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Meeting individual needs and working alongside support staff in primary

Written By: Matthew Shurlock
3 min read

This case study was written by Matt Shurlock, a primary school teacher.

As you read this case study, reflect on how the teacher has been working with colleagues and meeting pupils’ needs. Take some time to think about what the teacher does, how they do it, what they might do differently and how this might influence your own practice.

It is often necessary to provide individualised support to meet the needs of each individual. This is so that all pupils can make maximum progress in their learning. Doing so adds a layer of complexity to a teacher’s workload, but does ensure that all pupils are able to engage with the learning.  

If a teacher is to meet the individual needs of a class then knowing the children well is incredibly important. Once strong relationships based on trust and compassion have been achieved, other strategies can be used. These are only effective if the initial step of really knowing the pupils has been achieved.


Pre-teach is a short session to prepare a group of pupils for an upcoming lesson. It involves the teaching of specific knowledge that will be required to access the learning in the later lesson. 

For example, it may involve teaching the meaning of five key science words to a group for whom English is a second language. This could take place whilst the rest of the class are in a morning assembly. By giving pupils an understanding of their future learning, it removes a barrier to learning and allows pupils to work alongside others who already have a developed scientific vocabulary. For those pupils who have found certain topics or subjects challenging, pre-teaching can be a way of equipping them with the tools to access the learning. The sessions can be carried out by the teacher or other member of support staff. 

Feed-forward sheets

On a busy school day, it can often be a challenge to tune in to all the individual needs of pupils in a class. Perhaps an observation of a pupil, made before break time, is forgotten or difficult to recall by the end of the school day. A solution to meet pupils’ individual needs and work effectively with relevant support staff could be feed-forward sheets. 

These are one side of paper, designed to collect observations, misconceptions, assessments and other information. There is no set design, they can be tailored to suit the needs of the teacher and class. The sheets are accessible and added to throughout the week. At the end of the week, the teacher will possess a wealth of information, upon which to build the following week’s planning. If a pupil has not met a learning objective, then more opportunities can be planned for them to address this. If a misconception is holding back progress, an intervention or whole-class activity can be planned too.

Using this approach for a whole class is a huge undertaking. It is more realistic to focus on a small number of pupils, perhaps just one or two to begin with.The sheets are a collaborative project. They can be added to by all staff working with the focus pupils including teachers, teaching assistants, PPA staff and SENDCo.

The feed forward sheets provide a wealth of useful information that can inform subsequent planning. They are a useful reference for pupil progress meetings, parents’ meetings and report writing. By focusing on a few pupils per week, it is possible to cover a whole class in one term.

Phonics / Spellings Board

As pupils progress through the phonics levels and early spelling patterns they will need support specific to their current level. Having these displayed in class can be useful for the teacher and other adults within the class. The display is then referred to by the adults when working closely with pupils. For example, a teacher, who is reading with a pupil, can focus attention on words that include the graphemes or spelling pattern that the pupil is working on currently. Or in a writing task the teacher is quickly able to know which spelling patterns the pupil knows and therefore what to expect in terms of quality spelling from their writing. Being displayed prominently in the class allows all adults working in the classroom to make use of this resource.

Working with adults

Having other adults to work with pupils can be a great help to teachers. Through delivery of the approaches described above, or leading the whole class whilst the teacher delivers to a small group, can help move learning forward. However, teaching assistants in particular may not be effectively deployed (Webster et al 2013). Webster’s book Maximising the impact of teaching assistants (2015) is a useful place for teachers who wish to develop their professional skills in working with teaching assistants.



Webster R, Blatchford P and Russell A (2013). Challenging and changing how schools use teaching assistants: findings from the Effective Deployment of Teaching Assistants project. School Leadership & Management. 33(1), pp.78-96.

Webster, R, Russell A and Blatchford P (2015). Maximising the impact of teaching assistants: Guidance for school leaders and teachers. Routledge.


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