The Special Educational Needs in Secondary Education (SENSE) Study

Our Making a Statement (MAST) study provided an insight into the educational experiences of 48 pupils with statements of special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream primary schools. What is less known is the extent to which these experiences endure when pupils progress to secondary education. In fact, little overall is known about their long-term experiences of education and their views on the provision their statements allow. The Special Educational Needs in Secondary Education (SENSE) study has been set up to address this gap, and greatly extend what is known about the nature and quality of the educational experiences of pupils with SEN in mainstream and special schools. 

The SENSE study is effectively two studies in one. The cross-sectional component will provide a detailed picture of the educational experiences of about 50 year 9 pupils with a statement or education, health and care (EHC) plan attending mainstream schools. We are collecting data on these pupils via minute-by-minute systematic observations and will compare these with similar observations of about 200 pupils without SEN. We will then use the observation data from MAST and SENSE to create, for the first time, a longitudinal study of the experiences of a group of pupils at two points in their school career (ages 9-10 and 13-14). About half the MAST cohort transitioned to a specialist setting, so we will be able to compare their experiences with those of pupils attending mainstream schools.

Data collection is currently underway in schools across England, using an innovation approach to fieldwork. We are deploying about 60 trainee educational psychologists to collect observation and interview data, additionally providing them with a formative and immersive experience at the start of their career.

The SENSE study will provide new perspectives of the inclusiveness of provision for vulnerable learners following changes to the SEN system in 2014, and the quality of support arrangements that rely on the use of TAs. We hope our work will improve the understanding and use of evidence on effective classroom support among professionals involved in the EHC plan-writing process. By giving a voice to parents, pupils and staff about teaching, support and transition from primary school, we will learn more about the best ways to facilitate the journey young people with SEN make through the school system.

The SENSE study is being funded by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation.