If there is one thing the entire sector, government, schools, parents and learners agree on, it’s the need to avoid another exams fiasco. Exams regulator Ofqual has published its response to a consultation on how exams should be undertaken this year, and it looks like teacher assessments are back.

Teachers will once again be required to assess their student’s performance based on what they have been taught. In Ofqual’s words, they expect a holistic judgement of each student’s performance on a range of evidence relating to the subject content. The guidance states that assessments should happen as late in the school year as possible. But is there a hole in Ofqual’s logic when it comes to SEND? 

What about learners with SEND?

DfE data has shown consistently lower attendance of pupils with an EHPC than their non-SEND peers (unfortunately attendance data for all pupils with SEND isn’t available) since September 2020. It was at 45% on 25th February. 

A recent survey by Special Needs Jungle claimed that just 8% of children are now receiving all of the SEND support they had prior to the pandemic. Worse still, fewer than 10% of parents reported receiving and using online teaching from school. Evidence provided by SEND specialists themselves also points to much lower levels of support, with 90% of Speech and Language Therapists saying that there were young people on their caseload who had not received support since the start of the pandemic.

Ofsted’s recent work on remote learning and SEND claims that 59% of children with SEND have disengaged from remote learning. They do point to examples of good practice, but they are clear: while essential for making remote learning accessible, assistive technology and other reasonable adjustments cannot by themselves make up for the loss of working with teachers, teaching assistants and other specialist staff. 

This means that if grades are based on what students have learnt, schools will be under huge pressure to recover lost learning time, develop and re-establish essential skills, and provide a suitable curriculum ready for assessment. They need to do this in under twenty weeks, and are likely to have lower staff capacity to achieve what can only be described as a herculean task.

Making this year’s exams fair

So, what can SENCos and school leaders do to make sure their pupils with SEND get a fair deal in this year’s teacher assessments?

  1. Prioritise pupils with SEND for the national tutoring programme
  2. Use their catch-up premium and SEN National Budget to provide additional specialist support
  3. Make sure all pupils have access to assistive technology, especially so for those in exam years
  4. For those in primary settings, address gaps in language and literacy now so they don’t become intractable later on.

Whilst we are all feeling the impact of the pandemic and the restrictions in place to stop the spread of the virus, it’s our young people who face a generational divide. It’s time address to lost learning, regression in skills, and missed opportunities for all young people, and get our learners back where they learn best, in good inclusive schools.

Chris Rossiter

Chief Executive, DYT

Chris originally trained as an applied psychologist and has worked across the private, public and charitable sector for over 15 years. Has has particular expertise in special educational needs and disability, and organisational psychology. He is a primary Chair of Governors, Trustee of the Astrea Academy Trust, member of the literacy sub-committee of the Hastings Opportunity Area and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.