Providing An Accessible Online Learning Environment For Pupils With Special Educational Needs

Here at Third Space Learning, our goal is to work with as many schools as possible to make one-to-one maths tuition accessible to children with the greatest need. We are committed to creating a learning environment that supports any pupil no matter their needs, including pupils with any additional Special Educational Needs (SEN) requirements.

That’s why developing an online classroom that’s inclusive to pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) has always been a top priority for us. More importantly, we have recently improved various areas, such as how our tutors prepare for sessions and the structure of our slides, to ensure that any Third Space Learner has the tools and support they need throughout their programme to be engaged and confident with their mathematical skills.

Throughout this blog, we’re going to share various steps and actions we take to ensure we’re able to support any pupil to close the maths attainment gap. This includes:

  • How we acquire additional information from teachers about each pupil;
  • The training and continuous professional development available to our tutors;
  • The brand new tutor preparation area on our platform;
  • High-impact improvements to our online classroom;
  • Additional resources for you to use outside of interventions.

You can also watch a 3-minute clip of a session in action, which shows how one of our tutors, Iffah, is able to adapt her teaching to suit the needs of a pupil with SEN requirements in their one-to-one session. 

Getting to know each pupil’s needs so their learning journey is personalised

After delivering nearly 1.5 million one-to-one sessions, we know how important it is that we have an environment where each pupil feels safe and focused on their learning. This is part of the reason why children with SEN often thrive in our one-to-one online classroom; they get undivided attention from their own tutor every week. But creating a personalised learning journey for each and every Third Space Learner starts before they’ve even had their first session. 

teacher quote

When a new school joins Third Space Learning, teachers input various information about their target pupils to create individual pupil profiles. Along with basic details, such as the child’s name, we try to get a stronger understanding of their existing mathematical skills. This includes asking which year group they’re currently working at, which enables us to put each pupil on the right learning map to work through and sets them up to achieve. 

Download Free Resources

The Ultimate Guide to Effective Maths Interventions

Find out how to plan, manage, and teach one to one (and small group) maths interventions to raise attainment in the students who need it most.

Download Free Now!

Teachers are also asked to input any SEN information that may impact a pupil’s learning, especially in an online environment. This is currently categorised into the 7 most common SEN needs with a severity scale in order to make our tutors aware of any requirements so that they can adapt their teaching style based on the needs of each pupil. We also ask if English is a pupil’s first or second language (EAL), which helps inform the pace of communication during sessions. 

Education SEN profile

Read more about how to support SEN pupils:

Dyscalculia In Schools: A Guide To Identifying And Supporting Pupils With ‘Maths Dyslexia
How To Support A Child With Autism In The Classroom
Teaching Strategies For Supporting Children With ADHD In The Classroom
How Autism May Affect Students’ Understanding Of Maths And What Teachers Can Do To Help

We know that neurodiversity is a spectrum, and can’t really be split into just 7 categories, making our current data collection not quite fit for purpose anymore. As a result, how we request SEN details is currently under review by our Teaching & Learning Team. We want to be able to capture information that allows us to best support any pupil on their learning journey with Third Space Learning. 

An important part of being able to create a personalised learning experience for pupils with SEN is by requesting that teachers use a free text box to add any additional special needs or requirements that tutors should be aware of, in order to best support the pupil during their weekly sessions. This added information is essential to replicate the strategies teachers adopt in the classroom for each pupil. 

So, we have all this information about how to support individual pupils with SEN in their maths tuition sessions. You might wonder how we ensure our tutors are equipped to adapt their teaching strategies to motivate and engage their pupils, no matter their individual needs. SEN training is an essential part of our rigorous tutor training programme and the continuous professional development every tutor completes. 

See also: Tutoring Disadvantaged Students

Essential tutor training and CPD to learn how to adapt teaching strategies

Every tutor at Third Space Learning completes our intensive training programme, the Global Tutoring Programme, which is designed to ensure tutors are equipped and empowered to deliver effective and engaging lessons. 

The 40-hour programme has been designed by former UK maths teachers and pedagogy experts and is made up of: 

  • 24 online courses 
  • 13 webinars 
  • 4 sessions to listen to and learn from
  • 6 demonstration sessions

Tutors can expect to learn various topics including how to engage pupils online, build rapport, personalise lessons and promote a growth mindset in the classroom. And, importantly in the context of this blog, a whole module is devoted to how to tutor pupils with Special Educational Needs. 

SEN programme graphic

In the SEN training module, tutors will:

  • Gain an understanding of what SEN means;
  • Explore the four main areas of SEN (Communication and Interaction, Cognition and Learning, Social, Emotional and Mental Health and, Sensory and/or Physical);
  • Learn how various SEN manifest and the strategies to combat any common issues;
  • Listen to a pupil with SEN working with their tutor in a one-to-one session;
  • Be asked 5 revision questions based on what they’ve learnt so far.

This in-depth training prepares every tutor with the strategies to adapt their teaching methods to suit the needs of every individual pupil they work with. Learning skills, such as allowing suitable processing time, are essential, especially online. The best online tutoring websites will do so with all pupils, but it can be even more important when working with a pupil with SEN..

tutor quote

After completing the Global Training Programme, tutors will receive regular continuous professional development opportunities throughout their time with Third Space Learning.

