Last reviewed 20 December 2017

The Government’s response to the Rochford Review is clear. P scales are set to go. Suzanne O’Connell outlines some of the conclusions and considers the future for assessing pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

With the changes to the National Curriculum in 2014, it was only a matter of time before P scales would need to be amended. They have been the mainstay of primary assessment for pupils with SEND over the past years and although they weren’t perfect, there is a sense of anxiety about losing them.

The Primary School Pupil Assessment: Rochford Review Recommendations — Government Consultation Response provides the blueprint for the future of assessment of pupils with SEND. It is divided into two: the recommendations for pupils who are engaged in subject-specific learning and those who are not. Those who are not, covers the children and young people who have the most severe and profound forms of SEND.

Diane Rochford, led the group, has given responsibility for the wholesale review of SEN assessment for pupils working below the standard. They published their final report in October 2016 and a consultation on this closed on 22 June 2017. Now, the Government’s response sets out their intentions and sees P scales removed from 2018 to 2019.

Subject-specific learning

The group recognised that whatever the assessment for SEND should be, it must allow progression into statutory national assessment. This was one of the main arguments for the removal of P scales in the first place. Without any continuity between the two assessment systems, pupils with SEND lost the opportunity to progress onto the standard scale.

However, when asked whether the removal of P scales would lead to the loss of important information 40% said that it would against 55% that it wouldn’t. The removal of this common language will not be easy for some schools and it is clear that finding a replacement system that allows teachers to talk about SEND progress is essential.

The replacement comes in the form of the interim pre-key stage standards. These standards had already been made available and there has been opportunity for schools to begin to familiarise themselves with them. Overall, the response to the standards has been positive. The majority of respondents to the consultation (65%) indicated that they are clear and easy to understand.

Those who weren’t as positive about them referred to their breadth and the need for smaller steps to indicate progress. There will be a review of the standards to take account of some of the comments made and also to ensure that they continue to align with changes to mainstream teacher assessment.

The writing standards have already been revised and there are plans to revise the rest. The change over from P scales to standards has been delayed until the 2018–19 academic year to take account of the need for revision and to allow schools more time for the training and development of staff.

Two new standards will be added to those already published. In order to make sure there is opportunity for all pupils who are engaged in subject-specific learning the new standards of “emerging” and “entry” are to be included. Exemplification and guidance material is set to be developed but plans for moderation are still being piloted.

The Department for Education (DfE), both in the Rochford recommendations and in those for primary assessment, appears to favour the idea of peer-to-peer moderation. This is a model where clusters work together to moderate each other and are overseen by an external moderator. New moderation arrangements are also set to take place from 2018 to 2019.

Not engaged in subject-specific learning

The category “pupils not engaged in subject-specific learning” refers to the pupils who have the greatest needs. Plans for these children and young people are not expected to kick in quite so early. They will continue to be assessed by P scales until 2019–20 when it is hoped that an alternative system will be in place.

The system proposed focuses on cognition and learning and refers to seven areas of engagement for learning which include: responsiveness, curiosity, discovery, anticipation, persistence, initiation and investigation. These are believed to be pre-requisite to subject-specific learning, again with the aim of allowing for continuity and progression where possible.

The consultation responses were split, however, over the proposed focus on cognition and learning. Although the report indicates that provision in other areas should not be undermined as a result of the focus, many respondents felt that this is what would happen. 40% of respondents disagreed that assessment should focus on these two areas alone.

The proposals for this group of students are perhaps the most radical and consequently more time has been allocated to piloting the model. Making the decision about exactly what form the new assessment should take is a welcome deferral for many.

The DfE is also currently reluctant to specify to schools how the new assessment model should be applied. Instead they suggest that schools should work out their own approaches to assessing the seven areas that reflects the nature of the school and its pupils. This might have a mixed reaction from those who welcome the opportunity to construct their own system to those who will be anxious about the time and effort needed to do this.

With no agreed system in place, it will be difficult for the Government to establish their own method of collecting results for this group of pupils. The DfE has announced that it will give further consideration to whether assessment data will be collected for them at all.

The future

It will be an unsettling time for SENCOs and their departments. There is a lot of work to do to ensure that staff feel equipped in applying the new standards and using them confidently. Training budgets have not always been generous when it comes to SEND. It will be down to schools to dig deep and find the money necessary to invest.

With ever-shrinking LA support, schools would be advised to look towards their clusters and group together to provide what training they can. There are promises of increased investment in SEND training for student teachers with the development of specific SEND resources for teacher training. Detailed “toolkits” have been promised for ITT providers to use. However, it will take some time for this expertise to work its way through.

Although the Rochford Review recommendations and subsequent Government response may be a little overshadowed by the primary assessment consultation, they have a key role to play. There is perhaps a growing awareness and concern that the efforts of schools with large numbers of pupils with SEND is not sufficiently recognised.

The narrow focus on very specific groups of pupils is a problem for the education system as a whole and can only be addressed in the current climate by a robust means of assessing pupils with SEND too. As the new system develops and replaces the P scales, it is important that it is seen to be valid and reliable. It must be a visible means of showing the progress that pupils working below the standard of national curriculum tests make. Without this, neither pupils with SEND nor their schools will get the recognition they deserve.