Carrying out the tasks in this unit should help give you a comprehensive understanding of MLD identification in your school and the provision for MLD pupils.

  1. Task 1: pupil analysis
  2. Task 2: interview with the SENCO
  3. Task 3: interview a class/subject teacher
  4. Task 4: interviewing parents
  1. Use the table supplied in your PDF to help you identify issues – and their possible solutions – relating to a particular pupil with MLD. This should get you thinking about areas such as:

    • Identification.
    • Problems with pupils’ low aspirations.
    • Communication and engaging with parents.

    You may want to make a more expansive version of the table to create extra room for notes and analysis.

  2. By interviewing your school’s SENCO, you will gain valuable insight into the policies on inclusion and SEN in your school. You can find out about:

    • How pupils are identified as having MLD.
    • How the provision for these pupils is designed.
    • The progress such pupils have made and typically make.
    • What the SENCO thinks must be done to optimise this progress.

    Use the questions supplied in your PDF as a basis for this interview; you may want to make a larger version of the table to make extra space for notes.

  3. Interviewing class/subject teachers should help you find out how actively involved they are with policy implementation. The questions supplied in your PDF should again provide a strong basis to gauge their knowledge of and feelings about:

    • Identification of pupils with MLD.
    • Planning for teaching pupils with MLD.
    • Monitoring progress.
    • Communication with parents.

    You may want to add your own questions or produce a larger version of the table to make extra space for notes.

The Lamb Inquiry (2009) and 2007 report Engaging Parents in Achievement – do parents know they matter? (PDF, 56KB) both emphasised the importance of engaging with the parents of pupils with learning difficulties. However, both also found that such discourse is frequently insufficient.


Task 4: interviewing parents

Select each stage along the progress bar for ideas on how to structure and conduct a meeting with a child’s parent(s).

  1. Before the meeting
  2. Arranging the meeting and setting the scene
  3. The pupil's needs
  4. Effective provision
  5. Positives and negatives
  1. Make sure you’re fully familiar with everything you need to know about a pupil before meeting with their parent(s). Talk to other teachers about the child; you’ll need to know about their attainment levels, attitudes and interests. You may have gleaned some relevant information from the first three tasks of this unit, but make sure you’re as thorough as possible and gather all relevant information.

  2. Any meeting with the parent(s) of a pupil with MLD is likely to be conducted with the class teacher or form tutor.

    Upon first meeting the parent(s), you should try to create a positive, relaxed environment as a basis for the interview. Include some introductory questions before going on to discuss specific areas.

  3. Ask parents about what they consider to be their child’s needs in terms of educational provision. Find out what they believe their child can achieve given the best possible circumstances, environment and support for learning. Discuss both numerical and academic targets with them and ask for their perspective on these, but avoid any potentially confusing, ‘teacher-speak’ jargon.

  4. Ask the parent(s) how much they know about the provision that is currently in place for their child. Find out if they’re happy with this, and invite feedback on any improvements they think could be made.

  5. Find out what they think has worked well in the past for the child. You’ll also need to ask the parent(s) about what hasn’t been effective, and what they think are the reasons for this.

    Make notes to write up and assess after the meeting. As research in Engaging Parents in Achievement – do parents know they matter? (PDF, 56KB) suggested, hard to reach parents in particular can feel that communication with schools is one-way. By listening to and fully considering their input, you can go some way to making sure this is not the case at your school.

Quality first teaching

Reception class teacher Rachel Drinkwater and head teacher Sarah Rutty from Bankside Primary School in Leeds talk about effectively delivering quality first teaching. They explain how SEN is the responsibility of the entire teaching staff, and that the practice should aim to ensure every child makes progress, with minimal one-to-one interventions.

This audio clip relates to briefing 5 in your PDF of unit 13.

Show transcript

Rachel Drinkwater – Reception class teacher:

My name is Rachel Drinkwater. I’m a Reception Class Teacher at Bankside Primary School in Leeds.

So in my point of view Quality First Teaching is about thorough, rigorous planning. You know where your children are and where they need to get to, you know your objectives, your success steps, your vocabulary, that’s the main focus at our school, vocabulary, key vocabulary. So the EAL children are aware of the new words that they’re learning for that lesson. Differentiating, so making sure every child is being covered from your low SEN children, your middle ability and your higher ability, making sure there’s a challenge in place for your higher ability.

Also making sure that every child has the chance to have a voice and be a part of the learning, everybody is involved. So there’s lots of hands on, I know early years, definitely, is about practical experiences, using real resources and all being a part of it. Never singling out any children. We all think, we all talk to our partners, and then we all share back together. So it’s not hands up, there’s no bidding, it’s about, I’m choosing you, because we’ve all had a chance to share our ideas. That would be my idea of quality first teaching, having a good starter, a really good main activity and then a plenary, so the children know exactly what they were learning.

If the teacher is teaching quality first lessons, then intervention and extra shouldn’t need to be put into place a lot of the time. However, there are circumstances where it is necessary.

The main thing I’d look at to ensure my teaching and the lesson was quality first is, are the children making progress, have they all learnt, have they all understood the learning objective, and have they all achieved it? Also, you need to make sure that every child is being catered for, so you need to make sure you’ve got strategies in place to cater for your SEN lower ability children, and you’ve got strategies in place to cater for your higher ability children. That would ensure that your lesson is going to be quality first, if they’re all achieving, and making sure that next steps are - you know where the children are going next.

My name’s Sarah Rutty, and I’m the Headteacher at Bankside Primary School in Leeds.

We believe that Quality First teaching is a mechanism to ensure that all our children reach their full potential. So the principles of: the pitch, the purpose, the use of assessment, the constant reviewing, the use of APP to inform ongoing formative assessment, so that the children are also part of it, actually know their targets, children can articulate what they understand, that a target is not about what that they can do, that actually, that learning is about what they can’t do. Having staff that know that what’s important isn’t what they can do, although it’s vital they do know what the children have achieved already, but that that is merely the first step to getting them on.

