The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Richard Aird

Insight into the Rochford Review: implementation in schools

In the final part of his blog series, review group member Richard Aird outlines the steps schools should take to implement the headline recommendations and help pupils achieve better outcomes. 

This is the first post in a three-part series on what the Rochford Review recommendations mean for schools. Follow the links below to read more from Richard:

  1. Changing the culture of assessment
  2. Recommendations and methodologies

You can also read the DfE's response to the consultation on the Rochford Review  recommendations for information about the next steps. 

Assuming that the Rochford Review recommendations are taken forward and become enshrined in legislation, school leaders should first reflect on the headline recommendations before considering how implementation will affect their school’s current provision for SEND, and what needs to be done to meet the new requirements.

In respect to pupils with SEND, the main headline recommendations will likely be as follows.

  1. Statutory assessment by reference to the P scale levels will no longer be required.
  2. Pupils working at subject-specific learning standards may be entered for statutory assessment and tests at end of key stages 1 and 2 respectively.
  3. Pupils working below subject-specific standards must be statutory assessed against the seven aspects of cognition and learning for which assessment data will not be required by the DfE, but schools should have assessment systems robust enough to inform critical dialogue with a wide audience.
  4. The statutory assessment of pupils with SEND must be undertaken in tandem with assessment in all four areas of need set out in the Code of Practice and reports to parents must include progress in all areas of need.
  5. Schools should work in partnership arrangements to share best practice, assist with CPD and participate in peer review.

Other important issues to consider include the following.

  • Assessing pupils with complex needs and those with very low attainment is more complicated than it is for other pupils and requires a combination of summative and formative assessment approaches.
  • For pupils with SEND to be engaged for learning and achieve depth of learning, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment need to be inextricably connected.
  • Schools need to take a leading role in the implementation and review of EHC plans in order to facilitate better outcomes for their pupils.
  • The principles of the Rochford Review recommendations are equally applicable to pupils at Key Stages 3, 4 and 5.

During meetings of the Rochford Review it soon became apparent that the panel was not simply reviewing the process of how best to statutory assess low-attaining pupils in the learning matter of national curriculum.

In order to recommend changes in the statutory assessment of these complex learners, it was also necessary for the review panel to consider what other measures are required before the historical culture of a linear ‘one-size-fits-all’ assessment methodology can be exchanged for one that has the personalisation of teaching, learning and assessment at its core.

The panel came to the conclusion that if statutory assessment is ever going to support the ambitions driving EHC plans then the statutory assessment of pupils with SEND has to become much more holistic in scope.

Moreover, the review recognised that the absolute priority given to generating reams of summative pupil performance data in narrow areas of learning also needs to change.

In response to the Rochford Review recommendations schools will need to adopt cultural changes, combining summative and formative assessment approaches and regard evidence of lateral pupil progression with the same status as that currently awarded to evidence of linear attainment.

The core message for school leaders is that the culture of special education has to change in order to facilitate better outcomes for the most complex and vulnerable learners.

Dimensions of provision

The impact which SEND can have upon an individual pupil’s learning is always related to context.

The extent to which a disability can impair a pupil’s capacity for learning is always partly dictated by how effectively a school organises its specialist provision, intervening as necessary in SEND-related learning barriers, ensuring that pupils are taught what they need to learn and in ways that pupils find the most motivating and effective.

In my book, The Education and Care of Children with SLD/PMLD (London, 2001), I described how schools should consider what the implications of intervening in SEND-related issues are likely to be for the organisation of various ‘dimensions’ of school provision, which include:

  • design and content of the curriculum
  • assessment methodology
  • deployment and expertise of school personnel
  • relevance of resources & facilities
  • collaborative working.

Leadership teams ought not to vary assessment methodology without simultaneously thinking about what they also might need to change in other dimensions of provision.

Before undertaking any major review of a school’s dimensions of provision, school leaders should agree a set of principles to ensure that the needs of pupils will always remain central

The government has granted increasing flexibility to schools in regards to curriculum design, and the Rochford Review offers an ideal opportunity for school leaders to reflect on how effective their school’s curriculum is in responding to the diverse learning needs of pupils with SEND.

