Special educational needs (SEN) in England and Northern Ireland, additional support needs (ASN) in Scotland, and additional learning needs (ALN) in Wales are high priorities for the NASUWT.

The Union commissioned independent research into the different interpretations of inclusion and SEN and into teachers’ experiences of SEN. The Reports are available to download on the right/below.

The Union has also organised conferences and seminars for teachers and school leaders on SEN/ALN/ASN-related matters. Further, across the UK, the Union holds regular meetings with senior government officials and politicians to discuss matters relating to SEN/ALN/ASN policy and practice.

Identification of SEN/ALN/ASN and support
Training and CPD
SEN and performance management
SENCO/ALNCO/ASN Co-ordinator experiences
Experiences of SEN teachers and teachers working in special schools, PRUs and alternative provision


The NASUWT has received feedback from teachers and school leaders which highlights a range of issues and concerns about SEN/ALN/ASN arising from education reforms and cuts to public services.

Teachers have also expressed concerns about management practices relating to SEN, including how SEN is prioritised within the school. This includes issues relating to pay and performance management.

In the case of SEN teachers and teachers working in special schools, alternative provision (AP), pupil referral units (PRUs) and Education Other Than At School (EOTAS) centres, many have raised concerns that abuse and violence is seen as ‘part of the job’.

The survey sought evidence about teachers’ and school leaders’ experiences of these issues, including policies and practices.

Background information

The 2018 survey was conducted over a seven-week period in September and October 2017. A total of 1,615 teachers and school leaders completed the survey. 

The majority of respondents (1,150) were from England, 232 were from Northern Ireland, 117 from Wales and 116 from Scotland.

Where respondents work

The survey was targeted at teachers and school leaders working in schools and in specialist provision. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents said that they worked in a secondary school, 37% worked in primary and 13% worked in a special school.

Six per cent of respondents worked in central services, such as a local authority or, in the case of some respondents from England, a central services team within a multi-academy trust (MAT).

Three per cent of respondents worked in a PRU or alternative provision in England, or an EOTAS centre in Northern Ireland. Two per cent of respondents said that they worked in an early years setting.

Work roles

Some respondents indicated that they had more than one role:

  • the majority of respondents were class teachers – 58%;

  • 23% were special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) (England and Northern Ireland), Heads of Inclusion (England and Wales), additional learning needs co-ordinators (ALNCOs) (Wales), or ASN Co-ordinators or a Principal Teacher (Support for Learning (SfL)) (Scotland);

  • 23% of respondents were subject leads or heads of department;

  • 18% were SEN teachers; and

  • 4% were either headteachers/principals, deputies or assistant headteachers.

Five per cent of respondents were supply teachers, with 3% working as short-term supply and 2% as long-term supply teachers. Twelve per cent of respondents said that they held other roles within the school or educational setting.

The key findings of the survey are summarised below. The full survey report can be downloaded on the right/below.

Identification of SEN/ALN/ASN and support - Summary of the key issues

  • Almost two thirds of respondents said that support for learners has decreased in the last five years. They report that learners who do not have a Statement of SEN or Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan struggle to access specialist support.

  • Thresholds for learners to access external support have been raised, meaning that many more learners do not receive specialist support.

  • In some schools, specialist support is allocated to some subjects or age groups, most notably English and maths and older year groups. Learners may not receive support outlined in statements or plans in other subjects.

  • There is concern that some learners with SEN/ALN/ASN struggle to find a school place and that some schools are unwilling to accept learners who will adversely affect the school’s performance.

  • There are reported inconsistencies in the levels of support provided.

  • Some external agencies are adopting strategies to control or limit the number of learners who are assessed and who receive support. ‘Inclusion’ is open to interpretation, meaning that there is often lack of clarity around thresholds for support.

  • There is evidence that local authorities, particularly in England, are moving to traded services. Buying in support is becoming more costly as a result and some schools cannot pay for these services, meaning that learners do not get the support that they need.

Teachers and schools
  • More than two thirds of teachers report that they never, rarely or only sometimes receive the support they need to teach learners with SEN/ALN/ASN effectively.

  • In the last five years, specialist teaching and support-staffing posts have been cut. Working hours have also been cut.

  • The demands on the roles of SENCOs/ALNCOs/ASN Co-ordinators have increased, with many reporting that their general teaching responsibilities have also increased.

  • Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms in England have resulted in vastly increased workloads for staff in schools.

  • Teachers try to do the best for the learners they teach. However, they are not always equipped with the knowledge, skills and expertise to meet the needs of learners with SEN/ALN/ASN. Increasing pressures and workloads, including those arising from other education reforms, have consequences for teacher morale, teacher wellbeing and teacher retention.

