Developing special educational needs (SEN) pupils is not just about supporting and demonstrating academic progress. Digital technology and pupil development frameworks can be combined to make a difference to every child.
Pupils with special educational needs (SEN) often operate well below the national expectations for their age. But these ‘expectations’ are largely based entirely on academic performance. Whilst academic frameworks such as P Scales or PIVAT are useful for these pupils they don’t measure the full range of SEN pupils’ development and they don’t provide a basis or foundation to support staff in schools to continuously track their pupils’ progress against non-academic milestones, for example, social skills, communication and behaviour.
Assessment frameworks: What are they and how can they work?
An assessment framework provides the structure to help SEN leaders combine objectives relevant to their pupils’ development needs with a consistent approach to measuring progress against them. Some special schools are using spreadsheets, Word documents or homegrown databases to track development and often log wider development interventions in different systems or on paper. A framework can empower leaders of special schools to bring this information together and provide a single view on progress over time – assessing the real impact of wider learning interventions for each pupil and the school as a whole. Frameworks can be leveraged to:
- Understand and demonstrate how individual students and groups achieve over time
- Identify underachieving individuals to act as soon as possible
- Highlight strengths and weaknesses in performance across groups
- Develop the curriculum to meet the needs of individual students
- Demonstrate to Ofsted the progress made by pupils.
What should you measure and track and how best to do it?
Every school is different and whilst some special schools will be working with pupils with similar needs, the approach to supporting, measuring, tracking and ultimately developing special needs pupils will vary significantly between schools. There will be commonality in some soft skills – communication, self esteem, self awareness, for example – that would be relevant to all children in any school. But in schools where learning difficulties and special needs are unique, the ability to track, measure and monitor the effectiveness of interventions used to support pupils can be the key to equipping pupils with the skills to progress and ultimately securing their right to succeed in life.
Objective based measurement is key
Many soft skills will be more appropriately measured by teacher assessment. One simple way to do this is to have a tick list against each of the pupil targets. Can the student do this, yes or no? But to know real progress is being made we recommend a finer level of differentiation for each target. You might think using a score could work (for example 1 to 5) but this is likely to lead to inconsistency since “3” to one teacher may look different to “3” for another. Using terms such as ‘not seen, ‘emerging’, ‘achieved’ or ‘exceeded’ can be a better way of ensuring objective evidence based measurement. Each school will need to define something that works for their curriculum, practitioners and pupils. Whatever you choose, you need to have a shared vocabulary amongst practitioners, and moderation in the early stages of using the framework.
Document the specific objectives that you want your pupils to achieve. Define your targets in the form of statements of outcomes. For example, to measure ‘self-awareness: social, emotional & mental health’ you may choose outcome targets such as:
- To have an awareness of emotions and recognise my own
- To develop an understanding of feeling and contextual emotional response
- To understand personal triggers and how this affects own behaviour.
If your school is new to quantifying non-academic progress, you could consider piloting the approach in one or two areas. This will allow you to explore the right way to define your targets across the spectrum of needs and varying age groups within the school.
Measuring pupils progress over time is critical
It is important to define the timeframe of the framework: does it chart the pupil’s progress through the school or for an individual academic year? Longer will give you better progress tracking data but some objectives should be achievable in the first year. Baseline each pupil as they enter your school so you can learn from what works well for each individual over time. This information can be empowering to your staff and to pupil and families.
Specifying the frequency of ongoing pupil assessments against the framework will help. Best practice would suggest 4 to 6 times a year with the obvious points being at the start of each academic year (which will look at changes over the summer break) and then one at the end of each term or half term. While this may differ from school to school, the key is to have regular and consistent times agreed across the school, at the same time each year.
A tailored but consistent approach
Which is most appropriate for you will largely depend on what you are trying to measure. However, if you set up and operate your assessment framework consistently you will have a great resource to demonstrate individual and group performance. You should be able to look at progress and achievement by individual pupil, across the school or by specific groups. And you should also aim to analyse the impact your specific interventions and therapies are having, and use this intelligence to understand where best to focus your resources to ensure the long term success of your pupils.
About the SS Tracker
We developed the SS Tracker in partnership with a number of special schools in South East London. The SS Tracker is a simple-to-use web-based application designed with and for special schools to record and monitor the progress of SEN pupils against any development framework. SS Tracker can come with frameworks developed in other special schools or allow special schools to configure their own. It can help your staff save valuable time in data entry and analysis, provide powerful interactive analysis to help you measure an individual child’s progress and provide a single view of development at both the individual pupil and school level.
For more information please visit www.sstracker.co.uk