Why our exams aren’t working for SEND students

The current assessment system isn't catering for special schools – let's look at a new approach, says Simon Knight
22nd October 2020, 12:00pm

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Why our exams aren’t working for SEND students

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/why-our-exams-arent-working-send-students
Gcses 2021: Why Send Students Need An Alternative To Our Current Assessment System

In recent weeks, possibly stimulated by the chaos that Covid-19 wreaked on exams, there has  been a re-energised call to debate the value and purpose of assessment. Organisations such as Rethinking Assessment are acting as a forum to spark debate, providing opportunities to rethink what it is we want from assessment and why.

Nowhere is a debate about external accreditation more needed than in special schools, where a tendency to align ourselves with the chronologically determined assessment structures of our mainstream colleagues, illustrates a departure from our responsibility to deliver an education built truly around the individual.

The nature of the educational requirements of those we serve, and the fact that those requirements could not be met in mainstream education, should highlight the need for something different. Yet too often, we have willingly leapt into a bed of one-size-fits-all qualifications that can compromise our ability to successfully articulate the capability of those we teach.

Evidence of why accreditation in special schools needs to be debated can, in part, be found in the stubborn statistic around employment for those with a learning disability, which has hovered at around 6 per for the past nine years. In a sector that is regularly near the top in terms of Ofsted gradings, this is an uncomfortable statistic that raises the question of why outcomes in later life are not better.

GCSEs and A levels: Are they working?

One of the reasons may be that accreditation, beyond the common language of GCSEs and A levels, is somewhat impenetrable. A certificate declaring an Entry Level 3 in personal development has less currency when compared with the greater familiarity society has with mainstream outcomes. A key function of a school is that we ensure that those who know our students less well are able to understand what it is that they can do - and it would appear that we still have a way to go here.

This lack of familiarity is too often compounded by a societal presumption of incapability, combined with the equivocal nature of some accreditations. The potential we see in our students is not always reflected in those who know them less well, leading to lower expectations and diminished ambition.


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So how do we begin to address this? How do we ensure that what is achieved through education translates into a higher quality of life?

Visibility is key. Make sure that your students are central to the community in which they live, and use the community as a resource to drive opportunities to share what they can do. 

Build partnerships in order to determine what employers, colleges and other services need to know in order to ensure that momentum isn't lost in securing better outcomes. 

Support your students to have influence over what they want to share about themselves and to whom. And ensure that however you articulate the ability of your students, it is easy to understand and hard to dismiss.

After all, our students have so much to offer society. It is our responsibility to make sure that society, through its ignorance, doesn't miss out.

Simon Knight is special-school leader and a national SEND leader at Whole School SEND

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