Securing improvement
  • Governments across the UK must take responsibility for addressing these issues to ensure that all learners receive a high-quality education that meets their needs. Teacher workload, teacher wellbeing and teacher retention are integral to delivering this.

Training and CPD - Summary of the key issues

  • Many respondents report significant difficulties accessing high-quality, effective SEN/ALN/ASN- related training or CPD. In particular, class teachers struggle to access SEN/ALN/ASN-related training or CPD.

  • Workload and time are major barriers to teachers undertaking SEN/ALN/ASN-related training or CPD – many teachers report that they undertake training/CPD outside the working day.

  • Some teachers studying for SENCO/ALNCO qualifications are forced to study at weekends and in school holidays. This has implications for future recruitment to SENCO posts, particularly in England, where newly appointed SENCOs are required to gain a recognised SENCO award.

  • Teachers report that their school does not have enough money to fund training/CPD and that external training/CPD is often very expensive.

  • A small but significant number of teachers report that they have to pay for their own training/CPD. There is a risk that further pressures on school budgets will lead to more teachers being expected to pay for their training/CPD.

  • An international review of high-quality CPD identifies the key features to include: a strong focus on learner outcomes; extended learning (usually lasting at least two terms); follow-up and consolidation activities; opportunities to experiment in the classroom; opportunities for peer learning and peer support; and opportunities to analyse and reflect on what has been learned. High-quality CPD also takes account of individual teachers’ starting points and their day-to-day experiences.

  • There is enormous variation in the quality of training/CPD. Many teachers report that it has not helped them to do their job more effectively.

  • Almost three quarters of respondents who received SEN/ALN/ASN-related training or CPD in the last two years received just one day or less in total.

  • There appear to be limited opportunities for teachers to undertake practical training/CPD or to engage in collaborative and co-operative approaches such as coaching and mentoring.

  • Teachers do not have time to experiment and implement what they have learned in their classrooms.

CPD/training providers
  • Most training/CPD is delivered by a member of school staff. Local authorities are still a major provider of CPD/training across the UK but, increasingly, schools are obtaining CPD/training from consultants and private providers. This is often expensive and there are concerns that programmes are ‘glitzy’ rather than focused on what teachers need.

SEN and performance management - Summary of the key issues

Inclusion of SEN/ALN/ASN in performance management
  • Only half of respondents reported that SEN/ALN/ASN was discussed in performance management, Performance Review and Staff Development (PRSD) or Career-long Professional Learning (CLPL) meetings.

SEN/ALN as a performance objective
  • Where SEN/ALN was included in performance management, well over half of respondents report that performance management is used to set SEN/ALN performance objectives.

  • Almost half of respondents from England who said that they had been set performance objectives for SEN report that their pay progression is dependent on them achieving those objectives.

  • Many respondents, especially from England, report that they have been set inappropriate and unrealistic targets. The overriding message is that performance management is high stakes and punitive.

  • The high-stakes nature of performance management diverts attention away from meeting learners’ needs.

Teachers’ development needs
  • Where SEN/ALN/ASN was included, less than one third of respondents said that performance management or PRSD is used to discuss their training and support needs. Whilst the responses from Scotland are more positive, less than half of Scottish respondents said that their CLPL includes discussion about their ASN support needs.

  • Just one third of respondents report that their performance management/PRSD or CLPL includes discussion of the school’s strategic priorities for SEN/ALN/ASN and just a quarter report that it is used to set strategic priorities – many respondents are concerned that SEN/ALN/ASN is a ‘bolt on’.

  • Whilst the national policy framework in Scotland sets out a commitment to professional learning and development, practice in schools falls short of this ambition. Teacher workload is a significant barrier to teachers participating in professional learning. However, national policy priorities and reforms also divert attention away from ASN.

SENCO/ALNCO/ASN Co-ordinator experiences - Summary of the key issues

SENCO qualification in England
  • The SENCO award in England places significant demands on SENCOs’ time and work-life balance, with some SENCOs being forced to study at weekends and in school holidays. Some SENCOs also fund their own training.

Time for SEN/ALN/ASN duties
  • Most SENCOs/ALNCOs/ASN Co-ordinators have significant timetabled teaching commitments, particularly those working in primary schools.

  • Almost one third of SENCOs/ALNCOs/ASN Co-ordinators report that less than one fifth of their timetabled time is allocated to SEN/ALN/ASN duties and three quarters report that less than 60% of their timetabled time is allocated to SEN/ALN/ASN duties. Lack of time for SEN/ALN/ASN duties is a particular issue in primary schools, with half of SENCOs/ALNCOs/ASN Co-ordinators reporting that they have less than 40% of their time allocated for these duties.