The most obvious way of assessing the impact of Quality First teaching is by looking at the data. So we have a termly evaluation period where the heads of each year group who are known as cohort assessing pupil progress leaders ‘CAPS’, present their data which they have analysed in terms of progress, in terms of children who are age related, and indeed which children we think are being moved forward and supported by quality first teaching, and then which are starting to drift through the net and might need some additional Wave 2 intervention, guided work. And which, I hope these are few and far between, which might benefit from much, much more core one-to-one Wave 3 provision.

And certainly when we look at the data, the quality first teaching seems to be doing the do, which is good, because it’s much the easiest way to support children’s needs, and I think in terms of children’s emotion and social development actually having their needs supported in a group of other children rather than stuck out in a corridor glued to Mrs Wilkinson, getting one-to-one support, going over the same 14 letter sounds over and over again, is much more effective.

So the first way is looking at the data. And the second way is actually asking the children, because the children can tell you what their levels are, they can tell you what their progress is, they can explain to you what they need to do next to get the next bit of the target. So it’s something we celebrate in assemblies, we celebrate children’s progress and achievements, so they understand that this is all about the process of moving on, and they understand that learning needs to be aspirational, that risks are fine, in this school we know that a mistake is merely a stepping stone to success, is a learning moment., it’s fine not to know an answer because if everyone knew the answers, then I wouldn’t have a job. It’s fine to know that actually feeling a bit uncomfortable is a good way of learning. But of course, we also give them things like success steps, so they also understand that as independent learners we’ve given them some good scaffold, some good crampons to hold on to the rock face of what they are about to learn.

When we review the data, it is inevitable in any class that some children appear to be getting a bit stuck, or decelerating, and I don’t actually just mean children who come within, as it were, the context of learning support, I mean more able children who might appear to be coasting.

For those children where we feel that quality first needs a bit of support, then we would put them on a Wave 2 programme which would be perhaps doing guided work with an identified adult in class, or it might be about a specific intention like some guided reading support, or might be working with one of the senior leaders doing some work around handwriting, or something like that. In even fewer number of cases, we would look at Wave 3 interventions, so in this school we run “every child a reader”, we’ve done, “every child counts”, we do have specific one-to-one teaching for children over and above the core school hours which, you know, is a model that works very well. But again as a Headteacher, I really want to reinforce the idea that children who need support in their learning, is not some magic that goes in a cupboard with the Learning Support Assistant, or the Head of Special Needs. It’s about something that everybody in the school is accountable for, and truly quality first teaching is a way of reinforcing that method. And the less Wave 3 we do, the less one-to-one, the more successful I feel we are being as a school.

  • Storytelling: a vehicle for language and literacy development

    This footage of storytelling classes in action is interspersed with teachers explaining the teaching methods and the learning benefits for different pupils. Several teachers guide us through their different storytelling lessons and give insight into how they stimulate the pupils’ imagination, creativity, and writing.

    This clip relates to video task 1 in your PDF of unit 13.

    Show transcript


    The schools in this film all understand that telling and listening to stories is an accessible and powerful way to help children develop their language and literacy skills. Recent research shows that storytelling and listening aids comprehension and communication skills, as well as developing social and emotional skills.

    Sue Towers -Vice Principal:

    In terms of curriculum for pupils with SEN I think this is where it all starts, I think this is absolutely key. In our setting we work very hard to make the curriculum highly relevant, interesting, exciting, with some memorable experiences, things that can be built upon, but also are kind of suitable to keep revisiting. Many of our pupils need to revisit experiences and revisit objectives. So our job I feel is to create that really wide and varied tapestry in which they can then acquire the learning and the skills that they need to be able to move their achievement on as they go through school.

    Keeley Murray-Personalised Learning Manager:

    The importance of storytelling is to build on experiences that pupils have got currently, to engage them in some imaginative experiences as well to build on the knowledge that they have already got, and to be creative and interact with something that they’re interested in.

    Keeley in classroom interaction:

    Teacher: What’s going on here then?

    Pupil: It’s “The Gruffalo”.

    Teacher: It’s “The Gruffalo”. Do we know about “The Gruffalo”? Have we listened to the story before?

    Pupils: Yes!


    The session this morning was a storytelling session in the interactive room with a group of Key Stage 2 pupils, and it was around the focus of the Gruffalo which is a story that they have been looking at in class.

    Keeley in classroom interaction:

    Teacher: So how might we make this room Jay look a little more like a wood? Do you think that’s right? Jay? Alex? Do you think that feels like a wood?


    In the storytelling session we were looking at: turn-taking skills, at coming in at the right time when prompted, following a story and working as part of a team to be able to do that, looking at the environment that we were in and matching that to make it feel very much part of the story so that we felt that we were part of the story and we could get engaged as much as possible.

    Keeley in classroom interaction:

    Teacher: It feels like there might be some trees around as it’s the right colour.


    Using the interactive zone, it motivates the pupils extremely well. They get a lot from the story itself , but then it brings the story to life with the colour scheme and the difference on the interactive screens, really engages them and focuses them more and brings that whole story to life...

    Keeley in classroom interaction:

    Keeley: Well done Jay, that’s right. Well done Ted. You’ve found the...

    Ted: Mouse! Yes!

    Keeley: There he was, ok...


    ...which is much more beneficial, particularly for the pupils within that group who may sometimes struggle to use their imagination themselves, it brings that very much to life for them.

    Hannah in classroom interaction:

    Hannah: We’ve got some visitors like I said, who can tell me who we’ve got that’s joined us today?

    Hannah Dawson -Reception Teacher:

    We’ve been looking at the story of “Meg and Mog” and we’ve been doing the topic of Halloween, and the children and very familiar with Meg and Mog.

    Hannah Dawson in classroom interaction:

    Hannah: They’re having a few problems at spell school, and they need our help Marisa. They need our help so they can learn to read and write because Meg’s having really big, big, problems trying to hear the first sounds in words. So that’s what we are going to do today. We are going to help them learn their sounds.

    Brody can you tell me what this is?

    Brody: Mmm.

    Hannah: Mmm. Well done.


