Improving approaches to the arts in SEND settings

As we prepare to start work with the 2016/17 cohort, Victoria McLaughlin (Teacher of Art) and Paul Pearce (Teacher of Music) from St Giles School tell us how they found being part of our SEND Network last year.

25 October 2016

The Network was a forum for a range of Arts practitioners working in the field of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Meeting throughout the year, we came together to share good practice and discuss the issues that our children and young people encounter when accessing the wide-ranging arts provision that London has to offer.

One of the aims of the network was to support each other in producing a piece of work which could be shared with other schools across both SEND and mainstream settings. Rich discussions about the similarities, differences and common areas for development in our schools helped us to do this. These meetings also inspired us and influenced the way we now approach our practice, helping us to create a piece of action-research that captured the whole process.

Our aim over the course of the year at St Giles was to create an event that involved not only the whole school community but the wider community around us including local schools and our families. In involving other schools, we believed that the good arts practice our school demonstrates could have a wider ranging impact beyond the school. By working with others we hoped to support them in understanding how our children and young people access the arts and use it as a vehicle to interact with the world around them.

The day was centred around the Queen’s 90th birthday and included sports activities in the morning, a fashion parade, performances and food in the afternoon. The sports activities were creative in their nature, providing opportunities for students to make choices, dress up and record themselves digitally. This meant that students with more complex needs were able to learn about themselves and their environment, and students with moderate learning difficulties had the opportunity to support their peers.

The wider community around our school of parents, friends and guides from the transport our children use contributed by cooking or offering time to prepare food from around the world on the day. This was very successful and gave our students opportunities to taste and touch a wide range of foods.

Although many of our children are fed in a different way, food is still an important part of their life. On the day they were provided with opportunities to experience the textures, colours and temperature of food. The sensory tea party that was created for our students to explore was successful not only because our students enjoyed it greatly but also because the students from a visiting school were very excited to have the opportunity to ‘play with’ their food (something that children are always told not to do).

The students who visited had been taught to sign one of the songs, making it more accessible for our students, who were delighted at seeing other children use signs. As well as listening to them, students from our school performed for them after taking part in the fashion parade entrance into the school hall.

Our visitors found the experience inspiring and are keen make further links with us. When the students were asked what they would like to do when they visit again, they said they would like to make friends with our students and learn more songs together.

The presentations and sharing of the work we had done in the final Network meeting was the culmination of all of the thinking that the Network members have contributed to. It was valuable to see how our conversations and joined-up work has moved us all forward in the way we approach the Arts in our settings. In addition, it was a great opportunity to be able to showcase the work we do to outside agencies such as museums, galleries and other arts organisations. Hopefully, this will impact upon their understanding of how those with SEND can access the arts, to make their spaces accessible and to provide for all students regardless of their need to engage with arts projects with them.

The whole experience was positive for us and gave us opportunities to stop, think and evaluate our practice. This led to us thinking in more creative ways and we are excited to build on this over the coming year.

If you would like more information about joining this years' Network, please email

Read the executive summary of our Arts & Cultural Provision for Special Educational Needs Learners in London research here.