Rochford Review: changes to SEND assessment could lower expectations, warns charity

Rochford Review recommendation on new SEND assessment system criticised by experts

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Proposed changes to the way children with special needs are assessed could lead to teachers having "lower expectations and aspirations" of their pupils, a charity has warned.

A government report has called for the current system used to assess children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), who are working below the expected national curriculum standards, to be scrapped.  

The Rochford Review, published today, has recommended to drop the statutory requirement to use performance scales (p scales) to assess pupils and called for the statutory introduction of "engagement scales" for pupils with severe learning difficulties.

The report states: “The view of the review group members is that P-scales carry such a range of problems and challenges that it is better to stop using them and start afresh with a new approach to statutory assessment.”

But the move has been criticised by Nasen, which provides training and campaigns on SEND issues in schools, due to concerns that it will lower ambitions. 

“The use of engagement scales as a measure of performance will be highly appropriate for some children, but for others it represents a lowering of aspirations and expectations,” Nasen's chief executive Adam Boddison said. “If the spirit of the recommendations in the Rochford Review is one of schools deciding what is best for their children, then the use of engagement scales should be an option rather than a statutory requirement.”

According to Mr Boddison, it should be for schools to decide which  assessments they think are most suitable. 

“The recommendation that P-scales are removed as the statutory measure of assessment for those operating below the standard of the national curriculum tests is likely to cause disruption,” he added. “And the impact will be felt by those with the most complex learning needs.” 

The P-scales were initially designed to sit below the level descriptors used to assess the previous national curriculum.

The interim Rochford report, published in December 2015, set out new "interim pre key stage standards", which matched the new assessment system. These were used by teachers in 2016 to report assessments of pupils who were working below the standard of the test but above the P scales. The interim pre key stage standards could be used for both SEND and non-SEND pupils.

But it remains a statutory requirement to use P-scales to assess and report pupils with SEND who are working below the level of the national curriculum test.

In her foreward to the review, Diane Rochford, chair of the review, said: "Existing arrangements for assessing pupils have come to be used as a curriculum, restricting the kind of creativity and innovation that should be used to engage these pupils and to tailor teaching and learning to their unique needs."

But the teaching union the ATL, warned against removing P-scales. 

"We are worried that removing P scales could be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as many of our members value them highly," ATL's policy advisor Anne Heavey said.

The government has said it will make a final decision on the recommendations following a consultation which is due to start early next year.

The Rochford Review set out 10 recommendations for how pupils who are working below the standard of the national curriculum tests should be assessed.

The recommendations are:

  1. The removal of the statutory requirement to assess pupils using P scales
  2. The interim pre-key stage standards, which assess ability in reading, writing and mathematics, for pupils working below the standard of the national curriculum tests are made permanent.  They should also be extended to include all pupils.
  3. Schools should assess the development of pupils’ with SEND in four areas of need: cognition and learning; communication and interaction; social, emotional and mental health and sensory and/or physical. Pupils should be assessed in all four areas, but statutory assessment for pupils with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties should be limited to the area of cognition and learning.
  4. For pupils with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties, the review recommends a statutory duty to assess pupils against 7 areas of engagement, responsiveness, curiosity, discovery, anticipation, persistence, initiation and investigation
  5. How the 7 areas of engagement are assessed should be left to the schools to decide.
  6. Initial teacher training should give trainees a greater understanding of assessing pupils working below the standard of the national curriculum tests.
  7. Schools should actively share their best practice with other schools.
  8. Schools should work together to their assessment arrangements
  9. There should be no requirement to subject engagement scale results to the DfE.
  10.  Further work should be done on how to support schools with assessing pupils with English as an Additional Language

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