Every fortnight, a tutor works through coaching resources on a variety of topics and, once again, SEN is a regular topic of focus for tutors. The best part about these ongoing coaching resources is that they’re much more based on practical than theoretical – working through real sessions of tutors working with pupils with SEN to find what was done well and what could be improved. 

After all the training and development opportunities provided to every tutor, they go into sessions feeling confident that they have the skills to support pupils in getting the most out of their maths lessons.

But, as many teachers would agree, teaching pupils with SEN is different for every single pupil. We wanted to support tutors as they head into sessions and help to remind them of easy ways they can adapt their teaching methods, depending on various SEN requirements. To do this, we’ve created a brand new tutor preparation area filled with tips and details of teacher comments about each pupil.

Tutors go into every session prepared to deliver effective maths lessons

As important as it is for the Third Space Learning experience to be as effective as possible for schools and pupils, we also must ensure that our tutors have all the tools they need to deliver high-quality one-to-one sessions. That’s why we recently gave our tutor preparation area an overhaul as part of our ongoing service improvement. 

Every tutor logs on 10 minutes before every session they’re about to teach, and in this time, tutors refamiliarise themselves with their pupil’s progress so far, notes from previous sessions and any other relevant information that allows them to confidently deliver an engaging lesson. This includes any SEN requirements and teacher notes added when the pupil profile was created. 

Previously, while all this information was available to tutors, it was tricky to find in the 10 minutes and involved lots of clicking! Our tutors’ time is precious, so we knew we needed to make this better, especially because, on average, tutors will have weekly sessions with 18 different pupils all with different needs. 

SEN student teaching tips

As well as putting all relevant information in one easy-to-use place, the most significant change we’ve made is creating an ‘Adapt For’ section for each pupil, which is populated with: 

  • The programme they’re completing – our diagnostic programme is the most popular and creates a bespoke learning journey to suit every pupil;
  • Special Educational Needs requirements;
  • English as an Additional Language (EAL) requirements;
  • The pupil’s year group working level.

Not only are these details placed together in the tutor preparation area, but they also come with definitions, reminders and tips to help tutors personalise their teaching more than ever before. 

Using information from various sources, such as the Department of Education’s SEND Code of Practice and the National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN), we’ve been able to create handy pop-ups for the common 7 types of SEN a teacher may have selected in each pupil profile. 

The pop-ups briefly explain and remind the tutor how the SEN requirements manifest and actionable strategies and ideas to support the pupil during their session. All this content has been developed by our in-house team of former teachers including Hannah Searle, who was previously acting as Special Education Needs and Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCo).

SEN student profile example

Tutors have access to this information for the following needs: 

  • Dyscalculia 
  • Dyslexia 
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Asperger Syndrome
  • Speech and Language Difficulties 
  • Reading Difficulties 

While testing the new tutor preparation area before going live, the feedback from tutors was overwhelmingly positive and lots mentioned that the tips for SEN were incredibly useful. It helped to remind tutors of all their training, the teaching strategies from previous sessions and new things they could try in their session so the pupil’s learning time in session is as focused as possible. 

tutor quote

Now our tutors are equipped with specific information on their pupils’ needs, high-quality training and reminders of specific teaching strategies (especially for pupils with SEN), it’s essential to have a learning environment that is fit for purpose. 

That’s why we’ve made high-impact changes to our online classroom, which included following the British Dyslexia Association’s Guidelines (BDA) when it came to font choice, slide structure, colour palettes and writing styles. We also regularly review sessions and analyse what components create a successful session. 

Improving our online classroom to create an optimum learning environment

Third Space Learning tuition sessions take place in our secure interactive classroom. It’s here that pupils connect with their tutor; talking, drawing and typing their way through their personalised learning journey. Ensuring the classroom is usable and effective for all learners, no matter their ability, is fundamental to closing the maths attainment gap. 

As part of many changes we’re making to the Third Space Learning experience, the design and layout of our lesson slides are being updated to increase pupil engagement and make the online classroom an easier place to navigate. 

slides graphic

We wanted to share some of the small changes we’ve made that we know will have a huge impact on the session experience of all pupils, especially those with SEN requirements. 

  • We use size 14 font with 150% line spacing and the use of bold and blue for emphasis. Doing this avoids text running together and overcrowding on the slide.
  • Our slides have an off-white background with dark fonts and we only use a faint pattern on title slides. This is due to white often appearing too dazzling and patterns can be too distracting. Tutors also have the ability to further change the slide colour to suit the needs of the pupil they’re teaching.
  • Our questions always use an active rather than passive voice and no double negatives are used throughout. This ensures that pupils are able to understand what they’re being asked to do and encourages them to keep trying.
  • The use of images and diagrams is used in place of text as much as possible, which reduces the chance of pupils being overwhelmed, and can help tutors to explain concepts. 

While following the BDA’s guidelines as closely as possible, some design aspects were based on logical assumptions from our team of academic experts and lots of testing. 

