We have been working over the last two years to help schools to move away from levels and to avoid recreating the culture of levels in their school. A lot of that work, particularly at our roadshows and in our Education Zone, has centred around the “mainstream” cohort rather than focusing as much on the SEND pupils. It’s a necessary focus based around the very structure of the new curriculum – very much centred around children learning the content for their age appropriate year group. We have made certain concessions to that within Classroom Monitor. Often little things, but things we felt were important, for example renaming Year 1, Year 2 as Stage 1, Stage 2 etc so that schools can use Stage 3 objectives with a Year 5 pupil, if needed, without the Year group being as obvious.
An unwanted side effect of this, however, has been that many schools are trying to get EVERY child to work within the age appropriate year group. For the majority, yes that is the guidance. However it is not the guidance for all pupils, hence the P Scales still exist. And I don’t think anyone at the DfE expects a SEND pupil to jump from P8 to Year 5 Secure within a term just because of their chronological age. Yet it’s a difficult nuance to deal with as we also need to lose the old “levels” thinking which, in some cases, saw children “held back” as they were only expected to move 2 sub levels a year and any more than that would have been “suspicious” and set up the next teacher to make a bigger jump or to look as if they had failed if the progress did not continue on the same linear path. Learning is not linear. For children with SEND it is usually even less linear. It often is actually “patchy” in the sense that they might excel at measurement but struggle with number, they may love poetry and performance but struggle with decoding words. They may fully understand grammar and punctuation but struggle with spelling and handwriting. The old curriculum and levels meant it was impossible to show the strengths and weaknesses separately. Would you ever have a child who was a 2C in Poetry but a 1C in Reading? Or a 3B in Measurement and a 1B in Number? Highly unlikely. You could certainly not report that detail to anyone outside the school without a LOT of explanation!
I have felt, the more I get to know the new curriculum and life after levels, that it is now possible to show those strengths and support the weaknesses, for all pupils but for SEND pupils in particular. Indeed during the roadshows I have talked about how to use the markbooks to essentially give credit where it is due (so if they can achieve some objectives at Year 4 then great, assess those ones in Stage 4) and pick up the needs where relevant (so if they have gaps in some areas and need to be taught those at Stage 2, then plan and assess from Stage 2 for those whilst keeping aspirations high.)
I recently attended the Beyond Levels Learning First Conference at Sheffield Hallam University on 21st May. It was great to see so many people (and yes including Ofsted for those who never believe me!) come together to talk about how we can move forward with all of the opportunities that a life after levels presents us. I attended one workshop in particular which focused on assessment for SEND pupils – led by Natalie Packer, an experienced education consultant who was also part of the Commission on Assessment without Levels. The workshop highlighted a lot of the things that we need to think about when discussing assessment for SEND pupils. Not just academic assessment but all of the other elements needed too. You can download her slides from the workshop using this link. You can find out more about Natalie’s work on her website here.
One thing that shocked me during the talk was when she asked the teachers present whether their assessment package was inclusive for all pupils. Pretty much everyone said “No.” Now I have to admit that Classroom Monitor was not mentioned (phew!) but I think given the responses that it could have been. Most people were concerned that they had to always assess their SEND pupils as “Below Expected” or whatever equivalent they are using. So year on year, term on term, the children are “Below.” That might well be “Below Year 3” one year and “Below Year 4” next year but what message is that giving to the pupil, the parent (if indeed the schools are reporting such results to either – it certainly isn’t necessary) and also within the school how do we then perceive those pupils? And most importantly how do we use that result to impact on their achievement? The answer is that we can’t. That kind of labelling is not helpful for such things. So I wanted to talk, in this blog, about the ways within Classroom Monitor that we can start looking at different ways to look at the achievement and progress of all pupils, but SEND pupils in particular.
A fully inclusive approach to assessment in all mainstream and specialist settings is one where policy and practice are designed to promote the outcomes of all pupils. Assessment without levels will enable schools to articulate the progress of all pupils, including low attaining pupils and those with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities in a more individual way.
As we can see in the quote above, it is vital that assessment is used in a more individual way. You may still be holding on to the “bandings” to analyse cohorts, finding out that a particular intervention is working/not working or to highlight where a group of students is attaining on average higher/lower than their peers. But past looking at this at cohort level it is not useful at an individual pupil level unless we are using the information available to us to feed into teaching and learning and ensure that every student is given the opportunity to shine and to be proud of their achievements, as well as noting where more work is needed.
What we need to do is look more at the formative assessment side of things. The bandings are an indicator from a whole school perspective but they will make no impact at a pupil level.
My first suggestion for teachers and SLT is to use the reordered markbook to find out where a gap in learning may be relevant for a whole group of pupils, so that interventions can be funded where needed. Teachers can also use the markbook at the planning stages to find out what the next steps are for each child and what they struggled with/excelled in the last time this topic was covered. It is important to remember that for SEND pupils, you can go up and down in the markbooks, when focused on what you are about to teach so that you can have children working on objectives from multiple stages at once. A child could work on one objective at Stage 2, one at Stage 3 and one at Stage 4, all in the same week. This would make the assessment more inclusive for them and allow you, as the teacher, to really work on next steps for each child from a relevant standpoint, rather than blanketing their achievement as overall Stage 1 or Stage 3, as might have happened with levels.
As for reporting this information and using it to share with pupils/parents we have created a few new outputs which would be useful here. The new Learning Journey allows you to share evidence of learning alongside the assessment. This might include photos or pieces of work, but may also be just a series of notes. These are attached, via the online markbook or using the Classroom Monitor app, to the relevant criteria. These can be from different stages and on the Learning Journey you decide whether to show these stages or not. So if you would rather the parent know that in some areas they are working at an age appropriate standard, whereas in others they are behind/ahead, you can do this.
What many people are concerned with, particularly in the context of SEND pupils, is showing progress. For this we recommend using the Assessment Progress Report which shows, for the months you choose, the progression in achievement against each individual criteria, rather than a line graph of “levels” and this creates a very real dialogue with the parents/outside agencies and the teachers about the learning that is going on. Again this may reflect learning across multiple stages, as appropriate, and gives a very detailed view.
The Pupil Assessment Summary could also be used to give targets for each child, or to highlight achievements, or a combination of the two, across multiple stages. All of the Assessment Summary outputs take just a couple of minutes to create and use the up to date information from the markbooks, turning your formative ongoing assessment into solid, useful outputs.
It is also important to note that you have control over your school curriculum and can tailor this as needed to meet the needs of all of your pupils. Our new Curriculum Customisation Tool gives you full control to edit and add objectives, add subjects and strands and more. Some of our smaller SEND schools are using this to create individual markbooks for each child – giving them very specific targets which may be linked to emotional or personal care targets rather than the National Curriculum academics, and these can also output to the Assessment Summaries.
We know there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to assessment and urge you to talk to us further if you are not sure that your use of Classroom Monitor is inclusive for all of your pupils. We are working harder than ever to give you even more ways to report data in new ways to avoid the trap of recreating levels. The functionality is there for you to use as you wish but ensure you are aware of the ways in which you can personalise this for your school. We have already added the new percentages into the markbooks and pupil tracking so that you can assess those smaller steps of progress, and our Curriculum Tracking tool is helping schools to look at teaching and learning, rather than data, first.