The long awaited Rochford Review chaired by Diane Rochford  has finally been published. For those who don’t know this is the expert review of statutory assessment for pupils working below the standard of the national curriculum tests.

In December 2015 there had been some interim recommendations from the expert group regarding children with special educational needs and those with the most severe and complex needs who have their outcomes reported using the P scales. For these children there was to be no change, P Scales  although aligned with the old national curriculum would continue and schools would do their best to adapt for 2015-16. Extra pre-key stage standards containing ‘pupil can’ statements were introduced for reporting for those children who had not yet completed the whole programme of study but had reached the chronological age that requires a statutory assessment outcome to be reported. The Interim Pre-Key Stage standards were designed to be positive and were not to be used as a curriculum.

So special schools, like mainstream schools before them entered into lengthy discussion concerning assessment. What were we to do? The P scales were continuing but science now had 16 areas and we could only report on 4. Similarly, maths was different in all areas except number and English was far from satisfactory. As assessment leader in my school I took the decision along with my HT that we would report on the strands of reading, number, citizenship and the new subject of computing. We would have other assessment running alongside it but this was to be the backbone of our assessment. We were reasonably satisfied that our assessment was robust as we also externally moderated.

On Thursday morning I printed off my 8 page report to governors for assessment and by lunchtime I had the Rochford Review in my hands. One made a total nonsense of the other and I was in complete shock!  At first glance I couldn’t even decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing, the P scales are to be removed entirely! Never in my wildest dreams had I thought this would happen. Even though I knew they were terribly unfit for purpose and many of our children barely moved on them. Thinking time required for me.

Here is what the report is recommending.

*Removal of statutory requirement to assess pupils with SEND who are working below the standard using P Scales.

*Interim Pre-Key Stage standards for those working below the standard of the national curriculum tests to be made permanent and extended to include all pupils engaged in subject specific learning.

*Schools assess pupils’ development in all 4 areas of need outlined in the SEND CoP.

*Statutory assessment for pupils who are not engaged in subject specific learning should be limited to the area of cognition and learning.

*There will be 7 new areas to assess pupils not engaged in subject specific learning and report to parents, responsiveness, curiosity, discovery, anticipation, persistence, initiation, investigation.

*No requirement to submit this assessment data to DfE but schools should be able to have a dialogue with inspectors, regional schools commissioners, LAs, governors.

*P Scales will remain in place for 2016-17.

So, what does it all mean? The most exciting part for me is that the review has recognised that children with SEND do not progress along a straight line as the P scales suggest. Many have spikey profiles and huge parts of the P scales have to be disapplied. In some cases a child can be assessed at NC level 1 for writing without even being able to pick up a pencil.  The review has also recognised that some schools were using the P scales as a curriculum and almost teaching to the test. The P Scales had turned into a tick box exercise in some cases.

The report has also recognised that chidren and young people working at very early developmental stages should not be following a subject based curriculum. This concerns children working at levels P1-P4. This has long been a bone of contentention for me. While I strongly believe that all children have the right to access the national curriculum if it is right for them, I also strongly feel that for some children other things are more important.

The review proposes that for children working at the levels P5-P8 who are engaged in subject specific learning, there should be two additional Pre Key Stage levels to extend the existing interim Pre key Stage framework levels downwards.  This will lead to developing the correct skills to progress to the Pre-Key Stage standards if and when that level is attained.

Special schools now have the opportunity to be creative and to decide on our own approach to assessment. This puts us roughly in line with our mainstream counterparts who have been in this situation for some time. As the review suggests schools should collaborate and share best practice.  Personally, I would like to see special schools involved in a dialogue with Ofsted concerning assessment. I believe that we need a bespoke system of inspection for the special sector rather than an adapted version of the mainstream inspection. I have never thought that national comparative data for SEND is a valid measure but that is for another post.

Now that I have had time to digest this report I welcome it and feel that it is a breath of fresh of air. The P scales in their current form are unfit for purpose and it is time to think it all through and do what is best for our individual schools. For me that is a key factor. All special schools are different and all children with SEND are individuals and have individual needs. One size doesn’t fit all. We can talk amongst ourselves but utimately we must do what is best for our cohort of children.

One note of caution. With the removal of of the requirement to report to the DfE  let’s avoid the situation where our children are ‘working towards’ the Pre Key Stage levels in the same way as they used to be ‘working towards’ the national curriculum. That would be a huge backwards step.