The Rochford Review has finally published a list of 10 recommendations for the statutory assessment of pupils with special educational needs at primary school.
The report, chaired by Diane Rochford, executive headteacher at John F Kennedy Academy, has been warmly welcomed by some members of the SEN teaching profession who have praised its “brave” recommendations for pupils with the most complex needs.
Yet while seven new statutory areas of assessment are put forward for those pupils, some SEN experts have said it would be “unforgivable” for progress within those areas to go untracked by the Department for Education (DfE), as the report recommends.
It comes after the initial Rochford review brought in interim pre-key stage standards to replace the old P level in December 2015, after the scrapping of levels assessment in primary schools that year.
Taking account of views from Ofsted, Ofqual, the National Network of Parent Carer Forums and the Council for Disabled Children, and 1,700 responses from an online survey, the report makes the following 10 recommendations:
1. The statutory requirement to assess SEN pupils using P scales should be removed.
P scales were “designed to sit alongside, and complement, the old national curriculum, which was significantly different to the new one”. As such, 78 per cent of online respondents felt the P levels were no longer fit for purpose (although 32 per cent thought they should be revised against only 21 per cent who wanted a new framework – see recommendation 2.)
The report said there were “serious concerns” that many schools were using P scales as a curriculum, instead of as an assessment tool, thereby making activities too narrow.
2. The interim pre-key stage standards ought to be made permanent.
While the old 1 to 8 P Levels were given on a “best fit” basis by teachers, the new interim pre-key stage standards require teachers to assess each pupil against specific “the pupil can…” sentences.
Using different codes, teachers assess each child as either “below”, “at” or “above” the interim “pupil can” standard. These will now remain the key measure for all students doing subject-specific learning.
3. For those pupils not doing subject-specific learning, statutory assessment should be limited to the area of “cognition and learning”.
4. Assessing pupils against the following 7 aspects of cognition and learning should be a statutory duty, and reported to parents, carers and inspectors. (See recommendation 9 for more on this).
The 7 aspects are:
5. Schools should decide their own approach to making these cognition and learning assessments.
The members of the Rochford Review did “not feel it would be appropriate to prescribe any particular method or approach for assessing these pupils.”
6. Teacher training – both initially and while in the profession – should give teachers a better understanding of working with pupils who are “below the standard of national curriculum tests”.
7. Schools should work collaboratively to share good practice and should seek support from other schools if needed.
8. Schools should ensure quality assurance of SEND assessment through school governance and peer review.
9. Of the assessment data from the seven areas of cognition and learning, there “should be no requirement to submit this to the DfE”.
But schools must be able to “provide evidence to support conversations with parents and carers, inspectors, regional school commissioners, LAs and governors”.
10. Further work needs to be done on supporting children with English as an additional language.
There were 12,246 pupils at key stage level 1 in England who had an education, health and care plan, according to the latest data from 2016.
Of those, 16 per cent achieved the expected standard or better in Key Stage 1 English and 10 per cent reached the expected standard or better in Key Stage 1 Maths.
As such, the majority would have been assessed within the new interim pre-key stage framework, or not at all.
But now some of this cohort will fall within the new seven areas of assessment in cognition and learning.
Heidi Dennison, deputy headteacher at Frank Wise School in Oxfordshire, said she was “happy not to be ham-strung by the P levels any more.”
“I think they were right to throw them out to push for greater creativity and flexibility in teaching”.
She added: “It’s about having the confidence to step forward with those measures and develop your own robust systems.
“The proactive, confident schools will be welcoming of this, but schools that are less established may feel they have a bit more to worry about.”
Gill Waceba, headteacher at Woodfield School in Hertfordshire, said the review was one of the first on SEN education which she “really felt excited” about.
“I think it’s fabulous generally, though I want to read in more detail. I really like the focus on cognition and learning – the holistic approach is just what our children need.
“And the fact that they’re looking at it being a statutory requirement makes it feel like the government and people high up value what is happening in special schools”.
She added that it was more important data was used by schools and shared with parents and governors than sent to the Department for Education – “unless we know exactly what the department are going to do with it.”
But Barney Angliss, an SEND consultant, called strongly on the Secretary of State to reject the ninth recommendation for the government not to track progress in the seven areas of learning.
“I admire that the report has come up with these seven areas, it was brave. But on the question of whether the government should collect that data – yes, because ultimately the government has a responsibility towards those children.
“If it’s important to collect data on other children, it’s important to collect data on these children too. It’s unforgiveable not to.
“What the government won’t want is national lobby groups and charities tracking their progress. And that is a shame, because we would not give the Secretary of State a hard time. What we would say is, ‘ok, which areas are working well?’”
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
“The Department is grateful for the work of Diane Rochford and her team and the recommendations of their report will be a part of a consultation in early 2017.”