Showing progress for my EYFS SEND cohort and what I should do for OFSTED
I worked in a special needs school for the 11 years, the last 7 of those as Deputy head teacher and Early Years coordinator. I am now an SEND Advisor and Outreach teacher.
Reporting the progress of children who have a diagnosis of special needs has long provided a concern for nursery managers or EYFS leaders, particularly when a visit from OFSTED is due. For children with severe learning difficulties, using typical methods of assessment can suggest minimal if not zero progress across a year. Since Development Matters was introduced there have been many settings that suggested alternative approaches, showing smaller steps of development were necessary, particularly in the birth to two range. Unfortunately, the reasons for wanting this ‘data’ were generally to satisfy visitors who were looking to gauge the impact and quality of the provision. Thankfully with the recent changes to Ofsted’s framework, this should no longer be the case. However, it is not to say that practitioners should not strive to have a better understanding of typical development in very young babies and toddlers, to enhance their own understanding of what to expect and when.
When my school started to develop their new assessment framework in 2015, they wanted to provide staff with a clear overview of typical development from birth to five years. They felt it was vital that adults working with children with additional needs (often very complex), in a play-based environment, knew the key milestones that would give the children the building blocks to make further progress in their learning. Although the school is a specialist setting, local nurseries and schools started to show an interest in this new tool, as they felt it bridged gaps in their existing assessment systems.
The concept we came up with was a one-page document for each curriculum area that provided staff with an overview of typical development in that area. These ‘Maps’ were created with the intention that a child could be assessed quickly in different ‘Strands’ that featured on the document. The thinking was that every child’s route through the map would be unique, and that there was no expectation for typical ‘linear’ progress. This child-centred approach was deliberately established to move away from the standard ‘box ticking’ methods that had become commonplace for children with additional needs, and that often led to teachers planning activities for a child purely with the intention of ticking the next statement off a list.
Implementing a new assessment system alone, isn’t going to fix or ‘patch-up’ underlying issues when it comes to provision for SEND. It is important that the tool is used to support an effective Assess, Plan, Do, Review model, and that systems are in place that are understood and consistently applied across the nursery or school. The shift from a data analysis model at Ofsted means that the focus is much more significant on the actual quality of provision. Although they will not want to necessarily see progress data, they will want to know what systems are in place to monitor the progress of your children, and that these systems are effective. This helps hugely when it comes to moving to a more child centred approach for your SEND cohort. As senior leaders, communication with teaching staff has also become much more important when it comes to progress. It is essential that leaders know how well children are progressing, and what input is being provided for those that are struggling. Whereas previously a leadership team could monitor the data, this is no longer necessarily the case. In order to plug this gap, we introduced termly catch up meetings with teachers to specifically focus on progress, and to find out how staff teams were providing additional support for those who needed it.
We implemented our new systems fully in September 2018, completely abandoning the data approach to pupil progress that we had previously used. We were visited by OFSTED in June 2019, and maintained our ‘Outstanding’ rating. Ofsted had the following to say about the new systems:
Since the last inspection, a very clear system is in place to collect information about, monitor and make best use of pupils’ progress to support their next steps of learning. Both the curriculum and assessment models which the school use are interlinked and provide a strong framework for capturing pupils’ progress. Parental engagement with these systems is also very strong, which further enhances the evidence base and next steps for pupils’ progress linking both school and home cohesively.