PublicationsTopic index of systematic reviewsKnowledge pagesSEN
Special educational needs in mainstream schools
This page contains the findings of systematic reviews undertaken by review groups linked to the EPPI Centre

Pedagogic strategies
Paid adult support
Emotional and behavioural difficulties
Participation (general)

Pedagogic strategies 

  • There is some evidence of the effectiveness of co-operative learning, particularly in literacy. Co-operative learning encompasses a range of teaching practices and the evidence base relates to the elements of social grouping/teamwork, revising and adapting the curriculum and working with a co-operative learning school ethos. Specific evidence is available for the effectiveness of two specific co-operative learning programmes: co-operative integrated reading and composition, and team-assisted individualisation. There is also evidence of effectiveness for guided enquiry and Circle of Friends. [2]
  • There is evidence of impact on both academic learning and community participation, including improved attitudes towards curriculum areas and gains in children's views of their own competence, acceptance and self-worth. The evidence indicates that peer group interactive approaches that are effective in academic terms are also often effective in terms of social participation and children's attitudes to their learning. [2] Social interaction or social engagement is the basis for the creation of knowledge. Consequently, enabling learners to develop skills in, and have an understanding of, social interactions was seen in all these studies as a means to enhancing the academic and social inclusion of children with special educational needs. Successful pedagogies are based on social interactions which use, monitor and develop pupils’ social engagement, as an end in themselves, and as a way of facilitating the development of knowledge. [4]
  • The model of pupil as learner and having active agency in the construction of personal knowledge underpinned the studies and the interventions. Teachers fostered the co-construction of knowledge through scaffolding by, and dialogue with, peers. The authors of the studies reviewed recognised that a sense of belonging to and participation in the learning community has an important effect on young people's learning in schools. Teachers made use of organisational support for community participation and organised support for peer group interactive approaches using peers and adults together with careful planning. A holistic approach to skill development underpinned many of the interventions in contrast to the isolated skill development associated with traditional remedial programmes for special needs. Making use of peers may bring with it a necessity to make skill development socially meaningful. [2]
  • Positive teacher attitudes towards the inclusion of children with special educational needs (SEN) are reflected in the quality of their interactions with all pupils and in the pupils’ self concept. Thus:
    • Teachers who see themselves responsible for the learning of all promote higher order interactions and engage in prolonged interactions with pupils with SEN.
    • Interactions with successful academic and social outcomes are characterised by questions and statements that involve higher order thinking, reasoning, and personal perspective. 
    • High quality interactions are those in which teachers offer learners the opportunity to problem-solve, to discuss and describe their ideas, and to make connections with their own experiences and prior understandings.
    • Pupils with SEN participate more fully when encouraged to identify their thoughts and assisted to document them, particularly through one-to-one discussion with the teacher. Teachers should elicit prior knowledge and understanding, and use questions and answers to assess the nature of pupil’s thinking rather than as a check on whether they can provide the answer the teacher wants. [6]
    • Successful interactions are commonly based in learners’ experiences, being meaningful to learners in the here and now of their lives, involving direct experiences and realistic problems, offering multiple opportunities to engage with the learning situation and others within it.
  • There is good evidence that pedagogies which present children with activities which are visual, verbal and kinaesthetic, as well as text-based, can remove barriers to learning and give curriculum access to a wider group of learners.There is good evidence that inclusion is enhanced when pedagogical approaches are planned with, and made explicit, to learners. In addition, the studies assembled indicate that successful pedagogic approaches involve subject-specific learning activities which begin with an awareness of the needs of the learner and then develop their understanding, knowledge and skills through small incremental steps. [4]
  • Authenticity of classroom experience is seen where an activity is perceived as meaningful to the learner because it is grounded in the learner’s own experiences or to a real life skill or activity to which the learner can relate. It also encompasses being seen as an authentic subject-related activity by the pedagogic community. The evidence suggests that contextualising what is to be learned in the form of a real life or learner relevant inquiry or problem has potential to foster academic and social inclusion of pupils with special educational needs [4]
  • The studies reviewed indicate a role for shared philosophy and common concern with participation in the learning community, co-operation and collaboration. [2] There is good evidence to suggest that teachers who belong to a pedagogic community of practice can have an understanding of what they are trying to achieve in terms of academic and/or social inclusion, and develop appropriate pedagogic models to help achieve those aims. [4]

Paid adult support

  • Paid adult support staff can be effective mediators or 'connectors' between different groups and individuals in the school community.[1]
  • Paid adult support staff who are valued, respected and well-integrated members of an educational team are seen as positively impacting on the inclusion of SEN pupils in mainstream classrooms, particularly in regard to these pupils' participation. [1]
  • TAs had a positive impact on pupils with SEN in relation to maintaining engagement in academic activities, and where appropriately trained in supporting communication with peers.[5]
  • Using teacher/TA teamwork to support small groups within whole class activities was seen by researchers and TAs to promote a ‘more inclusive’ ethos in two high quality studies. Children with learning difficulties were not singled out as being in receipt of ‘special’ attention using this approach.[5]
  • Paid adult support staff who are not valued and not included with teachers and school management in the decision-making process are seen as being less effective in promoting the inclusion and participation of SEN pupils. [1]
  • They can sometimes be seen as stigmatising the pupils they support. [1]
  • They can sometimes thwart inclusion by working in relative isolation with the pupils they are supporting and by not helping their pupils, other pupils in the class and the classroom teacher to interact with each other.[1]
  • They are generally seen as having a positive impact on the inclusion of pupils with SEN, and this has been reflected by parents, teachers and pupils. [1]
  • One medium quality study found that TAs were not successful in undertaking therapeutic tasks aimed at supporting children with emotional and behaviour problems.[5]
  • It isimportant that teachers see themselves as responsible for all students, and do not consider pupils with special educational needs as solely the responsibility of the TA. [6]

Impact [3]

  • Taken as a whole the findings indicate that placing children with SEN in mainstream schools is unlikely to have a negative impact on academic and social outcomes for pupils without SEN.

  • The findings are slightly more positive for academic rather than social outcomes.
  • At the secondary level, where there were very few studies, the outcomes were slightly more mixed.
  • Some of the findings suggest that the inclusion of pupils with SEN in primary schools can have a positive impact on the achievement of their mainstream peers, particularly if the support offered to the pupil with SEN is well managed.
  • There is no evidence about whether the ‘inclusion effect’ is more or less serious for any one particular curriculum area.

Emotional and behavioural difficulties

To see a knowledge page on this topic, click here.

Participation (general)

To see a knowledge page on this topic, click here.


1. The impact of paid adult support on the participation and learning of pupils in mainstream schools (2003)

2. A systematic review of pedagogical approaches that can effectively include children with special educational needs in mainstream classrooms with a particular focus on peer group interactive approaches (2004)

3. The impact of population inclusivity in schools on student outcomes  (2005)

4. A systematic review of whole class, subject-based pedagogies with reported outcomes for the academic and social inclusion of pupils with special educational needs (2009)

5. The impact of adult support staff on pupils and mainstream schools (2009)

6. A systematic review of interactions in pedagogical approaches with reported outcomes for the academic and social inclusion of pupils with special educational needs (2006)

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