Planes, trains and Tudor Games – online workshops for SEND learners with the National Archives

By Elspeth Mcgregor

During those difficult days of early 2021 when I forgot where I had put my oyster card for months on end, the next best thing to getting on a train to the seaside myself was to watch our SEND students doing it virtually.  They may have been in a classroom rather than at Clapham Junction, and paddling fingers rather than toes, but none of that seemed to matter too much whilst taking part in one of our new online sessions: Travel Smart Through Time, led by our fantastic SEND consultant Noel Hayden.  No risk of a sudden downpour or sand in your sandwiches on this particular adventure!

Online workshops are a new addition to our SEND programme here at The National Archives.  Up until the pandemic we had been primarily running Outreach sessions, led in person by Noel and devised in collaboration with Rachel Hillman and Emily Morris here at TNA (The National Archives).  These energetic and engaging face to face sessions, based on documents in our collection, had always proved hugely popular with our SEND schools.  However, in early 2020, the emergence of Covid encouraged us to expand our learning provision online to continue to offer SEND schools our workshop service.  The temporary pause in regular teaching provided us with opportunity to devise two new online sessions which, once piloted by regular bookers, then became fully fledged online offerings.

Our first session: Henry’s Royal Rules, is an interactive online workshop where students experience a day in the life of Henry VIII.  Based on documents and images in the Archives, and using a variety of sensory props, song, dance and call and response activities to bring them to life, students learn about Henry and his entourage – and the stringent rules he made to keep everyone in line!  Holding court via Zoom Noel skillfully leads the class through Henry’s day.  The class ensures that he is woken, groomed, exercised and entertained in precisely the way in which he was accustomed (and as our document, Ordinances of Eltham, recorded in 1526).  The opportunities for the students to learn, develop key skills, interact and have fun are endless.  The use of props, collected in advance of each session, brings extra diversion and sensory depth to the workshop.  Spices are smelled, wood blocks are clapped, sheets are wafted and skittles are played – usually to much hilarity!  Jousting, thankfully, is off the menu.

Travel Smart Through Time, our second online offering, is also being snapped up by SEND schools looking to support their curriculum learning and have some fun.  Using images from our collection as stimuli students explore past and present day transportation, discovering how modes of transport have changed through the decades.  Whilst they enjoy the workshop they are also learning key social and life skills – be that taking turns to ‘stop the bus’ with a buzzer (announcing their end destination as they do) or ensuring their suitcase is packed with suitable items for their holiday.  And it’s not just the students having fun either – a recent workshop I observed saw staff from a participating school ‘cycling’ around on their office chairs to replicate the image of a penny farthing they were being shown on screen, much to the obvious enjoyment of their class.

Indeed, key to the success of our online SEND sessions are the schools we connect with.  At this stage we have built up a regular following in London and the South East but our online workshops are helping us to extend our reach further afield.  This year we had our first run of bookings from a school in the West Country.  As Sara Lewis, from Baytree School in Weston-super-Mare explains, her school thoroughly enjoyed their first workshop with us:

The class was thoroughly engaged and they loved being a part of the sessions. It is refreshing to find something that totally works for our sensory learners. Noel, who ran the workshops, was incredible – he understood and gauged the needs and abilities of the learners really well.’

Moving into the next academic year there is a lot to look forward to.  Alongside these virtual sessions our Outreach Programme is regaining pace, with students and staff alike enjoying seeing Noel in person once again.  We are also in the process of planning the return of our onsite SEND workshops, with the first class scheduled to visit our brand new learning space this autumn.  But our online sessions will also continue to be an important part of our programme.  Whatever curve balls are thrown our way in the future, we will always have Noel’s glorious train ride to the seaside and a carriage load of happy passengers!

Boy with dark brown hair in wheelchair holds wooden sign with numbers: 1099 on











Here are some links to the SEND sessions we have run:


For more information or took book a SEND workshop for your group please contact Elspeth McGregor on