    I brought Meg and Mog back to the phonics lesson because phonics can be quite boring.

    Hannah in classroom interaction:

    Hannah: Good boy. kuh, kuh, kuh, kuh, kuh.


    The children had a feely bag and they had to feel inside for the real objects and match the real objects to the letters.

    Hannah Dawson in classroom:

    Hannah: Well done fantastic! Now this is an egg, who can tell me what an egg starts with? What is the first sound?

    Pupil: eh

    Hannah: Eh, and can you find me an ‘eh’ on our paper here?


    The children then had to show Meg and Mog how to write their sounds by using a big piece of paper in front of them. I gave them a sound, modelled it on the white board and then the children had an attempt of that. I included all the children so the children were focussed on what they were doing rather than looking at everybody else’s and really trying to model and write their letters correctly.

    Hannah in classroom interaction:

    Hannah: nnn, ah, puh - nap. Good boy.


    The children I feel in our classes really need to be given a context, they really need to be given a purpose for their learning to help them learning how to read and how to write, and for a reason, not just because they’ve been asked to do so.

    Robbine Lowrey in classroom:

    Robinne: So the past week we have been talking about the story “Handa’s Surprise”. We are going to go through the story again today...

    Robinne Lowrey – Key stage 1 team leader:

    So we are studying stories from another background, so the ultimate aim of the unit is to enable the children to take the language from the story and write a story of their own using the language from the text.

    Robinne in classroom interaction:

    Robinne: Here are some of the words from the story to help you to remember to put your sentences together.


    So today’s lesson was really about familiarising the children with the language from the story, and getting them to rehearse the language with the intent of writing it down.

    Robinne in classroom interaction:

    Robinne: Who can tell me some of the fruits that they put in the basket?

    Pupil: Ripe read mango.

    Robinne: The ripe red mango. Can we say that together?

    Pupils: The ripe red mango.


    We had one group acting out the story using the role play, now the purpose of that is to think the story first, to be able to hear it in their head, before they write it down.

    Robinne in classroom interaction

    Teaching Assistant: How would you describe that? Have a feel of that. How would you describe that?

    Pupil 1: Orange.

    Teaching Assistant: Orange. Have a feel of the skin.

    Pupil 2: Squidgy

    Teaching Assistant: Squidgy. Good boy.


    So by doing it in a fun way and lively way outside, they’ve rehearsed the sentences that they are going to use at the table. So they are rehearsing the language that they are going to apply in their writing. So by the time they come to write they should have the idea and the sentence already, to say it out loud, and to be able to write it down.

    Some of the more able children were writing it independently and using some more detail in their writing so using more adventurous vocabulary, using more adventurous punctuation, and they are able to take themselves forward in that way.

    The children who are sort of working in the middle of the classroom we had a strategy of being able to use word bank to find the words that they want to use, so they are able to think their sentence in their head and rehearse it and self-edit as they go through. So once they’ve rehearsed their sentence, then it’s about improving their sentence before they write it down and that way they should experience some progress in writing.

    Hayley in classroom interaction:

    Hannah: I need you to get into your position as a trapper under the table, and hold your position.

    Hayley Freeman – Year 6 teacher:

    The idea of the lesson today was to link to what they had been learning about in history, which is the Victorians. So previously last week we had looked at mining and the role of children. So they had some background knowledge, and then we brought that through to their writing lesson today.

    The learning objective for the children was to use their senses for added description in their writing. They were writing a diary recount

    Hayley Freeman in classroom:

    Audio recording – adult male: Not of you do your job proper. Come on William, we have to get moving.


    So I wanted them to imagine that they were a trapper in the pits and that’s why it was all dark, to get them in character. I asked them to curl up in a tight ball under the table, again to get into character, and to also generate some feelings of how Jimmy or they might of felt as a trapper. I got them to listen to the story so that again they had an idea of what had gone on that day for them as Jimmy in the mine. So they didn’t have to make up what happened to them. I was providing them with that information so that they could really concentrate on the objective.

    Hayley in classroom interaction:

    Audio recording - boy: I work in the dark for 12 hours a day. We go down before the sun is up, and by the time we’re back up the sun is down again.


    The idea was that they would work in mixed ability groups, so that especially for the start of the lesson because those children that sometimes people label as the SEN children, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have a creative mind and they can’t be inspired in the same way as everybody else, it is just that sometimes they find it difficult maybe with their spelling or their sentence structure. Actually some of the SEN children in my class have brilliant imaginations and what they can bring to the group is really worthwhile.

    Hayley in classroom

    Pupil: You know like when you pull it, because you feel the breeze come from the wind in your face. The wind from the doors opening.

    Hayley: So that’s what you want to write...


    Obviously if you’ve got your higher ability children on that table as well, sometimes they might take an idea from somebody else and maybe possibly structure it in a better way.

    Hayley in classroom interaction:

    Pupil 1: “And then suddenly disaster struck”.

    Pupil 2: What about “I woke up thinking that today would just be any old normal day”?

    Pupil 3: “Today I woke up thinking everything was alright, however when I got down there I felt…”

    Pupil 2: “I knew I was wrong!”


    And for those other children then to hear that, that then boosts their idea but they know it’s their idea, so actually they feel like, they’re responding to it and they’re taking the praise with them as well.

    Hayley in classroom interaction:

    Hayley: Vanessa what was it that they heard?

    Vanessa: Water.

    Hayley: Water. Brilliant. Ok...


    So that helps all the children within the class.

    Alex in lesson interaction:

    Alex: So Mrs. Rose would you mind just sitting in this chair for me...

    Alex Ogden - PSHCE Teacher:

    The learning objective for today’s lesson, it was very much focusing on getting the children to really think about how they might feel in a certain situation, whether they’d feel sad, angry, or upset, or frustrated, or confused and then we would look to move on to what do those feelings and emotions look like in a person.

    Alex in lesson interaction

    Alex: Now this is the word that Maddison used, Maddison what word did you use?

    Maddison: Worried.

    Alex: Worried. Worried. A girl kind of cowering behind her legs.


