Dr Adam Boddison, Chief Executive of the National Association of Special Educational Needs (NASEN) talks to editor Victoria Galligan about the need for a review of exclusions and for SEND schools to have a clear purpose for assessment.
How does the NASEN help educational professionals in SEND schools?
nasen is a professional membership body for SEND professionals and we offer gold, silver and bronze membership for either schools or individuals. We provide professional development opportunities through conferences, events, webinars and webcasts as well as a range of online resources. We produce a range a publications, including a bi-monthly magazine, CPD books, three quarterly peer-reviewed journals and a suite of mini-guides. We also host the SEND Gateway, a shop window for resources and CPD across the SEND sector. Ultimately, we are a champion, friend and protector of education professionals with children and young people with SEND.
Are mainstream schools becoming more inclusive or is there more to be done to ensure equal opportunities?
Some of the key drivers in the system, such as funding and accountability, are disincentivising inclusive practice, but as you might expect, some mainstream schools are nevertheless inclusive at their core and others are not. One problem here is that inclusive schools become known for being inclusive and thereby attract a disproportionate number of children and young people with SEND which can sometimes make it difficult for them to deliver on their inclusive aspirations. A second area of non-inclusive practice that needs to be tackled is illegal exclusions and exclusion at the point of admission. To that end, I am pleased that Edward Timpson has been appointed by DfE to conduct a review of exclusions and I look forward to seeing some action as a result of this review.
What are the main issues with assessment when SEND pupils are concerned, in both special and mainstream schools?
The major challenge around assessment is trying to develop an assessment system that includes all pupils. Things have improved with the introduction of Progress-8, but this is still far from ideal since some pupils do not have baseline data to draw from and because the focus is disproportionately centred on academic outcomes. Supporting schools to create workable assessment structures which enable them to measure the progress of all children, identify next steps in learning for individual children with differing needs and hold meaningful discussions with parents and carers remains a challenge. Moving the focus from statutory, summative assessment to formative measures of assessment is helpful here, as is encouraging the professional collaboration between colleagues within the mainstream and special sectors. A second challenge is relation to access arrangements. The introduction of technology and the variation between exam boards means that this issue is now coming to the surface again as an area of concern. Lastly, we need to be clear about the purpose of assessment. Are we assessing the school’s performance or pupil outcomes?
What are the alternatives to current methods of assessment in SEND schools and of SEND pupils in mainstream schools?
When the accountability of schools is so closely related to particular assessment systems, this can limit the range of possible alternatives. However, special schools have long provided personalised curricula for their pupils and for every child they look to justify the provision and the outcomes. Similarly, the removal of national curriculum levels at primary provides more scope for alternative methods of assessment. But the data used for accountability is still based on centralised national tests in most cases, so there is still more work to do in this regard. It is also worth noting that several MATs and teaching school alliances have developed their own innovative assessment systems across mainstream and special based on the idea of a continuum of provision.