Inclusion of SEND students in STEM subjects

–  Joe Neame

Headline figures from the 2022/2023 academic year show that over 1.5 million pupils in England have special educational needs (SEN). Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have varying challenges when accessing learning, often forming specific barriers to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Therefore, it’s important that we take an inclusive approach to STEM subjects at every level. It’s important that this inclusive approach begins from the earliest point. As facilitators of learning, we must ensure that STEM is made accessible and enjoyable, from the early years onwards. The Education Endowment Foundation in 2020 released a guidance report which included five evidence-based recommendations to support pupils with SEND in mainstream schools.


Below are these five recommendations and how they can be applied to practical STEM subjects at all stages of learning.

1. Create a positive and supportive environment for all pupils without Inclusion of SEND students in STEM subjects exception.

All students, including those with SEND, need to feel safe within the practical environments where STEM learning is often carried out. To feel able to investigate, they need to feel supported, allowing them to learn from mistakes, which is key to understanding of the world around them.

2. Build an ongoing, holistic understanding of your pupils and their needs.
This is invaluable to carrying out practical work safely. This can range from understanding that children with autism will need extra support during practical activities that may result in sensory overload, to students with speech and language disorders needing scaffolded talk opportunities when discussing and articulating their findings.

3. Ensure all pupils have access to high quality teaching.
As we know, there is no single teaching strategy that will work for every student. This point in relation to STEM is about knowing the subject you’re teaching, helping to engage SEN students, and combining this with my previous two recommendations.

4. Complement high quality teaching with carefully selected small-group and one-to-one interventions.
Although this is not always possible, being able to carry out one-to-one interventions with SEN students can go a long way in building that supportive and positive environment, where they feel safe to freely investigate and learn. Selected small groups are also invaluable to practical learning, where SEND students can be placed with responsible individuals who will support them on their learning journey.

5. Work effectively with teaching assistants (TAs).
Again, this will depend on the availability of teaching assistants within your setting. However, TAs are invaluable to practical learning when deployed effectively. They have the benefits of already having the positive relationship with SEND students and can also support with the safe running of investigations, inside and outside the classroom. When working with TAs, it’s important to ensure they are well prepared. No matter how challenging the practical is, it’s always good practice to work with them before a practical session, so they’re clear on how it runs and how to work together to support the specific needs within the classroom.

This article was first published in the summer issue of CACHE Alumni's quarterly member magazine, Aluminate.  CACHE Alumni members get access to a range of benefits which include Aluminate, video resources, e-learning, events and lifestyle discounts through our member benefits scheme, CACHE-Back.  Membership starts at zero cost, with fully funded memberships available because of our relationship with NCFE.  Sign up today to get immediate access to our full range of benefits and resources.