    They then had the structure and the background knowledge to move on to their own activity which was to convey that themselves.

    Alex in lesson interaction:

    Alex: Are you angry? Are you confused? Ok, chose one... and then start to show it to your partner. Standing still.

    These are really good.


    The means of taking photographs was purely for evidence later on. So the children will use the photographs of themselves as a structure for their story writing. So we will look to write about what might be happening in this picture, and they’ll be able to use those photographs to structure their writing. If they can act out that story first, if they can split it up into a beginning, a middle and an end...

    Alex in lesson interaction:

    Alex: What might you do if you’ve been left out? If it’s going on in the playground?

    Pupil: Be lonely.


    …or as your story mountain with your build-up and your problem, and your solution. If they can split something up, act that out, express their feelings whether that is non-verbally or verbally. That’s a wonderful tool for when they come to sit down at a table and start to write their story.

  • Lesson study in practice

    This video shows faculty leader Marie Barrett working on an ‘art detective’ project with Year 7 pupils. She explains how this collaborative approach gives every pupil in the group an equal chance to contribute, and how it encourages engagement from a pupil with MLD.

    This clip relates to video task 1 in your PDF of unit 13.

    Show transcript

    Marie Barrett – Faculty leader for Creative Industries:

    I'm Marie Barrett, and I'm Facility Leader for Creative Industries and an Art teacher at Stoke Damerel Community College in Plymouth. This is a Year 7 Group. We’ve been looking at an art detective project. We’re looking at comparing works of arts and studying elements, different elements from art works, and being able to talk fluently about the elements.

    Classroom interaction:

    So this is “Starry Night”, this painting here, you’ve got them on your desk, and this one is called "The Persistence of Memory".


    So what I want to achieve in this lesson, is to ensure that every student was involved in group discussion, and that they came up with some higher level responses that they were really engaging with the content of the paintings, and that they would support each other to do that, that they would discuss ideas, and so that they could develop their ideas further through the talk.

    Classroom interaction:

    Pupil: I think it's the right sentence because they’re both on about the texture in each of the pictures.


    The students have to work together and this is where we introduced the idea of talk tokens.

    Classroom interaction

    Marie: When you've said something, you put a token in the middle, yeah? And my group leaders are the ones to make sure that everybody is putting enough tokens in, OK. And if they’re not, then you need to encourage them, ask them questions or encourage them to say something.

    Pupil 1: Why do you think that this one hasn’t got any mountains?

    Pupil 2: Because that one has like holes and all that, and the other one don’t, because it’s like a cliff...


    The resources that we make are integral to the learning. The students can see the investment that you’ve made; the students are excited about holding things. The tactile nature of the resources means that they immediately want to go and pick things up. We found from a previous lesson study that the students were really engaged by active tasks. So, one of the tasks we came up with was sorting sentences, and we used this before and it was really successful to engage all the students, especially the students who find literacy difficult. So, what the idea is, is that they get parts of a sentence and they sort the sections out to make an object. In this case it was a trilby hat.

    Classroom interaction

    Marie: I’ve got another sorting exercise for you, but based on our theme of art detectives, they are detective hats, and you’re going to use your talk tokens, so you’re working as a group, and you need to sort these out to make sentences that work. You need to spread these out across your table so everybody’s got some in their hand, and you need to build a sentence. And all the tops of the hat are all to do with “Starry Night”, and then all the bottoms of the hat are to do with “The Persistence of Memory”, and then the middles are the connectives. So you need to make sentences which make sense.

    Pupil: (reading) “The brush strokes in “Starry Night” make an interesting textures showing movement”. “Also” “the smooth texture in “The Persistence of Memory” makes it feel calm and still”.

    Marie: Why have you put those two together?

    Pupil: Because they’re both about the texture of each picture.

    Marie: OK, so they’re both about texture, fantastic, so you’ve put those together, and “also” they’re both the same. So you’ve used “also” for that one.


    From my research from previous lesson studies, we found that specifically the MLD student found it difficult to start their writing. So we wanted to scaffold the activities to make sure that they had the best support. So they were experimenting with their ideas through talk before they started to commit to writing.

    Debbie who I’ve been working with is an English specialist, so I’m an art teacher, she’s a literacy specialist, and we can combine our skills to produce lessons for the subject which embed all those literacy skills that they’ll be learning elsewhere.

    The particular planning for the student who has MLD is that she lacks confidence to give her contributions. So in order to give her the confidence to do that, and to support her, I wanted to structure the talk so that she felt that she could make those contributions. Talk is a fantastic way to get the students to consider deeper responses.

    Classroom interaction

    Pupil 1: Which one do you reckon it is?

    Pupil 2: That one.

    Pupil 1: So this one. Do you know why? So why do you think there is texture in that and how can you see it?

    Pupil 2: Because it’s got brush strokes in it, in the picture...


    We haven’t really set any different criteria for any of the students with any different needs for the talk tokens because the idea is that it’s a leveller, it gives them all an equal opportunity to speak, and an equal chance to make their contribution.

    Classroom interaction

    Pupil 1: So why do you think this is the right sentence?

    Pupil 2: The texture in this picture is smooth and everything. It’s got bright colours and dark colours in some places.

    Pupil 3: So it’s quite bold.

    Classroom interaction

    Marie: Right, OK, so what I’ve done for you is because we don’t, in our arts lessons we don’t like writing on square pieces of paper, because it is too boring. As ever we’ve got some footprints, and these footprints are going to go on to our Art Detectives board, on our Art Detectives poster. These footprints are going to have sentences which you’ve written comparing the two pieces of work.

    Classroom interaction

    Pupil 4: I feel that both paintings show emotion. The reason I feel this is because,

    Pupil 5: …because it’s got like the stars.

    Pupil 4: So do you want to put that down?

    Marie: If you hear somebody writing a sentence about one of the paintings, OK, you hold one magnifying glass in the air. And if you hear them comparing it, using a connective, and comparing it with another painting, then they get two magnifying glasses in the air.


