The best thing about going to SEND conferences isn't just having the opportunity to make sure that parent carer and children and young people's expertise and experience is given a platform to inform and shape the future of SEND education, it's also the personal connections you make with people who you usually only know by their Twitter avatars.
At the end of September, Tania and I had a stand and did a series of round-table workshops at the second Whole School SEND summit. Despite fatigue from Tania's EDS taking its toll, she took the opportunity to leap on Simon Knight (Whole School SEND director and Twitter SEND celeb) when he came over to say hello, and get him to agree to write a guest post about the Rochford Review.
What’s the Rochford Review and why should I care?
The review group brought together expertise in education assessment, special educational needs and those working with disadvantaged pupils, including parent carers. The purpose of the review was to advise the Minister of State for Schools on solutions for assessing the abilities of pupils who don’t meet the standards required to take the national curriculum tests. The report was published in October 2016 and you can read more about our thoughts on the review's findings here.
What’s happened since?
This is where Simon Knight comes in. As well as Whole School SEND director, Simon is an experienced teacher and former Director of Education at the National Education Trust. He has sat on the DfE panels developing both the Professional Standards for Teaching Assistants and the Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development. He writes features for the TES and regularly contributes comment and content to other publications and conferences. Simon looks ahead at what needs to be considered in order to make the pilot phase of the Rochford Review a success.
The Rochford Review: An opportunity to be seized
The Government’s response to the Rochford Review recommendations has created an opportunity for collaboration and change that can get to the heart of what assessment is for and how the information it produces can be best used. However, there are a number of challenges that we will need to overcome if we are to ensure that the potential for a positive impact on young people isn’t lost in the process of implementation.
One of the biggest concerns I have with simplistic numeric data, particularly for those working at a level below age-related key stage expectations, is that it risks diminishing the enormity of the young person’s success. How does a phrase such as, 'can they answer literal questions about a familiar book that is read to them?' (as found in the current interim pre-key stage standards for Key Stage 1) capture the person behind the outcomes? It doesn’t, and neither does it describe their journey to that point. Any sense of individuality is lost and yet for the young people we are talking about, individuality is key.
Central to any pilot phase, should be what the assessment is for and how the outcomes being measured are presented to young people and families. The most appropriate way of deciding this is to ask those on the receiving end of this information. It is therefore important that families actively engage with schools and that schools proactively seek the views of families as we go through the pilot stage.
We need to collaborate to ensure that, as we begin the process of implementing a new regime of assessment, we move beyond its primary use of comparing one child to another, or indeed one school to another, and explore the potential for communicating the capability of the child in a manner that reflects who has achieved, not just what has been achieved. Ultimately, in doing this, we may go some way towards addressing the barriers to employment, that can in part be caused by an underestimation of the capability of young people with SEND.
To be successful, we need to articulate the young person’s capabilities in such a way that it is unequivocal, immune from the risk of conservative presumptions and low expectations. The use of multi-media evidence, to provide concrete examples of what a young person can do and where they can do it, may make systemic underestimation a thing of the past. This is of particular importance when children are moving from one class to another or one setting to another. We cannot allow professional disbelief to put a brake on the pace of progress and close doors to opportunity.
In working towards achieving this, it is vital that assessment captures what has been learned and is responsive to the needs of the individual, rather than simply determining what is to be taught. On this basis, the removal of the P-scales is a sensible decision, given that we have moved away from a levels based assessment system elsewhere in education. This will hopefully lead to the end of formulaic, assessment led curricula and usher in a move towards curriculum led assessment, as exemplified by the best settings.
Supporting a move in this direction is going to be one of the keys to success and creating a space for a discussion about what this should look like and how it should be implemented is vital. We will also need to reconcile the challenges likely to be faced by schools which have learners accessing both subject and non-subject specific work. There are risks that schools may end up with parallel curricula and a hierarchy associated with the different assessment systems, particularly if it is perceived that external agencies place a higher value on some learner outcomes than others.
Implementation needs to be driven by the requirements of young people and their families, rather than overarching accountability systems. There is a window here to shape the debate about what we should be valuing in our schools and how this information is shared.
The intention to implement the Pre-K levels is unsurprising, but the narrow focus is of concern. The idea that formal progress, and indeed attainment, is only to be reported in these areas risks perpetuating a subject hierarchy in which some are seen as more valuable than others. The knock-on effect of this is the risk of reduced time on other areas of learning, a narrowing of the curriculum in order to chase the data.
Ironically, the underpinning areas of development that affect progress and attainment in English and Maths do not appear to get a look in if a child is working at a subject-specific level. We should be concerned that assessment of the prerequisite skills seems to be focussed exclusively on those who are not yet working on subject specific learning. The importance of evaluating cognition and learning as an area of development should not be based on how a young person accesses the curriculum, but whether the prerequisite skills have been acquired and firmly embedded. After all, this information may provide a better understanding of why children are not yet attaining at a higher level, irrespective of how they access the curriculum and how subjects are structured. It is information that teachers need to know so that they can better support young people to learn.
We also ought to be wary about an imbalance of accountability between subject-specific knowledge and understanding, and broader development within areas such as PSHE and Citizenship. If monitoring pupil outcomes are important, then they can’t just be important for those areas on which a school is likely to be judged. Assessment information has a great range of uses and this needs to be explored with families and young people in order to determine what impact reporting different subject outcomes may have and for which audiences. As such, the equality impact evaluation presented within the Government’s response needs to be revisited during the pilot process to ensure that implementation is equitable.
Overall, the Government’s provision of a pilot phase associated with some of the recommendations is a sensible approach given the complexity of what is trying to be achieved. This provides schools, young people and their families with a window of opportunity to consider the purpose of assessment and in aiming for the very best outcomes, not just within school but also beyond. It is vital that we don’t just consider the what of assessment, but also the how and to whom the information is communicated. After all the DfE themselves stated:
“ Introducing these measures will help schools support these children to progress on to mainstream forms of assessment during primary school, if and when they are ready, ensuring no child is left behind.”
So, let’s create a solution that comes from all involved and ensure that during the pilot process families aren’t left behind either.
The Standards and Testing Agency (STA) will be working with schools to run two projects to prepare for these changes: pre-key stage standard review and a pilot of the 7 areas of engagement for cognition and learning. If a school would like to volunteer to take part in either of these pilots, or request further information, please contact: Rochford.Review@education.gov.uk. Please provide the following information:
- The name of your school
- A named contact in your school
- An approximate number of your pupils that are working below the standard of national curriculum tests, and any relevant information about their school demographics.