What is SEN Tuition?

posted on 21st September 2020

Do you know what SEN Tuition really is?

SEN stands for Special Educational needs. It is often associated with low ability reading and writing. However, this is widely incorrect. SEN needs are anything that can cause a student to require extra support and help. SEN provision is normally for students in mainstream education who have potential but need extra help to attain and achieve.  SEN support is required for all students who need cognitive emotional and behavioural interventions. Let’s look a bit deeper at each of these three types of interventions and see what they look like in school.


Cognitive – what happens in our brains.

The word cognitive relates to the mental processes that happen inside our minds. Attention, processing, memory, judgment, reasoning and understanding are all mental processes. We use these every second of every day.  Children and adults with dyslexia, dyspraxia or dyscalculia for example will have different ways of thinking and processing their mental worlds than children and adults without those conditions. Many of those differences will be strengths, but some of those differences will make tasks such as reading, writing or doing mathematics more challenging. SEN tutors will be trained to look at the cognitive processes a child is using and use these strengths to teach them a new way of doing something. For example, if a person is very visual, a SEN tutor will use these visual skills to help that person learn to spell.

Emotional – How we feel when we learn and take tests.

This is all about how we feel. Negative emotions that get experienced when we learn can be fear, anxiety, anger and hopelessness. The SEN tutor will work to change these emotional experiences to pride, happiness accomplishment and confidence. The more positive emotions a person can feel when they are learning increases self-esteem and self-efficacy. Children and adults who respond to education with positive emotions believe they can achieve, and they are worth the effort of learning new things.

Behavioural – These responses to our emotions and how we feel.

Positive and engaged behaviours are, doing homework on time, being able to self-study and revise for tests. Also being interested in learning new things and enjoying educational challenges. These behaviours come from the following emotions and emotional states: joy, gratitude, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, elevation, cheerfulness, satisfaction, confidence, enthusiasm, eagerness, optimism, happiness and self-love.

Negative behaviours that cause problems for learning are things like procrastination – putting things off until the last minute, rushing through questions without thinking, unable to self-study, never revise for tests,  being disruptive in the classroom and refusing to go to school. These behaviours come from the following emotions and emotional states: anger, annoyance, fear, anxiety, sadness, guilt, apathy and hopelessness.

SEN Tuition aims to help all three areas when tutoring; cognitive emotional and behavioural. I think one easy way of understanding why we look at all three, is to look and see what can happen when tutors and professionals who are not SEN trained just focus on one area.

Ben is 13 years old. He finds reading and spelling difficult. He does everything he can to get out of writing. Battles about homework are common and Ben would rather have a detention for not handing in homework than be told he needs to work on his spelling when the teacher marks it. Ben feels sick whenever anyone asks him what he wants to do when he is older.  He firmly believes he will never get a job and he is frightened that he won’t be able to live at home with his mum and dad forever.

Ben starts seeing a tutor who knows about dyslexia, she can help Ben with his cognitive processes and teach him how to spell. The tutor shows Ben some different ways of spelling and helps him to understand a bit more about how spelling works. However, the progress is slow, and Ben does not appear to be trying very hard. Every time the tutor suggests something new to try, Ben is very quick to tell her why it won’t work. The tutor knows Ben has potential, but he does not seem to join in the sessions properly. The tutor is stuck with how to help Ben.

What went wrong here? The tutor knows all about dyslexia and other spelling issues. She can help with all the cognitive spelling interventions. However, she doesn’t know how to help Ben with his low self-esteem, fears about never getting a job and how scared he is when he thinks of leaving his mum and dad. Through no fault of his parents, Ben’s spelling difficulties have been left a long time before help was found. By the time help came, Ben’s low self-worth was the biggest problem. Also, the tutor wasn’t able to understand how Ben’s low self-worth has led to him believing he will never achieve, so he couldn’t cope if he didn’t have his mum and dad to look after him when he was an adult.

Tilly is 14, she has been struggling at school since she was in primary school.  She doesn’t know what’s wrong, but she knows that she can’t do things as fast as everyone else and she struggles to remember things. She can read the same passage over and over again. Tilly is so worried about her schoolwork that she shuts herself away in her room and feels deeply lonely. Sometimes Tilly wonders if there’s any point to her life.

Tilly starts seeing an educational counsellor and talks about her feelings. Over time the counsellor helps Tilly express her worries and emotions in a way that makes them less frightening. Tilly can understand that she is the same as everyone else in many ways. Also, her worrying about not finishing on time might actually be making her a bit slower too. Within a short time of having help, Tilly was confident and a lot happier. She felt ready with tests. She still found it hard to take information in when she reads, but she didn’t worry about it as much. She had a test coming up soon, and was excited to take it.

On the day of the test, Tilly was optimistic and wanted the challenge. However, when she started the timed test, she found it was taking her longer to read the questions. She also struggled to get the questions to stick in her mind. She had to keep reading them again and again. By the time the test had finished, Tilly had only answered half the questions and was crushed.

What went wrong? Tilly did need support to engage in her studies without fear. She needed to have confidence and be optimistic. However, what the counsellor could not see was that Tilly had slower processing. She needed someone to organise extra time for her in exams. More importantly, Tilly needed interventions to help her pick out the right information in questions and needed a lot of specific instruction on how to approach test questions. Tilly needed cognitive strategies too.

Theon is 17, he is approaching his end of year 12 exams. His school has a criteria that if he does not do well in his AS exams he cannot go into A2 and continue with his A levels. Theon has always been a procrastinator since he was little. Both the school and his parents know Theon has potential so they both want to help him modify this behaviour. At school, Theon was made to stay in the library to revise two lunchtimes a week. At home, his parents worked out a revision timetable, and it was agreed he would study at the dining room table, where he couldn’t wander off. Theon was due to spend 2 hours a day revising for the next 5 weeks.

Theon responded well in that he didn’t procrastinate; he didn’t put off the revision and went to all the planned self-study sessions. However within a week, Theon was looking unwell and tired, he was having headaches, missing time off school and this bright young man who was excited to go to university one day was begging his parents to let him quit is A levels.

What went wrong? Theon was a bright child who had not needed to study like this before. He had sailed through his GCSE’s. So, when it came to A levels and enforced revision, Theon had not learnt any study skills. He was just trying to read huge amounts of information and was unable to retain it. Theon did need help to start his revision, but he also needed to be taught study skills and the cognitive techniques of that. Without that support, Theon was just overwhelmed and anxious.

SEN tuition is a dynamic process between all three areas: cognitive, emotional, and behavioural. As we have seen, just working on one area on many occasions will not produce the desired results.


What do I need to look for in a SEN tutor?

The first thing to look for in any tutor is are they safe? Do they have a DBS check, have they had any safeguarding training and have they been barred from teaching.

If they are an individual tutor, what training have they had? Can they work with all three aspects of SEN teaching, or do they just know how to help one area? If they are a company, what training do they give tutors on top of what they already know?

Lastly but crucially, do they have a line manager? When providing SEN tuition, it’s extremely easy to get stuck. As we have seen above, some cases can be complex. SEN tutors need a line manager that can monitor the progress with the tutor and be a support for the tutor to help them see everything. A line manager has a sort of bird’s eye view and can step in and help at any time.

SEN tuition is complex. One way to understand the complexity is to talk to adults who are open about how much they struggled at school. Adults and their stories are the windows into how much children can struggle in silence, and behaviours are never what they seem.


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