    The MLD student that we’ve been focussed on really surprised me in this lesson with the amount that she contributed. Her confidence levels have really risen, so that she feels that she can not only contribute openly, but she’s happy to read out in class, and she’s happy to contribute to whole class discussions. She’s really keen to have her point across.

    Classroom interaction

    Marie: Amy, can we have yours.

    Amy: In the “Starry Night” there are bright and dark colours. Also in “The Persistence of Memory” there are also dark and bright colours to make it look bold and effective.

    Marie: Brilliant. OK, how many are we giving it? How many, two? Billie, why two?

    Billie: Because she said about both paintings.

    Marie: Because she talked about both paintings, fantastic.


    So, once we’ve identified whether they’ve met the criteria, then the students are asked whether they’re good enough to go on to our art detective’s poster. So this is the collaborative piece of work that they’ve all been working towards, and then the students can glue them on, and that is a record of the whole process, so that the experiences that the students have had about discussing the work, and finding different elements, and we’ve recorded it all their sticking sort of bits together to create their own collaborative group poster.

  • Inclusion and differentiation in the maths classroom

    In this clip, primary school teachers and school leaders talk about the importance of engaging and motivating every single child within a maths class. They discuss making the lesson a group experience, while ensuring it accounts for individual pupils’ different learning needs.

    This clip relates to video task 2 in your PDF of unit 13.

    Show transcript

    Sue Towers - Vice Principal:

    In terms of good teaching, it is about good differentiation, about a teacher’s eye on the ball looking at learning outcomes, and how they create that backdrop, that curriculum context, to enable those learning outcomes to take place.

    It still focuses on all those levels that the children come into the classroom with that you have to have prior knowledge of. Building on those. Being clear where your targets are set - where you want them to be at the end of the term or end of period of time, it must even just be that day in some children’s cases. So that creativity comes in, that break-down of those steps, those targets, to be meaningful at the classroom level.

    Faiz Akhtar - Year 4 Teacher:

    As a teacher it is important for me to make sure that children who find maths challenging, to make sure that I as a teacher have that overall responsibility for the children, and make sure that I know what they are doing and how they are getting on so that I would be able to accurately assess their learning, and then plan accordingly to the next part of the lesson.

    Faiz in classroom interaction:

    And also guide the TA in that direction so that she or he is asking the appropriate questions, so helping the child to move on with their learning.

    And also right at the end of the lesson, I used the children to assess each other’s learning, where they were peer assessing - looking at each other’s books and assessing whether or not their friends had met the learning objective and what they think their friends next steps were going to be. And then the children asses themselves individually on a post-it note, thinking about what they have learnt, and what there steps are, and then stuck it on the maths working wall.

    Zoe Adams - Head teacher:

    Basically at Westwood we try to think of every child as an individual. So when we’re planning lessons. We are thinking of how we can meet the needs of all the children in the class. And not thinking just of groupings, for example, children with special educational needs are all individuals and how are we meeting those needs. Just like how are we meeting the needs of any child in the class.

    So we plan for the class as a whole and make sure that we are engaging and motivating every single child in that class, making them feel fully included in the class and in the lesson. And then make sure that the learning is pitched at their level. In one lesson a child might really struggle in and find hard but in another area they might be really strong at, so we never want to band children as a particular ability. We want to make sure that they have the chance to succeed wherever they can, and at whatever level they can, in whatever lesson they are in.

    Will in classroom interaction:

    Will: On your table should be a cup full of straws and one dice, ok.

    Will Hendy - Year 5/6 Teacher

    My name is Will Hendy, I’m the class 5/6 teacher at Westwood Primary School in South Leeds.

    I have some children who we would consider SEN and they have an individual education plan for numeracy and then I have certain children who are already above their expected level and I have some children that are far behind their expectation.

    I wanted all the children, especially my lower abilities and SEN groups, I wanted them to take part, so I planned for an activity where they would have a final answer at the end. I feel that’s very important in that they come away satisfied that they completed something that they’ve been able to push themselves.

    Classroom interaction

    Will: You are simply going to roll the dice 5 times. Ok? So you can take it in turns because you’re going to work as a pair against the pair sitting near you.


    The learning objective for this morning’s maths lesson was to find pattern, whether it be in shape or number. I planned for a very visual activity so that it would incorporate the less able and more visual learners. I planned for an extension where the activity would go into quite a complex number pattern for the higher abilities.

    Classroom interaction:

    Will: For each roll, say you roll a 3. You take that number of straws and you make a triangle.


    I held back information from certain groups and I provided other groups with more information. For example, some groups had more straws so they could act it out, other groups were encouraged to draw it, one group had a table so they could start to record the information and look for number patterns.

    Classroom interaction:

    Pupil 1: 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, so 1, 2, 3, 4 triangles, we could make 4 triangles!


    I wanted them to use lots of different calculations to come up with the answer at the end. I held back on lots of information initially to get them thinking, to try and get them experimenting.

    Classroom interaction:

    Will: If you haven’t got something like this already...


    I would expect all groups to be able to participate in the maths lesson. I don’t expect them to then go of somewhere else to do another activity with a TA for example. I expect them to stay in the lesson, be supported through different ways, whether it’s adult support or whether it’s an outcome support, but I expect them to stay with the lesson and be part of the lesson.

    For my SEN group I sit them close to a display board where there is current work up. In numeracy it’s always changing so a display can become very old so I try and update it with key words that we are going to do for that lesson which act as a big of a clue, or I want them to use that word in their answer. So we have things like “systematic” which is quite a complicated word, we had “formula” and “sequence”.

    Classroom interaction:

    Will: We’ve looked at method, we’ve looked at trial and error, we are now going to become…? Connor?

    Connor: We have to be systematic.

    Teacher: We are going to become systematic.


    There is also current displays where there’s little rules and little patterns that we often rely on again and again in maths that are there in front of them, multiples are up there, times tables are up there. So where they sit is very important.

