High Expectations for SEND

For some time now I have been feeling that there has been a downward turn in the assessment of SEND. Back in the year 2000 when I began my teaching career in a special school the mantra was always ‘high expectations for all children’.  As teachers we always strive to keep our expectations high for children with SEND. Indeed, it’s our life’s mission to ensure every child attains their personal best. The fact that the children in our school are often quite seriously poorly does not mean they are off the hook attainment wise. Quite the opposite, they have to work harder than their mainstream peers to maintain their level of achievement.

Back in the 90s the Deputy Head at the time was a big believer in assessment and was annoyed that our children and young people were always assessed as ‘W’  which meant ‘working towards’. This of course meant that they never made any progress from one year to the next and it was quite disheartening for their parents and the children who worked so hard. To combat this she assessed using the P Scales long before it became compulsory in 1998. The P Scales had 8 levels. P1-3 were for early learning and P5 -P8 addressed subject specific learning. Children who were above that level were then assessed on the National Curriculum. For the children in our school this was a system that worked well. All our children made tiny steps of progress and we were able to show it. Happy days.

In 2014 The DfE deemed the P Scales were no longer fit for purpose. The Rochford Review’s recommendation was to implement the interim pre-key stage standards for those working at P5-P8.  Those working at P1-3, those with complex learning difficulties would be assessed using the seven areas of engagement for learning. A solution had been found to a problem which didn’t exist in our school.

Using the new final pre-key stage standards there are four levels of attainment in KS1 and six in KS2. The publication material states that teachers should assess each individual pupil based on their own method of communication, and disregard statements which a pupil is physically unable to access. This in itself is quite heartening. However, the six areas within English language comprehension and reading are very broad. I feel strongly that some of our children will never progress  beyond standard 3. For me this feels like a backwards step. We won’t be showing tiny steps of progress anymore in English. Similarly, in Maths there is a huge jump from standard 4 to standard 5. Our children will not generally be able to reach standard 5. I could continue with this analysis but I find it depressing that children with SEND are once again caught in an assessment trap. The gap used to be around P8 to NC Level 1 as that jump was huge. Now the standards themselves, especially designed for SEND are too broad to show progress for some children. For me, the part I dislike the most is Standard 5 which says ‘working towards the KS1 expected standard. My heart sank when I read that. How is this an improvement on the old system? It was deemed wrong to assess a 16 year old at NC1 so how is this any different?

The final blow for me regarding high expectations concerns the SATs. In previous years we have sometimes entered a small group of children in Y6  for the tests. They actually enjoyed the challenge and they liked being able to discuss with their friends outside of school that they had taken the tests. These children are entitled to that feeling of inclusion. The loose rule was that if they were at or above the level of KS1 in Y6 they could be entered for the tests. We discussed amongst ourselves as teachers and consulted the parents and child, some were entered, most were not. No pressure was put on them and they enjoyed the challenge. We had high expectations of them. This year’s guidance was pointed out to me by my colleague @MrsJasmineShort. Point 3 of the KS2 SATs publication material says ‘Administering a KS2 test to a pupil who is known to be working below the standard of the test at the time may result in a maladministration investigation’. Most of our children are nowhere near this level but for those who are should we not maintain our high expectations of them and allow them to sit the tests? If we don’t believe in them how will they ever believe in themselves?

Maybe it’s just me but I feel as though we’re returning to the days when there was no challenge for children with SEND. I hope I’m wrong.

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