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Assessing pupils not engaged in subject-specific learning

 This series covers both residential and mainstream education and is written by Dr Rona Tutt, a former Chair of NAHT Special Education Needs Committee

 NAHT is surveying members’ views on the Rochford proposals – please make sure that you complete the NAHT survey so that your views can inform our response to the government consultation. The NAHT survey is available here.

It has been a long wait, but the government’s response to the final report of the Rochford Review finally arrived just as most schools were finishing for the Easter break. Running alongside the consultation on Primary assessment in England, the consultation period runs from 30 March to 22 June, so at least there is time to make a considered response.   

This blog is concerned primarily with the statutory assessment of pupils currently described as being at P1 – P3 of the Performance scale (P scale). 

Some of the discussion points that are emerging for this group of pupils are around:   

  • The removal of the statutory requirement to assess pupils using P scales   
  • The division of pupils formerly on P scales into two distinct groups    
  • Assessing pupils currently at P1-P3 using 7 aspects of engagement
  • Reporting the progress of these pupils only to parents and carers rather than having to report more widely.

Rochford’s first recommendation is the one that would remove the statutory requirement to assess pupils using the P scales. Although they would still be available, making them non-statutory might be disappointing for teachers and parents who are used to them and have found them to be of value. It would herald yet another change at a time of a surfeit of changes. However, they were not designed to relate to the current national curriculum and the way they are structured seems to assume that these children make linear, hierarchical progress, whereas their development is often idiosyncratic rather than being on a steady, upward trajectory. 

The second recommendation would see the interim pre-key stage standards being made permanent and extended to include all those engaged in subject-specific learning, or, in other words, those currently described as being at P4 upwards. Although the third recommendation is concerned with schools assessing pupils’ development across all four broad areas of need outlined in the SEND Code of Practice (2015), it states that statutory assessment for pupils not engaged in subject-specific learning, should be limited to the area of cognition and learning. The way this should be measured is set out in the next recommendation.
 

The fourth recommendation draws on the work of the Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (CLDD) research project, which was funded by the DfE and led by Professor Barry Carpenter. NAHT was represented on the Steering Board and many members were involved in the research. The project’s final report (2011) took ‘engagement for learning’ as its central tenet. Rochford takes the 7 aspects of engagement that were identified, as the means by which a statutory duty to report on progress for these pupils would be carried out. The seven aspects are:

  • Responsiveness
  • Curiosity
  • Discovery
  • Anticipation
  • Persistence
  • Initiation
  • Investigation

This approach is similar to Routes for Learning (developed many years ago in Wales) and Quest for Learning (developed mainly by special schools in N. Ireland). Although the CLDD Project devised an Engagement Scale and Profile, the fifth recommendation leaves it to schools to decide how these assessments are made.  

The ninth recommendation is the next one of relevance to this discussion. It specifies that, although there is no requirement to submit assessment data on the seven areas of cognition and learning, evidence must be kept for a dialogue with parents and carers, as well as for others such as LAs, Ofsted inspectors and regional schools commissioners (RSCs).

In summary, the consultation is looking at whether the P scales should go and, if they do, whether it makes sense to have two different ways of assessing pupils working below the standard of the national curriculum tests. If this is accepted, then the next question is whether the seven aspects are the best way of tracking the progress of pupils who are not engaged in subject-based learning. Finally, if this is the way forward, the remaining question is whether it is necessary to have this data collected for use beyond the context of the school.     

Do complete the NAHT survey here to help inform our response to the Rochford proposals.

The Rochford Review has cast a spotlight on the assessment of pupils working below the standard of the national curriculum tests and this second consultation is an opportunity to contribute to finding the best way of making sure their progress is measured in the most appropriate and productive manner. The more people respond, the more likely it is that the right solutions will be found for this group of individuals, who deserve to be recognised for the small, but not insignificant, progress they make.

NB: Until final decisions are made and become operational, schools should continue to use the pre-key stage standards and the P scales.