Whole School SEND (WSS) Review: study protocol for a two-arm pragmatic parallel cluster randomised controlled trial in 160 English secondary schools

S. Morris, A. Smith, C. Lewin, P. Hick, J. Harrison

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Background The trial will study the effects of the Whole School SEND Review on secondary school pupils in English mainstream education, to understand the impact of the intervention on academic attainment, wellbeing, and school attendance. The Review is designed to facilitate whole-school change through providing enhanced, intensive and sustained support and training in inclusive education for school special educational needs coordinators and leadership teams. The trial will have a specific focus on pupils designated as having special educational needs or disabilities. Methods We recruited 160 English secondary schools (approx. 58,000 pupils across two cohorts) to a two-arm pragmatic parallel cluster randomised controlled trial, with allocation at the school level. Randomisation will be stratified by school region. The primary outcome is attainment in English language (using standardised national test results at 16 years) for pupils designated as having a special educational need (approx. 4000 pupils). Secondary outcomes will be measured for pupils both with and without a special educational need designation and include pupil wellbeing (measured using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), absences and exclusions, and attainment in Mathematics and English language at 16 years. The intervention will be implemented from July 2021 and analysis of outcomes (for the year 9 cohort) will take place in September 2023, with further analysis (for the year 8 cohort) in September 2024 if the evaluation shows that acceptable implementation fidelity has been achieved. Discussion Pupils with special educational needs represent a significant and often vulnerable part of the secondary school population, are disproportionately likely to be excluded from school, eligible for free school meals, or supported by children’s social care. Despite these multiple important areas of need, school leaders report substantial challenges in making additional provision for this group. Previous research has highlighted the development of inclusive school cultures (rather focusing primarily on targeted individualised approaches) as being important. This trial will investigate how an intervention designed to drive whole school change may lead to outcomes for pupils with and without a special educational needs designation. As such, this trial is expected to make an important contribution to research evidence and to UK educational policy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number333
Issue number1
Early online date10 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2021


  • cluster randomised
  • special education needs
  • attainment
  • well-being
  • school


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