Fostering inclusion

“Fostering Inclusion: How School Leaders Are Transforming Work Environments for Teachers with Special Needs and Disabilities”


In today’s educational landscape, fostering inclusivity for staff with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is a crucial aspect of creating a supportive work environment for educators. As with pupils, there are 4 main categories of SEND in adults; physical, medical, and sensory needs, cognition and learning needs, communication and interaction needs and social, emotional, and mental health needs. Not all adults with additional needs identify as disabled because of the word’s medicalised connotations. There is a perception that this term only applies to physical or sensory needs, many staff with a variety of different SEND needs will nonetheless require reasonable adjustments under the equalities act 2010. Under this legislation, school leaders have a duty to meet needs regardless of diagnosis. Moreover, all staff benefit from inclusive practises in terms of human resources (HR) policies and culture. Such measures help staff feel a sense of belonging and community, thus improving both recruitment and retention.

In Britain and many other developed countries, there is a significant retention and recruitment crisis (Whittaker 2023). This is especially pressing because of the national skills gap in education (Oxford Learning College 2023) and the high number of unfilled vacancies, especially in additional needs support (QA Education 2023).

fostering inclusion

The 2023 DFE research suggested that there are significant gaps between the amount and level of work disabled teachers would like to carry out and their ability to access the reasonable adjustments they require. It would therefore make sense for employers to look at the barriers which disabled teachers face and consider ways to remove them.

Employing disable teacher presents an opportunity for schools. As well as acting as great role models of disabled children, they also teach typical children about the diverse range of strengths and needs in the human condition. They may also have skills and knowledge which can be hugely useful and enriching to a school community.

This article will examine the current situation around the employment of SEND staff and examine some examples of best practice through the medium of 4 mini case studies.

Understanding the Landscape:


According to a 2021 ( Schools Week 2) report only 1 percent of the staff across all education sectors are disabled. This is likely to be a gross underestimate, however. The most recent census data for England and Wales suggested around 17 % of the population are disabled. (Schools Week 2). Moreover, Europe’s largest neurodiversity charity, the ADHD Foundation, estimate that 20% of the population are neurodivergent (ND), many of whom would certainly qualify as having additional needs. It is statistically likely that there are many more ND teachers than currently publicly identify as such. The fact that social media groups supporting ND staff are increasing in popularity, suggests a small but significant minority may exist within the profession (Neurodivergent Teachers Network). Although no current statistics are available to verify the exact number or percentage of teachers with ND strengths and needs.

In the DFE’s two recent papers, both produced in 2023, data on this protected characteristic was not collected in 52% of cases. The reports suggest this was largely due to underreporting by staff and poor follow up by schools.

School leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the culture of their institutions, and an essential aspect of this responsibility is ensuring that teachers with special needs and disabilities are fully included in the workplace. The following case studies explore the various strategies and initiatives nursery, school and college leaders are implementing to improve inclusion for educators facing unique challenges with a wide range of special needs and disabilities.

Case Study 1


A. Overview of the challenges faced by teachers with special needs and disabilities. The DFE report (2023 1) suggests 3 reasons why data on disabled staff may not be accurate; inconsistent questioning such as ‘Do you have a disability that we should be aware of?’, staff hoping to avoid stigma, especially around invisible disabilities. Finally HR officers and Senior Leadership Teams (SLT) had concerns about follow up for fear of enhancing stigma and perceived discrimination.


These points were reviewed recently by an HR manager at an FE college. The organisation recognised that the numbers of SEND staff was not being accurately recorded. It was felt that high levels of absenteeism may be masking unmet need. Particularly amongst staff who supported SEND and other vulnerable learners.


They explored how the 3 barriers could be removed through conducting an anonymous survey with staff.
B. The importance of inclusive workplaces in promoting diversity and enhancing overall organisation culture.
The FE College survey had a good response (N=73). Participants were asked to respond to all three points raised in the DFE paper by giving short answers. The results suggested rewording the first question to ‘Do you consider yourself disabled? If so, what adjustments would help you to be more productive and contented at work?”. Respondents also suggested allowing staff to change their status on employee records to ‘disabled’ at any time during their employment.