  • 81% of SENCOs/ALNCOs/ASN Co-ordinators report that they have insufficient time to fulfil their SEN/ALN/ASN responsibilities.

Leadership of SEN/ALN/ASN
  • More than two thirds of primary SENCOs/ALNCOs/ASN Co-ordinators report that they are members of their school’s leadership team, compared to less than one third of those working in secondary school.

  • More than two thirds of primary and a quarter of secondary SENCOs/ALNCOs/ ASN Co-ordinators who were not part of the school leadership team reported that no school leader in their school had nominated responsibility for SEN/ALN/ASN. This suggests that some schools, particularly primary schools, do not prioritise or have strategic oversight of SEN/ALN/ASN.

SENCO/ALNCO/ASN Co-ordinator pay
  • Almost half of SENCOs/ALNCOs/ASN Co-ordinators, particularly those working in primary schools, may not be remunerated appropriately for the work that they do. This is an area that requires further investigation.

Workload, stress and wellbeing
  • SENCOs/ALNCOs/ASN Co-ordinators are struggling to cope with the increasing demands and expectations being placed on schools by external agencies.

  • SENCOs/ALNCOs/ASN Co-ordinators are under huge pressure as a result of cuts to external services, leading to increasing demands being placed on schools. There are significant concerns about burnout and teacher wellbeing.

  • The findings raise major concerns about the retention and future recruitment of SENCOs/ALNCOs/ASN Co-ordinators.

Experiences of SEN teachers and teachers working in special schools, PRUs and alternative provision - Summary of the key issues

Experiences of inappropriate learner behaviour and the management
  • Well over half of SEN teachers have experienced physical assault. Almost all SEN teachers report that they experience low-level disruption and three quarters report experiencing verbal abuse.

  • In some schools, teachers are told that physical assault and other abuse is ‘part of the job’.

Managing behaviour and protecting staff
  • One in 11 SEN teachers said that their school does not protect them from physical abuse.

  • More than a quarter of SEN teachers report either that their school does not encourage staff to report incidents or that they are encouraged to report some incidents only.

  • Just over half of schools record all incidents of inappropriate behaviour. Schools are least likely to have arrangements in place for recording attacks via social media (39%) or unwanted material online (38%).

  • Schools that manage behaviour effectively appear to: have clear systems in place that are applied consistently; anticipate issues and identify risks; have clear leadership of behaviour and a strong sense of working as a team.

  • Many SEN teachers report that the behaviour management policy is not applied consistently. In the worst instances, managers do not take responsibility for behaviour management. They are failing in their duty of care towards staff.

  • Some SEN teachers report that staff are hit, spat on and verbally abused on a daily basis.

  • One teacher said ‘I receive more abuse as a teacher than friends of mine who are in the police force and prison service’.

SEN teachers’ pay
  • Around 15% of SEN teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are not remunerated appropriately for their SEN/ALN responsibilities.

  • Administrations in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales do not collect and publish comprehensive and accurate data on the school workforce, including data relating to SEN allowances.

Acronym Glossary

ADHD Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
ALN Additional learning needs
ALNCO Additional learning needs co-ordinator
AP  Alternative provision
ASD Autism spectrum disorder
ASN Additional support needs
CAF Central assessment frameworks
CAMHS Child and adolescent mental health services
CLPL Career-long Professional Learning
CPD Continuing professional development
DfE Department for Education
EEF Education Endowment Foundation
EHC Education, Health and Care
EHCP Education, Health and Care Plan
EOTAS Education Other Than At School
EP Educational Psychology
HEI Higher education institute
IEP Individual Education Plans
ITT Initial Teacher Training
LA Local authority
LMT Leadership management team
MAT Multi-academy trust
MLD Moderate learning difficulties
MPR Main Pay Range
MPS Main Pay Scale
NASENCO National Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordination
NQT Newly qualified teacher
OT Occupational Therapy
PM Performance management
PRP Performance-related pay
PRSD Performance Review and Staff Development
PRU Pupil referral unit
PRU Pupil referral unit
PSA Pupil Support Assistant
QTVI Qualified Teacher of Children and Young People with Vision Impairment
RSC Regional Schools Commissioner
SEBD Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties
SEMH Social, emotional and mental health
SEN Special educational needs
SENCO Special educational needs co-ordinator
SEND Special educational needs and disabilities
SfL Support for Learning
SIP School improvement plan
SLD Severe learning difficulties
SLT Senior leadership team
SPMLD Severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties
STF Specialist teaching facility
STPCD School Teacher’s Pay and Conditions Document
SWC School Workforce Census
TA Teaching assistant
TAF Teacher assessment frameworks
TLR Teaching and learning responsibilities
UPR Upper Pay Range
UPS Upper Pay Scale


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