With the needs of children changing all the time, we know that we must continue to evolve the Third Space Learning experience so that pupils get the most out of their personalised maths lessons. 

teacher quote

Our team of tutor mentors and former teachers regularly review thousands of sessions to ensure we’re delivering the most effective lessons possible. We follow a Maths Mastery approach to our teaching, which really does fit into many strategies for teaching pupils with SEN.

By analysing huge numbers of sessions, we can ensure that tutors aren’t just simplifying their teaching methods, but rather finding different ways to communicate information that is appropriately challenging and not overwhelming. By doing this, we’re able to engage and motivate pupils throughout their programme, giving them all the same opportunities to learn as their peers. 

Watch how a tutor adapts their teaching for a pupil with SEN

So far, we’ve explored the steps we take to ensure our tutors are able to adapt their one-to-one teaching to suit the needs of pupils, especially with SEN. But don’t just take our word for it, we wanted to share this 3-minute clip of tutor, Iffah, working with a pupil with additional needs.

A bit of background information about the pupil’s needs:

  • They’re in Year 3, but their working level is towards Year 1;
  • SEN requirements on their pupil profile are ‘Severe Autism’ and ‘Moderate Reading  Difficulties’;
  • Additional teacher comments are; “Needs help with reading and writing. Requires prompting to keep on task. Moderate learning difficulties.”

Disclaimer: This video has been edited slightly to keep the pupil anonymous. You will notice small jumps in the session where Iffah says the pupil’s name.

Hannah, a member of our Teaching & Learning Team (and a former acting SENDCo), reviewed this session for us. She’s highlighted all the ways Iffah has created a comfortable and motivating learning environment for the pupil. 

  • Iffah reads out everything on the screen but also uses her mouse, which indicates to the pupil where they should be looking;
  • Lots of listening to the pupil and allowing time for them to think and respond rather than filling the silence;
  • When the pupil doesn’t quite understand what’s being asked of them, Iffah reiterated what she meant in a clearer way;
  • Iffah uses the pupil’s name throughout, which can refocus a pupil and let them know that you’re expecting an answer from them;
  • We’re big on praise in the classroom at Third Space Learning and Iffah continuously praises the pupil throughout the session, which is extremely motivating for any pupil.
  • There were different intonations in Iffah’s voice which can be overstimulating for pupils with SEN, but it was clear to the pupil the difference between excited, motivating praise and slowly, steadily reading the question.

We’re proud of how Iffah has been given the training and tools to be able to support this pupil so successfully, and we know she is just one of many tutors who can adapt teaching strategies to suit the needs of their pupils. This is really important to us because we’re currently supporting more specialist schools than ever before!

Additional resources suitable for every pupil in your classroom

Creating engaging tools to suit all pupils’ needs doesn’t stop at our one-to-one interventions. We’ve made sure there are resources in the Third Space Maths Hub readily available to suit the needs of every pupil at your school. 

Our Ready-to-Go Lesson Slides are created to support teachers in every year group throughout the whole year, with the taster pack available for free each term. The lessons contain worksheets and editable PowerPoint slides with detailed notes, and are, importantly, created with an off-white background. This helps with the glare that you often get on whiteboards which can make it difficult for pupils with SEN to read.

We are also in the process of updating a lot of our Maths Hub resources with illustrations that are the same as those we use in our lesson slides as part of the intervention. This is to ensure that the pictorial representations of our core resources remain consistent, which would help pupils benefitting from our tuition and resources to remember core mathematical concepts. 

printable slides and resources graphic

Ensuring Third Space Learning’s one-to-one tuition is the right fit for your pupils

While we are taking all these steps to create a learning environment that can support pupils with various additional needs, we know that we aren’t going to be the right intervention for all pupils with SEN requirements. 

Our weekly sessions take place online and pupils communicate with their tutor via an audio link through bespoke headsets, with no video/camera. For some pupils, this can be potentially overwhelming or overstimulating and could add a barrier to building a stronger relationship with their tutor. 

We do have the tool for pupils and tutors to communicate via typing on the screen, and this does suit children with SEN in some cases, who for example are non-verbal. However, it can sometimes be tricky to encourage the pupil to explain their reasoning and sways more towards a pupil just giving a right or wrong answer. It can also hinder the overall flow and progress of the lesson as tutors often find themselves waiting for their pupils to reply for longer periods of time. 

This being said, as teachers, you know what works best for your pupils, and the teaching strategies and interventions that would be suitable for them. So, if you think our one-to-one tuition would work in your school, we’d love to hear from you!

Third Space Learning Upsell Section


Every week Third Space Learning’s maths specialist tutors support thousands of students across hundreds of schools with weekly online maths tuition designed to plug gaps and boost progress.


Since 2013 these personalised one to one lessons have helped over 150,000 primary and secondary students become more confident, able mathematicians.


Learn about our experience with schools or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.


The Ultimate Guide to Effective Maths Interventions [FREE]

Find out how to plan, manage, and teach one to one (and small group) maths interventions in primary and secondary schools.

Includes a 20 point checklist of techniques to improve your one to one teaching.

Download free