Over 60 percent of staff agreed that there were stigma’s around disabilities. This affected both disclosure of SEND from staff and follow up by leadership. The HR officer felt that there was a piece of work to be done around increasing awareness and acceptance and has currently finding a partner college with good disability affirming policies to learn best practice. This will include looking at;

A. Establishing Inclusive Policies:

1. Developing and implementing inclusive hiring policies.

2. Ensuring fair and equal opportunities for professional development.

3. Creating policies that address the unique needs of teachers with disabilities.

B. Training and Professional Development:

1. Providing training for school staff on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

2. Offering specialised training for administrators on supporting teachers with special needs.

3. Collaborating with external organisations and experts to enhance professional development opportunities.

Case Study 2

Physical Accessibility and Accommodations:

In the case of one early year setting, adjustments needed to be made for a practitioner with mobility needs and hearing impairment. This was done in the following ways.

A. Creating Accessible Workspaces:

1. Modifying physical spaces to accommodate diverse needs. The nursery already had ramps at entrances to the setting. These however proved unsuitable as the member of staff walked with a crutch and uneven ground was harder to negotiate than steps. Tailoring adjustments to individual needs, the setting applied for a grant to widen some doorways to outside areas to make it easier for the staff member to fit through entrances with their crutch.

2. Implementing assistive technology to enhance accessibility.

The hearing aid the staff member had did not allow for filtering out the background noise of children busily playing and learning. The practitioner was encouraged to contact their audiologist and given protected time off work in order to attend the medical appointment necessary to gain the right equipment needed to support them in their work.

Case Study 3

A member of staff at the secondary school had severe mental health issues following a sudden bereavement.

1 Flexible Work Arrangements:

The school offered a leave of absence, followed by a phased return, which was implemented following recommendations by Occupational Health. Upon returning to work the member of staff was offered extra non-contact time, use of quiet space along with a minimum number of necessary meetings online only.

2 Emotional Social and Mental Health Support:

Building a Supportive Community was key to helping the unwell member of staff return to full time work after mental illness. This was done by fostering a culture of empathy and understanding among staff through peers -support. They also implemented an informal coaching system, encouraging open communication and active listening. The staff worked together to implement mental health programs and resources for all educators. Possibly most importantly, they recognised and addressed the unique stressors faced by teachers with mental health needs.

Case study 4

Celebrating Success Stories:

A Primary school had a higher-than-average number of pupils with neurodivergent (ND) needs such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia. Rather than using celebrities and famous role models, the school staff wanted to create ‘ local hero’s.’ They did this by highlighting success stories of teachers with neurodivergent needs who have thrived in inclusive environments. They had 2 members of staff who were happy to talk about their successes and needs. One was an autistic classroom teacher another was a dyslexic member of SLT. The colleagues did a joint assembly called ‘Celebrating Neurodiversity’ in which they talked about how their different minds and brains gave them varying strengths as well as needs. Snippets of this were recorded and shared on the school website and social media. This was then picked up by the local paper. This had a positive knock-on effect for the reputation of the school as an inclusive environment.


In conclusion, creating an inclusive work environment for teachers with special needs and disabilities is a multifaceted effort that requires commitment, understanding, and proactive leadership. School leaders who prioritise inclusivity not only contribute to the well-being of their educators but also set a powerful example for students and the wider community. By implementing inclusive policies, providing necessary support, and celebrating diversity, school leaders can make a lasting impact on the educational landscape.


Neurodivergent Teachers Network

Schools Week

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Fostering Inclusion : How school leaders are transforming environments for teachers with special needs and disabilities – First published through PIXL In their publication “Partnership with Schools to improve inclusion for learners with SEND” March 2024 


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