In particular, leadership teams should consider how well the school curriculum, in tandem with the other dimensions of provision, helps minimise the disabling impact associated with different SEND, optimises the learning potential of pupils and ultimately facilitates better quality-of-life outcomes. 

The four areas of need, as set out in EHC plans, provide a good starting point for school leaders to consider how effectively their curriculum and associated dimensions of school provision accommodates learning needs in the areas of:

  • cognition and learning
  • physical and sensory functions
  • communication and interaction
  • emotional, social and mental health.

Before undertaking any major review of a school’s dimensions of provision, school leaders should agree a set of principles to ensure that the needs of pupils will always remain central. Such principles should be objective, perhaps worded along the lines of, ‘We want to organise our school provision in such a way that our pupils will become:

  • successful learners who are accessing, mastering and generalising new concepts & skills to bring about beneficial outcomes in EHC areas of need
  • engaged learners who are motivated to participate in new learning activities and retain some knowledge of what they have experienced
  • safe and healthy learners who have friendships and who are enjoying good standards of mental, emotional & physical wellbeing
  • responsible learners who are interacting positively, behaving appropriately, being self-determining and making a contribution to their planned dependency.’

There is insufficient space within this blog to describe all of the necessary detail required to bring about the change in culture required by implementation of the Rochford Review recommendations.

Suffice to say that in order to bring about effective, lasting change, school leaders need to consider the benefits that will be accrued to pupils as a result of adopting the recommendations.

Re-framing and transforming assessment methodology will undoubtedly require changes in the curriculum and associated aspects of provision.

Optimus members can read our full Q&A with Richard on the journey to the final report and its implications for schools

Use of the Engagement Profile

The Rochford Review recommendations propose that the seven aspects of cognition and learning (as represented by the Engagement Profile) are used to statutorily assess pupils who work below the standards of subject-specific learning.

The Rochford Review recommendations are premised on the basis that curriculum, pedagogy and assessment are closely allied

However, the review also recognised that engagement for learning is absolutely essential for pupils of all abilities, from the lowest to the highest ability.

Without engagement there can be no deep learning.

The recommendations also recognise that pupils need to be similarly engaged in order to improve their communication and interaction skills; sensory and motor function; and emotional, social and mental health which pupils require in order to learn effectively.

There is an expressed need with the Rochford Review for schools to assess pupil engagement in all the EHC areas of development and need, not just in cognition and learning.

The Engagement Profile should not be regarded as a hierarchical assessment framework because the various aspects of engagement occur dynamically over the course of any learning experience and need to be given equal status when assessing pupil engagement for learning.

However, schools can also assess the extent to which pupils are being engaged in each of the seven aspects by awarding numerical values between 0-28 to grade how well a pupil is engaging:

  • Fully engaged (max score 28)
  • Mostly engaged
  • Partly engaged
  • Emerging/fleetingly engaged
  • No focused engagement (min score 0)

Pupil engagement is monitored during a lesson, perhaps as simply as staff recording their observations on post-it notes.

At an appropriate time the findings are transferred to assessment sheets on which the scores of pupil engagement are totalled in each of the seven aspects. This data can then be used formatively for refining teaching approaches and also for summative purposes to demonstrate lateral progress over time, even though no particular concept or skill may have been accessed.

In order to use the Engagement Profile it is essential that all members of staff are confident in using the system and are suitably familiar with the pupils concerned.

Schools will need to spend time developing and sharing best practice, perhaps using video clips and case studies to train staff how to assess engagement for learning. 

In addition, schools will also need to assess pupil progress in the EHC areas of need. Assessing pupil proficiency in all of the functional skills and concepts represented within each EHC area of need will need to be undertaken by reference to specialist assessment criteria.

There are some assessment models available commercially and a growing number of schools have developed their own holistic approaches with assessment criteria closely linked to corresponding specialised curricula and therapeutic interventions to help enable effective, well targeted interventions.

Wherever possible, intervention and improvement targets should be task-analysed to enable incremental access to the acquisition of a newly-targeted concept or skill.

