Study awarded £60,000 to research ways of helping SEND children from Service families

Children doing arts and crafts
Children doing arts and crafts. Photo credit: Artem Podrez/

New research at Oxford Brookes University will examine the experiences and outcomes of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) from UK Armed Forces families.

The Oxford Brookes research team has been awarded £60,000 by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust for the 18-month ‘Supporting ALL to Thrive’ study. 

The Trust delivers high impact programmes that support the Armed Forces community. It is both a charity and a public body. The Trust administers the £10m Covenant Fund each year as well as other government grants that support the Armed Forces community. The Oxford Brookes ‘Supporting ALL to Thrive’ study has been awarded funding under the Ministry of Defence Armed Forces Family Fund: Research Grant Programme.  

The Armed Forces Covenant is a Government promise that recognises the commitment and sacrifices made by those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces and their families. It recognises that Service personnel and their families give up certain freedoms that may be taken for granted by other families. For example, serving personnel may be posted to different places, sometimes every two years and at short notice, and parents may be deployed far away for weeks or months at a time.

The Covenant states that the Armed Forces and their families should face no disadvantage as a result of those sacrifices. Yet there is evidence that Service children with SEND and their families face particular struggles or even threats to their wellbeing and outcomes particularly if they have to change schools. 

Dr Claire Lee, Research Fellow in the Centre for Psychological Research at Oxford Brookes University, said: “A child may be on the waiting list for an educational assessment and then go back to square one when they move. Another challenge for Service families is a lack of consistency of provision across different local authorities and the devolved nations. Some local authorities insist on redoing children’s Education, Health and Care Plans. Families report a constant battle to get the support their children need. Sometimes children may even be out of education until suitable support is found. Deployment of one parent also adds to the stress on the rest of the family of caring for a child with special needs.”  

No research has so far been done into how educational outcomes for children with SEND with a parent in the Armed Forces compare to those of others. 

Dr Lee said: “At Oxford Brookes we have the expertise and access to national educational datasets to look at Service children’s educational outcomes in lots of different ways.” 

Educational data from the National Pupil Database, including GCSE results for all children in England, will be analysed to compare Service children's outcomes with their peers.

The research team will also conduct a survey about families’ experiences of provision and will investigate children’s educational journeys through arts–based research with families and young people, to provide a holistic understanding of what is working well and less well for children with SEND, and why. 

Dr Lee said: “The ultimate hope is that policies will change for the better and support will be improved for Service children with SEND. We want there to be no disadvantage for children from Armed Forces families compared with the rest of the population.”

Sonia Howe, Director of Policy and Communications for the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust, said: “Each of the projects awarded funding through the Armed Forces Families Fund: Research Grants programme will develop a stronger understanding of complex educational or welfare issues affecting Forces families. 

“Oxford Brookes University’s ‘Supporting ALL to Thrive’ project will focus on military children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). We are delighted that this cohort of the military community will receive focus and cannot wait to learn more about the solutions they propose following their research.”

Sarah Clewes, Chief Executive Officer, Naval Families Federation, said: “The Naval Families Federation are delighted to be working in partnership with Oxford Brookes University on their Supporting ALL to Thrive research project, which will focus on the educational outcomes for Armed Forces children living with SEND. This study will develop understanding of the unique and often complex challenges associated with Service life that families tell us can have an additional impact on these children and young people.”

A spokesperson for the RAF Families Federation said: “We are pleased to see further research being undertaken to better understand the experiences and educational outcomes of Service children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. We hope that recommendations from this research will help to strengthen policies and provision and support all children from an Armed Forces background to thrive.”

The results of the ‘Supporting ALL to Thrive' study will include:

  • A report bringing together the quantitative and qualitative research

  • A visual and written ‘manifesto’ containing the key findings and advice for school  staff

  • An online toolkit to facilitate further arts based research

  • An event at Oxford Brookes to present the findings, including an exhibition in the University’s gallery

  • Blog posts, academic journal articles, and presentations at relevant conferences

  • A bespoke website with all the findings, recommendations, publications and an online version of the exhibition

  1. Partner organisations will be using the information from the study to work towards improvements for service families with SEND children. They include the Kings Centre for Military Health Research, Armed Forces Families and Safeguarding, MOD Education Policy Team, Army Families Federation, Naval Families Federation, RAF Families Federation and SCiP Alliance.