Case study

Ensuring greater inclusion for young people with special educational needs and disability

University of Derby research has helped deliver more inclusive and socially just support for children and young people with special educational needs and disability (SEND).

Policies and practices to improve the social and educational inclusion of children and young people with SENDs have been shaped by landmark research undertaken by experts in the University of Derby’s Institute of Education.

A team of inclusion and SEND specialists has provided fresh insights into ways of ensuring more independent futures for this group of learners. Their high-profile work, including nine externally funded projects, has underpinned national policy in education, health and care planning and contributed to improved leadership and attainment levels in Derby’s schools.


The University, with IFF Research, was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to complete what remains the largest-scale account of the impact of major reforms to SEND policy ushered in by the 2014 Children and Families Act. With a survey that attracted 13,000 responses, the team investigated service users’ experiences of Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans which are designed for children and young people whose special educational needs require more help than would normally be provided in mainstream settings. The DfE subsequently asked the team to conduct further qualitative research into the issues highlighted by the survey.

Research findings

The findings shed invaluable light on the effectiveness of EHC plans as a route to independent adulthood for over 230,000 young people with SENDs. They helped strengthen elements of the DfE’s approach and have been widely used by Brian Lamb OBE – who led a landmark inquiry into parental confidence in the SEND system – and other government advisers to share good practice with local authorities and other agencies.

Research developments

Schools in Derby

Schools in Derby have also benefited extensively from the team’s research expertise. The Derby Opportunity Area Board commissioned the University to undertake a 30-month research and development project which helped 66 mainstream schools to improve their inclusion practices for learners with SENDs.

The team, working in partnership with schools and local leaders, devised innovative activities – including action research, peer review, an annual conference and a network for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCos) – to enhance assessment practice, teaching, learning and leadership. The schools which took part were more likely than others to report a fall in the number of pupil exclusions and the City Council concluded that the positive influence on school culture had led to improved attainment levels, such as a 21% rise in Year 1 pupils meeting the phonics standards. Such was the impact of the research that the Opportunity Area Board granted the University further funding to deliver training for SENCos.


The UK’s largest children’s reading charity, BookTrust, also commissioned the team to investigate how books can support social inclusion, development and wellbeing for young people with SENDs. The findings illustrated the profound importance of books to a group who may never read or write for themselves and reinforced calls for policy-makers to recognise them as relevant, literate citizens. As a result, BookTrust changed its school library packs and the research team has delivered inclusive literacy training for the charity’s staff and for early years practitioners.

Research outcome

The University’s research has filled significant gaps in knowledge about how the needs of children and young people with SENDs – and their families – can be better served in future by statutory services, school leaders and charitable organisations.



Research papers

a teacher with a young person with special educational needs and disability

Inclusion and Special Educational Needs Research Cluster

Special Educational Needs and Disability and Inclusive Practice is an area of central importance we pursue research and development work with a wide range of partners.

Find our about our Inclusion and Special Educational Needs Research ClusterFind our about our Inclusion and Special Educational Needs Research Cluster