Once a targeted concept/skill has been acquired, assessment should then focus on how well a pupil is becoming autonomous of adult support and ultimately progressing towards generalisation and the practical application of the newly mastered skill/concept.

Assessing accessed, mastered and generalised learning is a good way of facilitating 'deep learning', because there is little point teaching a pupil new knowledge unless the pupil can put that knowledge to use.

A school may have the best designed and most highly detailed specialised curriculum and assessment methodology, but it is also essential that the workforce has the insight, skills and tools to ensure that pupils are being fully engaged for learning and that differentiation by task and outcome is being personalised.

The Rochford Review recommendations are premised on the basis that curriculum, pedagogy and assessment are closely allied.

Principles of assessment

I am all too aware that many teachers and school leaders have only taught pupils with SEND under the restrictive, but protective umbrella of the national curriculum and its framework of statutory assessment. Any proposal to change the culture of statutory assessment must be daunting.

School league tables in particular have had a negative impact on how school leaders and governors view the importance of statutory assessment data.

League tables have promoted a culture that seeks to push pupils as quickly as possible through sets of linear assessment criteria

A not uncommon view is that such data is used primarily to benefit or disparage a school’s public prestige. This sort of view is very far from the accepted definition of assessment which can be summarised as ‘a process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what pupils know, understand, and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences which culminate when the results are used to improve subsequent learning.’

League tables have promoted a culture that seeks to push pupils as quickly as possible through sets of linear assessment criteria. The historical 'best fit' mentality of statutory assessment has added to this obsession and encouraged the practice of 'teaching to the test' at the expense of facilitating deep learning.

This obsession is what CAWL described as the failure of some schools to ensure that pupils are given enough time to develop depth of learning before moving onto the next stage of learning.

The Rochford Review has rightly stated that pupils with SEND need to be assessed differently and school leaders must now forsake the myth that Ofsted inspectors are only interested in the speed at which pupils are progressing through the narrow, linear P scale levels and instead consider how holistic outcomes can be measured objectively.

When considering what combinations of summative and formative assessment approaches they might seek to develop in response to the Rochford Review, school leaders should consider:

  • exactly why pupils are being assessed
  • what assessment is intended to measure
  • what the assessment is intended to achieve
  • how the assessment information will be used.

Once confident in what these sorts of ground rules mean for the wording and content of a school’s Assessment Policy, school leaders should then think about the different categories of people who have an interest in assessment data and what they might wish to know about pupil progress. These would include:

  • pupils and their parents/carers
  • teachers and support staff
  • school leaders and governors
  • local authorities and supporting agencies
  • Ofsted and the government.

Formative and summative assessment

Schools need to be clear about how assessments will be used to inform what individual pupils need to learn. The right combination of summative and formative data will demonstrate how well pupils are being engaged for learning, mastering new skills and meeting targets.

Day-to-day formative assessments

These look to:

  • monitoring pupil engagement for learning
  • diagnose the acquisition of functional skills
  • testing access to and mastery of incremental learning.

In-school summative assessments

These look to:

  • report depth of learning (mastery and generalisation of concepts/skills)
  • report standardised assessments (reading tests)
  • report the impact on SEND issues and targeted EHC plan outcomes.

Nationally standardised summative assessments

These include: 

  • National Curriculum tests at the end of Key Stage 2
  • National Curriculum teacher assessments at the end of Key Stage 1
  • engagement in Cognition & Learning at all Key Stages (no assessment data to be submitted).

Schools need to determine how they will meaningfully record and report pupil progress to those with an interest.

What is absolutely important about the Rochford Review is that when schools statutory report on the progress which pupils with SEND are making in the area of Cognition and Learning, such reports must also contain information about the progress they are making in the other EHC areas of need.

Teachers and others reading this blog and who may be attending the forthcoming Optimus conference are urged to respond positively to the DfE consultation on the Rochford Review recommendations and help pupils achieve better outcomes.

What's the next step?

Our forthcoming 'SEND Assessment to Support Progress' conference is the only event that will give you the knowledge and strategies needed to accurately assess the progress of SEND pupils in your school, and evidence this to parents and Ofsted. 

For more information and to secure your place, find out more about this crucial event.

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