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4 Supporting learners

Section overview

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Figure 16 CIRCLE inclusion factors
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In this section you will consider ways to identify the strengths and support needs of your learners. The CIRCLE Participation Scale will be introduced; this is a tool which has been designed to assess levels of learner participation in school life.

You will explore the following areas:

  • 4.1 Identifying strengths and support needs

  • 4.2 The CIRCLE Participation Scale.

Activity 11: The CIRCLE Framework in Practice

Watch this film which introduces you to a Support for Learning teacher who gives an example of how to use the CIRCLE Framework (film duration 2:33 minutes)

4.1 Identifying strengths and support needs

Identifying and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of all learners in the class is integral to the daily practice of all teachers. Through routine observation, questioning and assessment, subject teachers monitor progress and adapt their practice to ensure that learners achieve their goals.

However, for some learners a more detailed assessment of their needs is required. This may involve other staff within the school such as Support for Learning (SfL), Support for Pupils (SfP) or the school management team. For a small number of learners, further specialist assessment may be required from partner services and agencies outside the school.

By the time they reach secondary school, learners’ strengths and support needs may already have been identified. In such cases, staff have a responsibility to know about and understand these existing strengths and support needs, and how to implement the strategies required by the learners. Subject teachers also have a responsibility to identify and monitor strengths and support needs over time.

The processes of understanding and identifying learners’ strengths and support needs are likely to include observing how learners carry out tasks in context, formative and summative assessments, and a review of additional information about learners and their individual circumstances. Interpretation of this information assists in forming conclusions about the nature of learners’ strengths and support needs, and helps subject teachers plan how to manage these.

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Figure 17. Positive learner engagement

Reflective Task: Supporting learners

What do you currently do to identify the strengths and support needs of learners in your class? Note your thoughts in your Reflective Log and then look at our suggestions.


Listed below are some suggestions on how to identify the strengths and support needs of your learners (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • review information you already have about the learner to inform your understanding of any existing strengths and support needs.

  • consult the learner; ask them to identify their strengths, and/or areas in which they need support and what they think might help.

  • reflect on lessons that went well. Which strategies worked? What does this tell you?

  • collect samples of work (e.g. class work or homework) and identify what the learner can do with and without support.

  • carry out assessments within the subject areas and gather evidence from formal tests or exams.

  • consult with colleagues who also work with the learner or with senior subject colleagues to discuss progress and potentially useful strategies.

  • consider discussion with, or request assistance from, the pastoral care team or Support for Learning. For example, you might discuss whether further assessment is required.

Identifying further concerns

If consideration of the learner leads to concern, the principles of the Getting it right for every child approach will guide your practice. The Getting it right for every child implementation guide states that practitioners need to ask five key questions:

  1. What is getting in the way of this child or young person's well-being?
  2. Do I have all the information I need to help this child or young person?
  3. What can I do now to help this child or young person?
  4. What can my agency do to help this child or young person?
  5. What additional help, if any, may be needed from others?

Immediate risk/child protection concern

Indicators refer to any new, marked, sudden and/or unexplained change in the presentation, behaviour, appearance or circumstances of the learner that might indicate immediate risk to a child or young person. Some examples of risk indicators are listed below – please note that this is not an exhaustive list.

  • mental health issues, including self-harming, or talk around self-harming
  • inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • evidence of substance abuse, including alcohol
  • acute physical, social and/or emotional disturbance or distress
  • unexpected behaviour such as outbursts or appearing withdrawn
  • extremes of behaviour which are detrimental to the individual or those around them
  • inappropriate interactions or exchanges with staff or peers
  • major social or environment change, or significant family concern
  • sudden truancy, erratic attendance, or long periods of absence
  • youth offending.

Concerns should be formally recorded in line with local authority child protection guidance. It is always better to complete this just in case, rather than discovering later on that it should have been done. Remember, one piece of information on its own may not appear significant, but may be important as part of a bigger picture.

These kinds of concerns must be discussed immediately with the appropriate school staff in line with individual school policies, such as risk assessment, child protection or health and safety.

4.2 The CIRCLE Participation Scale

The learner’s participation in the life of the school is the focus of this scale.

The CIRCLE Participation scale should only be used in conjunction with the accompanying information in the module ‘Inclusion in Practice: The CIRCLE Framework (Secondary).

The CIRCLE Participation scale should not be used in isolation from this guidance.

International Version (1.2) CIRCLE Collaboration© 2016 All rights reserved.

Using the CIRCLE Participation Scale (CPS)

Most learners progress well with good standard teaching practice within an inclusive classroom. However, some learners may require further support to enable them to participate fully in school life. Participation in school life is the focus of the CIRCLE Participation Scale. The CIRCLE Participation Scale (CPS) is a tool which has been designed specifically to assess and measure participation in school life.

Participation in school life

To participate in school life, learners must be able to, for example: attend school and move around the premises; communicate and work cooperatively with others; access and understand curricular material; follow school rules and routines; engage in school-related roles and responsibilities; and organise themselves to study and complete assigned tasks. Some learners require support to do this.

Learners’ participation is influenced by a combination of:

  • Environmental factors (i.e. the physical environment, social environment including teacher’s classroom practice and structures and routines).
  • Learner specific factors (i.e. their motivation and specific skills).
  • Learner stress.

When learners are unable to participate in school, they tend to have poorer outcomes than their peers. The Circle Participation Scale (CPS) can support the challenging work of understanding how different aspects of the puzzle are impacting on a specific learner.

What is the CIRCLE Participation Scale?

The CIRCLE Participation Scale is a measure of a learner’s participation in school life. The Scale has been designed as an initial assessment to give an overview of a learner’s strengths and potential areas for development. It assesses the physical and social environment, structures and routines, motivation and skills in the following areas:

  • attention and concentration
  • organisation and planning
  • motor
  • social, emotional and relationship
  • verbal and non-verbal communication.

The CIRCLE Participation Scale can be used by the teacher and the ‘team around the child’ as a baseline to record and measure progress, to inform planning and to exchange information.

Working through the CIRCLE Participation Scale will allow you to reflect on the impact of your classroom practice on the participation of individual learners.

Activity 12: Using the CIRCLE Participation Scale

Watch this film in which a Lead Research Practitioner from Queen Margaret University describes the CIRCLE Participation Scale and how to use it. (film duration 2.27 minutes). A transcript of this film is available.

Reflective Task: Using the CIRCLE Participation Scale

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Download and read the CIRCLE Participation Scale and the associated instructions on how to use it.

  1. Choose a learner who you think may need additional support and complete the scale.
  2. Reflect on what you have learned through completing the CIRCLE Participation Scale; use your Reflective Log to evidence your learning.

Now go to section 5 Skills, support and strategies