    In my class I try to encourage a culture it is okay to get something wrong. We’ve previously done a lot about what we call trial and error where we try something, we get it wrong but we use little bits of information to complete the puzzle. So if they do get the wrong answer it’s not a problem and often it can give us the right answer in the end. Sometimes we use the phrase ‘mistakes are our friends’ and they often, particularly in maths, help us work out where something has gone wrong. I would then ask pupils to spot misconceptions in a sum, I would get the answer wrong. They would then be able to explain why I got it wrong or why I might think that a certain answer is right.

    Classroom interaction:

    Will: You’re on the right lines but how did you get ten?

    Pupil: Because 3 times 10 equals...

    Will: because 3 times 10 equals...?

    Pupil: 30

    Will: Very Good


    I think for SEN children to be allowed to make mistakes is very important. It builds their confidence when they find out if they get something wrong, nothing bad happens. But then it gives them the opportunity, and this works really well for SEN, is that they are given the chance to then talk about the answer, about what went wrong. They get to talk about their misconceptions, I can then challenge them, and we can talk about the method that they’ve used which really helps consolidate their learning.

    Classroom interaction:

    Will: And see if you can do it in another way. Ohh look, nearly, nearly, nearly, a bit of a kind of curve isn’t it. That’s certainly different from the row. Oh not quite though.


    For my group with SEN, I think they did very well. They didn’t come to the number pattern where they were spotting square numbers, but I didn’t expect them to.

    On their own, particularly Rio, he started investigating number pattern on his own, it wasn’t the right number pattern but he was off on his own and he was spotting using the numbers and making up his own addition facts to it. And that was great. And that for me that was exactly what I wanted, he was just playing around with number on his own and enjoying it as well.

    Classroom interaction:

    Pupil: Like a pyramid.

    Will: Like a pyramid shape, excellent, well done! So, the pyramid shape is going to carry on here. That’s it!

    This is looking good. We’re on the 4th row here.

    Classroom interaction

    Pupil: 6. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.


    Michael started really well. He looked at a very creative game with his partner Thomas right at the beginning, and in fact, he was almost 2 steps ahead there, where he was looking at creating the most amount of triangles with the fewest number of straws.

    Classroom interaction

    Will: Anybody got 3 or more?

    4 or more?

    5 or more?

    Oh. Right then, how many have you made?

    Michael and Thomas: 7

    Will: 7?! How have you made 7 then?! Have you been cheating?

    Thomas: No, because we had a straw left, and then...

    Michael: We put it across the top.

    Thomas: …but we saw them 2, and then we just thought we might as well put it on the top.


    Which basically gave everybody the idea of how to solve making nine triangles with fewer straws. So I think that gave him a real boost that people used his idea and again we encourage people to talk about their ideas and then we take them and we try them out and he did really well. And he was able to then put it into a table and begin to then look at the number patterns and the number sequences.

    Classroom interaction:

    Will: 13, 14, 15, so they have used all of their straws haven’t they.


    In order to ensure good progression through the SEN pupils and to try and create a more independent pupil for those groups. I try to mix my adult support, sometimes the TA will work with this group, but I really try as much as possible for them to work independently. There’s always the support if they need it and they know if they are stuck they stick their hand up and they come and ask.

    Encouraging independent learning is really important. Through my questioning I can extend their learning. I can ask them direct questions that I know, the questions that I’ve planned for, and the objectives I can really push. So it is having a really high expectation of their outcome as well, and not thinking that because they are a SEN group they can get away with the bare minimum. I really try and push that group as much as I would do with my higher ability as well.

Assessment for learning – classroom examples

This clip gives practical examples of how assessment for learning can be used in the classroom. Teachers and year leaders discuss the various techniques they use to assess pupils’ individual learning processes, and how they encourage pupils to assess their own learning.

This audio clip relates to video task 2 in your PDF of unit 13.

Show transcript

Will Hendy – Year 5/6 Teacher

My name is Will Hendy and I’m the Class 5-6 Teacher at Westwood Primary School in South Leeds.

In terms of SEN, the benefits of assessment for learning are the fact that they take control over their learning, and I think for that group, for a long time in the past has been that the learning is given to them and they’re expected to remember it, and there’s no consolidation, and they haven’t really participated as individuals, they haven’t worked individually, so assessment for learning, the benefits of it are to make them really part of the class and to expect them to reach the same conclusions that other children would meet.

The challenges for assessment for learning in terms of SEN, they’re quite big, in that for them to understand their learning I think is a challenge in itself, for them to understand how they’re doing in a lesson I think is a very complex thought process, so they may not be able to vocalise it, they may not be able to explain it very clearly. So when you’re asking them a question and they say, I’m stuck, for them to then be able to break it down to say what bit are they stuck on, I think is quite a complicated thing. But again having a really high expectation of that they will be able to explain it, and using certain questions to kind of not give them the answers but to kind of tease it out of them, and make them think that they can do it, and make them think carefully about what they’re doing, works very well.

Faiz Akhtar – Year 4 Leader

I’m Faiz Akhtar, Year 4 teacher and Year 4 Leader. I work at Bankside Primary School in Leeds.

There’s lots of strategies that I use for my assessment for learning, in particular for Maths. They do post-it notes at the end of the lesson to show me that they have understood that lesson or if they have got any worries or concerns about that lesson. So, for example, if they’re multiplying by 10, 100 and 1000, I want to know if they’ve been able to do that, if not, they can write a quick note for me saying, I’ve had some problems in multiplying with 10 - I need a little bit extra help. So I will read that note and then get back to them in the next lesson.

Kirsty Randles – Teacher

My name’s Kirsty Randles and I am a teacher at Hawes Side Primary School in Blackpool.

Once I’ve assessed writing skills, they always know of something that they need to do to improve their writing. So once I’ve assessed it, and I’ve seen that they’re able to do their target from before, they then have a new target and they’re actually involved within that target setting, they’re actually, they know their targets, they know what they need to do to improve their writing.

They’re also involved within some of the assessment because we have the pyramids, the punctuation pyramids that we use. We look at vocabulary, connectives, openers to sentences, and punctuation. And they’re all on different levels, so they’re split up between 4 levels, and the children look within their writing, and I will choose one or two of the actual pyramids for them to look at within their writing at that day.

