The Rochford Review into statutory assessment arrangements for pupils who are working below the standard of national curriculum tests at key stages 1 and 2 has called for an end to the use of P scales. Special World summarises its recommendations.

National curriculum tests set age-related expectations for the knowledge and understanding pupils are expected to have achieved at specific points in their education. In respect of the tests at Key Stages 1 and 2 these expectations relate to English (Reading), English (Writing) and Maths.

Currently many pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) who have not completed the relevant programmes of study by the time of these tests are assessed using P scales. These were introduced in 1998 to sit below level 1 of the old national curriculum because teachers working with children with complex needs found that the national curriculum level descriptors started at too high a level for their pupils.

There are eight levels within the P scales, each containing a broad description of the performance expected of pupils working at that level. P1 represents the lowest level of attainment and P8 the highest. P1 to P3 describe early learning and development before pupils begin to engage in subject-specific learning; P4 is the entry point to subject-specific learning; and the remaining four P scales – P5 to P8 – are subject-specific.

In an interim report published in December 2015 the Rochford Review proposed new interim standards, which were used in 2015-16 to assess those pupils working below statutory test standards and not being assessed using P scales. As part of the second phase of its work the group was asked to consider whether the use of P scales remained ‘fit for purpose’.


P scales
The introduction to the final report says that specific assessment arrangements are still needed for those working below test standards to both reflect pupils’ progress and ensure that, ‘those who work with them are judged fairly for the results they achieve’. Currently at Key Stage 1 an estimated 83% of pupils with SEND are working below the standard of the test in English (Reading) and 90% below the standard in Maths. At Key Stage 2 the figures are 78% and 83% respectively.

However the report recommends that P scales be discontinued primarily because they rely on teachers’ ‘best-fit judgements’ and are not formally moderated. ‘In contrast,’ it says

the interim teacher assessment frameworks used for statutory teacher assessment for the first time in 2015 to 2016 and the interim pre-key stage standards created by the Rochford Review, both use a secure-fit model to assess the standard a pupil is working at.’ This, they say, means ‘the information that will be shared about the standard a pupil is working at will be clear and unambiguous.

Members of the review group also expressed serious concerns that many schools use P scales as a curriculum, instead of for their intended purpose as an assessment tool. They say this runs the risk of reducing education to ‘a tick-box exercise instead of an exciting and evolving exchange between teacher and pupil’.

They conclude:

P scales carry such a range of problems and challenges that it is better to stop using them and start afresh with a new approach to statutory assessment; one that is more appropriate for the varying needs of pupils working below the standard of national curriculum tests, more aligned with the new national curriculum and allows for more fluid progression onto wider forms of statutory national assessment.

They therefore recommend that the interim pre-key stage standards used in 2015-16 are made permanent and are extended to include all pupils engaged in subject-specific learning. They also propose two new additional standards (Emerging and Entry) to sit below the existing pre-key stage standards in each of the three subject areas. Detailed descriptions of these are included in the report.


Pupils with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties

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Schools should also be free to assess each pupil against the seven areas of engagement.

In the case of pupils with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties who don’t have assessable literacy or numeracy skills by the time they reach the end of key stage 1 or 2 the review recommends that assessment focuses on cognition and learning. ‘Early development in cognition and learning provides the foundations necessary to progress to subject-specific learning,’ the report says.

They propose that the assessment of these pupils should focus on the seven areas of ‘engagement’ identified by The Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Research Project, which reported in 2011: responsiveness, curiosity, discovery, anticipation, persistence, initiation and investigation. ‘Creating a statutory duty to assess those pupils who are not yet engaged in subject-specific learning against the 7 areas of engagement will hold schools to account for ensuring that they monitor and support the cognitive development and learning of pupils with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties,’ the report says.

The report also rejects the idea of assessing these pupils against pre-defined criteria outlining what they should have learned at a particular stage; instead assessment should be tailored to ‘the individual’s needs and his or her unique profile of learning difficulties’. Schools should also be free to assess each pupil against the seven areas of engagement ‘in the way that best reflects the needs of the pupil and what the school already knows about his or her pattern of progression’. Existing external products could be used for this or schools could develop their own systems based on principles outlined in the report.


Teacher training
The Rochford Review also recommends that initial teacher training (ITT) and continuing professional development (CPD) should reflect the need for staff working in educational settings to have a greater understanding of assessing pupils working below the standard of national curriculum tests, especially those pupils with SEND who are not engaged in subject-specific learning.

However, while changes to ITT and CPD are desirable and are being considered by the DfE schools should be proactive in sharing good practice and seeking to learn from others. This improved collaboration should also extend to research: ‘Although there is already good practice in many schools, the proposed reforms provide the opportunity to keep developing new and improved practice, to build on what is already happening in some schools and support further innovation and improvement.’


What next?
The government will consult on the report’s recommendations in early 2017. Final decisions will be made following that consultation. In the meantime schools should continue to use the pre-key stage standards and P scales for the statutory assessment of pupils working below the standard of the national curriculum tests.

The interim pre-key stage standards for key stage 1 are available here and for key stage 2 here.

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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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