Last reviewed 10 April 2012

The stakes are getting higher for ensuring that our SEN pupils make the expected progress. The Achievement for All programme is being rolled out to schools as a possible solution. Suzanne O’Connell summarises its main features and considers its value.


The pressure is on schools to improve outcomes for SEN pupils. For the majority of schools this means pulling something additional from the hat. Schools have already been trying to improve outcomes for pupils with SEN. They have just got to try harder and find something extra to make that difference.

According to the evaluation of the Achievement for All pilot, this could be the programme to do it. It is aimed at the 20% lowest-attaining learners and is supported by the DfE. It is currently being rolled out nationally across England and although it targets pupils with SEN, it is also intended to bring benefits for children throughout the school.

AfA was originally championed by the DCSF but subsequently has been embraced by the DfE with the New Schools Network encouraging Academies and Free Schools to adopt the programme too. It received a mention in the SEN Green Paper as leading to “an improvement in the outcomes pupils achieve — including improvements for those children and young people who have experienced barriers to learning” (p.64).

An additional £14 million has been pledged for the next stage of its implementation. Not surprisingly, there is money involved and it is a partnership between private and public sector supported by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Schools taking part at this stage do have to commit a contribution from their budget.

The benefits

The pilot programme was conducted in more than 450 schools in 10 local authorities with around £31 million funding. The programme evaluation conducted by Humphrey and Squires (2011) found that it:

  • resulted in noticeable improvements across the AfA cohort in both English and maths

  • enabled provision for SEND pupils to develop within and across schools

  • increased teacher awareness and focus on pupils with SEND

  • reduced the number of teacher-reported bullying and behavioural problems

  • enabled parents to become more engaged with schools due to the structures conversation

  • encouraged positive relationships.

It sounds good. So what does it consist of?

The three strands

There are three main strands.

  1. Assessment, tracking and intervention — schools are given assistance with setting curriculum targets and tracking the progress of pupils with SEND in English and maths.

  2. Structured conversations with parents — this is an intense approach to increasing links between home and school. Staff receive training in how to conduct the conversation and much more emphasis is placed on the contribution of parents. There are ideally three conversations each year and they can take up to an hour each.

  3. Wider outcomes — schools are helped to identify different strategies to support SEND pupils in the areas of attendance, behaviour, bullying, positive relationships and through extended services. These are often focused on self-esteem building and encouraging a greater enthusiasm and participation in school life for pupils.

Examples of initiatives around wider outcomes might include running a cookery club or additional sporting activities that pupils are encouraged to attend. One school developed its own “university” and another focused on developing life skills.

The AfA offer

In order to help the roll out of Achievement for All, a new charity has been established and website to accompany it. AfA3 is led by the Chair Brian Lamb and Professor Sonia Blandford who is the CEO and National Director of the Achievement for All programme.

The Achievement for All offer includes:

  • an Achievement for All Coach allocated to schools on registration

  • a needs analysis to identify school priorities and determine the bespoke training programme and support strategy

  • the Achievement Coach working in partnership with a nominated “school champion” to deliver a structured session for the whole school containing information about the key elements of AfA

  • a focus on four key elements:

    • school leadership

    • high-quality teaching and learning (assessment and target setting)

    • parental engagement

    • improving wider outcomes.

  • continuing professional development

  • the development of a community of best practice

  • the opportunity to implement the Achievement for All Quality Standard leading to the Quality Mark and Quality Lead status.

Schools must sign a service level agreement. Each school’s package is bespoke according to the priorities identified in the needs analysis and after the initial two-year programme is complete, schools can continue to participate through the Quality Mark scheme.

Participation in the AfA two-year plan costs £3000 (+VAT) per year for 500 students. The website is keen to demonstrate the programme’s value for money with this initial cost set against the predicted savings that a school might make as a result of a drop in behavioural incidents and fixed-term or permanent exclusions. The website suggests that “typically, the payback on the investment in the programme is delivered within one year of completion and can then lead to future savings, year-on-year”.

Of course, not everyone will just be looking at the figures and if the programme is valuable for pupils then many will feel that this is justification for using it in itself. For those that are interested, a registration form is available on the site.

Some conclusions

Achievement for All has much to recommend it. There is no doubt that more in-depth engagement with parents that involves them as real partners must be beneficial on a number of levels. In some cases, participating schools have found themselves supporting parents first in order to remove barriers for learning.

One school reported how during a structured conversation a parent revealed that her own school phobias were having an impact on her children’s attitude to education. The school worked with this parent to the point where they were able to volunteer in school with positive outcomes for the rest of the family.

The wider outcomes have been particularly valued by the schools taking part. The recognition of the importance of building children’s self-esteem generally is to be welcomed and schools have thrown themselves into a number of exciting and interesting projects that are not directly aimed at maximising attainment. Of course, they are justified by the ultimate promise that this is what they do.

However, there are a few words of caution. Perhaps the least successful strand for some schools has been Strand 1. The assessment and tracking strand is an area that many schools were already doing anyway. There are few schools that are not currently following the progress of their SEN pupils and setting them challenging targets.

On closer inspection many of the wider outcomes initiatives are not much different, if at all, from what schools have been doing before. For the pilot schools the additional money came as a very welcome extra to enable them to pursue some initiatives. However, paired reading activities and raising esteem through participation in extra-curricular activities are nothing new.

They also need funding. It is important to look at the sustainability of projects from the outset.

So, although there is much to recommend it, schools might like to keep these points in mind when considering registration.

More information

Achievement for All: National Evaluation, Neil Humphrey and Garry Squires, DfE, May 2011.

There is also an Achievement for All website.