So, for example, I’d look at openers and punctuation, and within that what they would do is they’d look at what kind of punctuation they’d put in it, and where they thought they would be, so for example, level one would just be using full stops, level two would be a question mark and a full stop, level three would be question marks, exclamation marks, full stops and comas. Level four would be ellipsis, question marks, exclamation marks and you’d have in there speech marks as well, and to be able to use speech marks correctly, so to put the punctuation in within the speech as well. And it’s very good, because the children can then relate back to where they were on that, from the last time, and they look at where they think they are. So they’re actually assessing their own writing, and they then know because they’ve assessed their own writing where they need to go from there, which then helps me to assess their writing as well, because it’s a joint, mutual thing that we sort of talk about it: “where do you need to go from here?”, “how is it going to help you?”, “what are we going to do?”, so they’re aware of those steps to get to that target as well.

Lyn Brimson:

I’m Lyn Brimson and I’m from Orchard Vale Community School in Barnstaple.

Peer support is really vital in the classroom because it lets children realise that they can learn from one another, and they can actually support and give each other next steps in order to improve whichever area of the curriculum they need to improve on really. In our class we use our white boards a lot, and they swap over their white boards, and they might mark each other’s learning on the white boards. We’ve also used somebody standing at the front of the class, and the whole class has assessed one child’s learning.

In their text books, in their work book sometimes in the classroom, the children will then swap over each other’s learning, and in a different coloured pencil they will circle all the things they may be noticed that need maybe an improvement point, and I’ll tick all the really good things that they’ve noticed which are related to the success criteria on the interactive white board at the front of the classroom, which means that all children then, because I think sometimes it’s really hard for a child to look at their own learning critically and evaluate it. Whereas if you’re looking at somebody else’s learning, I think they find it fun to look at somebody else’s learning and correct it, and tick it, and add on the next steps. And then they realise actually they’ve all got an important voice to be had in the class, and everybody, no matter what difficulties they have in terms of learning, they can all share their thoughts and ideas, and take part.

Assessment for learning explained

In this clip, Trevor Bowen, the deputy head teacher at Almondbury High School and Language College in Huddersfield, talks about what he sees as being the most important points of assessment for learning, including feedback strategies and peer assessment.

This audio clip relates to video task 2 in your PDF of unit 13.

Show transcript

Trevor Bowen – Deputy Head

My name is Trevor Bowen, I’m Deputy Head of Almondbury High School and Language College in Huddersfield.

In terms of assessment for learning I think there are some important things that teachers must do. The most important thing a teacher must do is plan a lesson really, really, well. In planning a lesson you take in to account the nature of all the children that are in the room, but also you set out doing two or three key things. One is that you set up what the learning intention for that lesson is. So the children are sign-posted very, very, early on as to what you intend to do with that lesson.

Once you have sign-posted what you want to do, you then have to create a climate in the classroom. I have three rules in my classroom that are used by Professor Dylan Wiliam, and I can tell you I know for a fact make a great deal of difference. One is that no child is allowed to put their hand up unless they’re asking me a question. In other words I decide which child gets asked a question. And that’s a really effective way of differentiating the classroom because you ask different children different questions, but also every child thinks at any moment they’re going to be asked a question so it brings every child into the lesson and they’re engaged.

The second thing I have is that when they do answer a question they’re not allowed to say “I don’t know”, they must give an answer. By saying “I don’t know”, sometimes that means “I don’t care”. And by saying “I don’t know”, they are opting out of the lesson, they’re retreating from it, the pressure’s off them. So if you insist on getting an answer, and if you have to move to another child and come back to them, that way they know they’re engaged in it all the time.

The other thing that is more difficult to try and get in a classroom, but I have as well, is it’s ok to get things wrong. Children are very, very worried about making mistakes and that takes a lot, lot longer to create a climate where they can make mistakes, and you say to them, “it’s alright to make mistakes”, “learn from your mistakes”, because at this moment in time you’re not being finally assessed for it and actually when you get to the final assessment, and we do lots of staging along the way, if you make a mistake then, then that will count towards you final grade, but at this moment in time when you’re in a classroom and you’re exploring your ideas and your understandings and your misunderstandings, it’s perfectly ok to make mistakes. And by doing that I think you draw everybody in to the lesson.

Lesson structures are quite important, it’s very important that there’s not too much teacher talk, you’ve got about five minutes in my opinion to hook children into the learning that you’re doing that day. They’ve been on the playground, they’ve been playing, now it’s a lesson, you’ve got about five minutes to draw them in, with either a description of where this lesson sits in the scheme of things, or what the intentions of that lesson were.

Then if you’re going to give them anymore information, you probably don’t want to go beyond about ten minutes. Once you go beyond ten minutes children start to become a bit restless, they’re not listening as effectively.

And then you spend the vast majority of the time getting children to demonstrate back to you what they know and understand. Now this is the difficult bit with what assessment for learning is all about. It’s very draining for a teacher to do this but it’s absolutely the most important thing you do. You take feedback from the children almost constantly throughout the lesson and adjust your teaching accordingly. So you reshape the teaching dependant on what the children tell you they understand or they don’t understand. Simple techniques are things like, they all have a little mini white board, you ask them a question, that’s why questioning is so important you have to think about the sorts of questions you’re going to ask them before you start. But you ask them a question and the idea about asking that question is, “do you get this?” Or, “don’t you?” If you do get it and I get a series of answers, once they have been given the white board and I’ve asked the question I say write your answer down, it’s usually a one word or two word answer and hold it up for everybody to see. Then as a teacher you can scan the room very, very, quickly, and make a decision, they’ve either got this or they haven’t.

If they’ve got it, move on then, even if your lesson plan for that day had lots of other things to do to reinforce the learning, if they’ve got it, they’ve got it, move on. But if they haven’t got it, then you need to reshape that lesson to reinforce their learning.

