Takeaways from the Tes SEN Show 2019

This year’s Tes SEN Show saw a whole host of innovative exhibitors, inspirational speakers and fellow edtech-lovers in attendance. Here at Scanning Pens, we were truly delighted to be the Headline Sponsors of the event for the second year running. This year, we returned to the office with lots of food for thought, that we couldn’t help but share with you.

Image: Tes SEN Show.

Image: Tes SEN Show.

Without further ado, here’s what we learned from this year’s Tes SEN Show:

1.     Early intervention is KEY

We talk about early intervention a lot, especially when sharing comments from our head of education, Julia Clouter. So, it was fantastic to hear that this was a common theme at the Tes SEN Show this year.

 By the time SEN students are in secondary school, it can be so hard to break down the difficulties that may have been ongoing through primary and early years.

Assistive technology can be life changing for learners with SpLD’s and dyslexia. The challenge that remains is to identify and appropriately support at the earliest opportunity and to embed the pedagogy of assistive technology in schools.  

 Good knowledge of the individual’s needs is often lost in transition between primary and secondary phases. At secondary school there is less intensive individual focus and the social identity needs of the emerging teenager overtake the point where biddable learning takes place. Few teenagers want to be identified with, or defined by, a learning need; for many, the natural response is rejection.

Therefore, the best window of opportunity in which to identify and support literacy difficulties is in the earliest possible phase.

2.     The factors that underpin mental health factors

It’s no secret that low self-esteem is a BIG problem in schools up and down the country. That’s why it’s imperative that we, as teachers and parents, come together to promote positive mental wellbeing in students.

  • 10% of children and young people, from ages 5 to 16, have a diagnosable mental health issue – that’s one in ten.

  • SEN students are 6 times more likely to suffer with a mental health issue.

Low self-esteem

Imagine spending 6 hours per day, 5 days per week, in a place where you struggle to do what is asked of you. What is this going to do to your self-esteem?

When SEN students struggle with their everyday school tasks, they can ‘stand out from the crowd’, thus jeopardising their friendships.

Ruminating negative thinking

If you cannot do what is asked of you, regularly, you will begin to believe that the problem is you, rather than your environment. This is simply not true.

SEN is not an issue with the child, it’s an issue with the environment. We are the adults; we should be the ones that can make the change.

 Encourage young people to focus on what they did achieve today, rather on the things they didn’t. Think: “I got everything done today that was a priority. If it didn’t get done, it wasn’t a priority.”

Social isolation

Friendship groups are the greatest predictor of your expected success, more than family. Having friends is super important to everyone, the feeling of being socially included is great. SEN students are more likely to be excluded socially, they’re less likely to be invited to parties, and they may have more difficulties interacting with others at break and lunch times.

Image: Sam Garner delivering her seminar at the Tes SEN Show 2019.

Image: Sam Garner delivering her seminar at the Tes SEN Show 2019.

3.     How we can support SEN students with mental health issues

It’s important to remember that being a SENCO isn’t about being popular, it’s about calling colleagues out if we feel they can improve on the ways they work with SEN students.

 Make SEN students feel listened to

What they’re feeling is real, and we have to understand that. Let’s consult them on how they’d like to learn – we rarely just ask the students how we can best help them. Rather than excluding them from the process, involve them, “what can I do to help you?”.

Discuss neurodiversity

By explaining the mechanics behind why they’re ‘wired differently’, SEN students will begin to understand that their SEN does not mean they’re unable to be successful in school – and beyond. But in fact, their brain simply works a little differently to others’.

Focus on their strengths

Focus on the things they can do, rather than the things they can’t. The education system has been built to celebrate academic achievement, and that alone. But, why? We should be celebrating every success, especially with SEN students.

 Remembering to reward them, and give them compliments on their work, can help to massively increase their self-esteem.

4.     Every company should have a standardised font

Consistency is KEY. Every company, organisation, and school should have a standardised font that is dyslexia friendly. Comic Sans, often referred to as ‘the leggings of the font world’ because it’s looked down upon, but it’s oh-so-comfy, is in fact the most suitable font for those with dyslexia.

 Ensure that all formats are dyslexia friendly, and you have left-justified text.

Simple things like this can make a huge difference.

5.     Reducing visual noise

“We have this idea as SENCOs that if we have a good display, we’re a good teacher, we’re going a good job. But it doesn’t work, studies show that students achieve more academically with bare walls, than with walls with things on.” – Sam Garner.


Keep the space around the whiteboard clear – it makes the board easier to focus on. Similarly with directions around the school, have a clear sign to indicate toilets doors, so students know exactly where they’re going.

Reduce the impact of human interaction

The holy grail of SEN support is a teaching assistant.

Image: Julia Clouter at Scanning Pens’ SENCO booth at the Tes SEN Show.

Image: Julia Clouter at Scanning Pens’ SENCO booth at the Tes SEN Show.

But actually, what we need to be promoting is independent working. When a human reader is following a child around, this can negatively impact their ability to build friendships.

 Assistive technology can often be used to replace a human reader. By removing the human reader, learners can take more responsibility in their reading. The text-to-speech ReaderPen allows students to scan text, and have it read aloud through discreet earphones – it even boasts a built-in dictionary, allowing students to look-up words they’re unsure of, rather than putting up their hand to ask the teacher.

Reduce common barriers to learning

We do not spend enough time ensuring SEN students make and keep friendships.

If you’re happier, you will learn more. We all want to be a part of some sort of social/support group.

6.     How to build a connection activity

When working with a SEN student who just won’t engage in the classroom. Take a closer look at the things that really spark their interest – whether that’s sports, music, art or even dogs. There’s always a link that can be made to improve the enjoyment of their learning journey.

 In Julia Clouter’s experience as a SENCO, she encountered a learner who was switched-off and was in danger of a permanent exclusion, all due to a previous lack of support from the system. The only subject they enjoyed was art, so Julia used inspiration from Bob Ross – a calming celebrity painter from the ‘80s – as a way to spark a learning connection with the student.

 This not only increased the student’s self-esteem, but it made the idea of putting pen to paper in literacy class a lot less daunting and upsetting.

 This year’s Tes SEN Show was a great success, watch what we got up to here.


Education consultant, Sam Garner’s Tes SEN Show seminar, entitled, “Promoting positive mental wellbeing in SEN students.”

Head of education, Julia Clouter’s Tes SEN Show seminar, entitled, “When behaviour masks learning needs…joining the dots.”