Special educational needs and disabilities provision: aims, challenges and solutions

Ambition Institute expert Ben Karlin unpicks what we know about leading special educational needs provision in schools, the challenges currently faced in the sector and possible solutions.

Share this page

Date published 11 April 2024

Last updated 11 April 2024

Around two in five children will be recorded to have some kind of special educational need at some point between reception and Year 11 (Hutchinson, 2021). It is more than likely that there is a child with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in every classroom, making SEND a part of every teacher and school leader’s role.

Despite the scale of need within the sector, SEND provision is often considered as separate or additional to mainstream education. This leads to pupils with SEND missing out on vital support, with implications for mental health, attendance and attainment (Ambitious about Autism, 2024).

To achieve Ambition Institute’s vision of an education system where every child can thrive, no matter what their background, SEND should be at the heart of our work with schools. Key to this is empowering teachers and leaders to create a safe and inclusive school environment for all pupils to reach their potential.

In this article, I will consider the aims of creating an inclusive school environment, some of the challenges the sector is currently facing, and possible solutions to these challenges.

Photo of a teacher helping a pupil with maths


The paper, A good life: towards greater dignity for people with learning disability, says, “Every child is entitled to the expertise which enables them to learn well, to be challenged and to achieve ambitious things” (Rees and Newmark, 2022). However, we know that it is not always the case that pupils with SEND receive the same quality of education as their peers.

More and more, pupils with SEND are experiencing delayed identification, where their needs are not noticed or assessed early on. Often, they miss out on vital support in the classroom and do not have the same opportunity to engage with learning as their peers. This inevitably has knock on effects on attainment and outcomes later in life.

A report by the Education Policy Institute found that children receiving SEND support at age five were over a year behind their peers in attainment. This gap widens through primary and secondary, with an attainment gap of two years between pupils with SEND and their peers by the end of key stage 4 (Education Policy Institute, 2023).

We know that professional development is the most cost-effective and sustainable way to help teachers and school leaders develop their skills to better support their pupils (Zuccollo and Fletcher-Wood, 2020). To tackle the attainment gap for pupils with SEND, our aim should therefore be to develop expertise in schools around SEND identification and provision.

By empowering teachers and leaders to advocate for and implement a strong SEND offer in classrooms, schools can create an environment which is inclusive of the needs of all pupils. In doing this, there is a greater chance of improving the life outcomes of all pupils, including those with SEND.


Leaders are challenged with building a SEND system which can be scaled across a whole school or trust, whilst also meeting the specific needs of individual pupils.

Evidence suggests that schools are experiencing an increasing range and complexity of needs coming into classrooms (UK Government, 2022). This challenge has been amplified by a reported lack of resources beyond the school. Schools now have more responsibility than ever to be the first point of contact for supporting pupils with complex needs. Often, the accountability placed on schools can be at odds with the knowledge, resources and capacity of teachers and leaders within the system.

Photo of a teacher and pupil smiling at each other

A positive step forward

The Department for Education recently announced the arrival of the new National Professional Qualification (NPQ) for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs). This framework recognises the impact that effective SEND leadership can have on improving schools, teaching and pupil attainment.

Every school needs a SENCO, and this new NPQ will be a mandatory qualification for all SENCOs.
At Ambition Institute, we understand the power of evidence-based professional development. So, for us, this programme presents an exciting step towards better equipping schools to face their current challenges in SEND and strengthening inclusive teaching.

Evidence-based and built by experts, the NPQ focuses on implementing meaningful change to SEND provision by positioning SENCOs as strategic leaders within schools. Most of all, it will help develop the resource and expertise within schools to have a direct impact on the life outcomes of pupils.

As a confirmed provider of this new NPQ, we’re incredibly excited to play a part in helping SENCOs, aspiring SENCOs and school leaders to develop their knowledge and shape the future of education.


A photo of Ben Karlin, who is an Associate Dean at Ambition Institute.
Benjamin Karlin
Associate Dean, Ambition Institute

Follow Benjamin Karlin

Enquire now: NPQ for SENCOs

Register interest and we'll be in touch with more information

Find out more