All the techniques that he has, in my opinion, engage pupils in an interactive way, simple things like: think about what the whole lesson is about in one question and give it to them as they walk through the door. Now if they’ve got it, then that lesson is finished. You know they give you an answer on a piece of paper, you take them in, you read them very quickly, you choose a child to explain why they’ve written what they’ve written, and the lesson is over. However if they haven’t got it you can see all the misconceptions in what they’re saying.

Another way that’s probably more powerful is to give them that lesson as they leave, and then you collect in their answers, you look at what they understand or don’t understand, and then you use that to shape the lesson following.

I’ll give you a typical example. I am a science teacher, so I once had a girl who believed that we have day and night because the earth is part of a pivot. The sun is at one end of a seesaw, the moon is at the other, and during a day the sun rises on this seesaw and falls at night. It’s a model that’s not quite right but it meets her experience and then when you and when you say to her “have you ever seen the moon and sun in the sky at the same time?” That model would then collapse and she would then reshape that, no she hadn’t. So at that point you’re trying to get beneath the learning to where the misconceptions are, because it’s not just about being able to answer an exam question, it’s about dealing with children’s understanding of the nature of the subject, and that’s quite difficult.

Other things that are really, really, powerful are things like giving children other children’s work to mark, and asking them to mark each other’s work in a way where it is based around the exam board and the assessment criteria, so they learn two things. One is that this is what the examiner is looking for when they’re marking your work, but secondly, I want you to set this child some targets here next to you, that is based on what you think is good and the strengths of the work and the work that they need to improve. And we have a little golden rule, which is it’s two stars and wish. Two strengths, one weakness, simple little thing the children can learn, and then give it out to them. And they write on the bottom of the children’s work two strengths and something that they could do to improve it.

In terms of written feedback what I’ve found is this, if you give a child a grade, children are addicted to grades. If you give them a grade they don’t read anything beyond it. So when you are marking their work you’ve got two choices. If you want to grade their work I would hold back the grade, I would give out the comments and the comments should be informative about the strengths of the work and how they should improve it, and give them the grade later. In other words, make them read the comment you’ve made because that will make the biggest difference to their work. Or another good way of doing it is to get them into a group of children and hand out randomly if you like within the group your comments for their work and say “which comment matches your work then?” and again you get a discussion around the strengths and weaknesses of the work.

Written feedback has to be interactive if it’s just a teacher making comments on the work that the child never reads, then the child does not take that further in terms of assessment for learning.

The final thing I think is ultimately this, in terms of a hierarchy if you can get children to self-assess, in other words they can tell you what they think they know and what they understand, self-assessment is really important at the start of the work, start of a module of work where you learn what you know already, build on that. But also at the end of the work where they can see the progress they’ve made, so that you say to them “this is what you understood at the start of all this”, “this is now what you understand at the end of all this”, “can’t you see the progress you’ve made?” and “by the way you say you understand all of this, but you don’t understand that”, well that then is the target for the work to improve even further. And I think that’s a really, really important part of what they say.

So questioning is crucial, that you ask good questions that actually probe for the depth of knowledge and understanding, and that you use your questioning to decide whether or not children understand something or not. And if they do you move on and if you don’t you reinforce.

With SEN pupils here’s the key thing, literacy opens the door to begin with for all children. Everywhere in my classroom there are key words displayed, we will have almost quite old fashioned if you like tests of what those key words mean, children are given those key words at the start of a unit, regularly tested throughout it all and special needs children particularly you need a match between what they know and understand, in terms of keywords and then trying to help them to expand their writing throughout the unit. But the keyword, if you don’t understand the meaning of the word “photosynthesis”, you can’t then answer a question on it. And there needs to be a lot of time spent by the teacher reinforcing it all the time.

One of the things I have, which is something I picked up from accelerated learning from Alastair Smith, it’s a brilliantly simple idea, what you do is you create what they call a learning matt. It has to be coloured because the right hand side of the brain works on colour, it has to include words, because the left hand side of the brain works on words. And what you do is you draw a diagram or you write down all of the information that you want the children to learn for that module, and you print it on a coloured mat, and you laminate it, and stick it on their desk, and every time they come into the lesson ,that mat is there. They then put their exercise book on top of it, and all the time that they are working they sort of, and you can imagine this, scan off the page sometimes or sometimes they may be a little distracted and they’re reading all of the information that you want them to learn over a ten week period and it reinforces that all of the time. And of course down each side of the mat is all of the words you want them to know right from the very beginning and you can use it in all sorts of different ways.

But the key thing for special needs for me is about literacy really in terms of my subject area, them knowing what the words mean, and helping them to answer exam questions fully, by knowing what the marks scheme is, and that’s where the assessment for learning works.

And you can be very skilful about how you pair children together, or group them. There are all sorts of ways of grouping them, of similar ability, of very different ability, and often it’s said that you wouldn’t necessarily put a more-able child with a less-able child, because the more-able child needs to be extended. But actually when you ask a more-able child to teach a less-able child, because they understand it and they don’t, teaching is one of the ways where you understand yourself whether or not you’ve got it, and that reinforces it for the more-able learner.

And the final thing we’ve done a lot of work here on, which works very, very, well for special needs children, but all children, is that we have a boy, girl, seating policy in the school. A boy must sit next to a girl in every lesson they’re in. And it’s very, very, simply this: boys and girls are equally descriptive, but girls are more reflective than boys. If you ask a boy how they feel, they shut up and won’t speak, whereas a girl is more likely to be open. And if you put a boy and a girl together, you end up with what I describe as a perfect learner, because then finally boy are very speculative, they like to take risks. Girls don’t take as many risks or don’t like to take risks. So you’ve got the two together, you’ve got a descriptive learner who’s learning from each other about reflection, and finally learning from each other about risk-taking, and you’ll get girls to take risks that they ordinarily wouldn’t take if they’re sat next to a boy, because what girls like to do is be quite comfortable, they like to get all their stuff together and understand what they have to do and then start, and boys don’t like to talk about feelings, and if you put those two things together, you bring all the children into the learning. That would be assessment for learning for me.