Sonia Blandford – The forgotten group: middle attainers on SEN Support

Professor Sonia Blandford is the founder and CEO of Achievement for All, a charity working with thousands of schools in the UK to raise the educational attainment of pupils, and particularly those facing barriers to learning.

Writing for Schools Improvement, here Sonia talks about middle attainers.

Middle attainers on SEN support can be a forgotten group in schools; with teachers focussing on stretching the most able and raising the bar for the lowest achieving 20%, those in the middle with additional needs fail to make expected progress.

At a national level, the profile of those on SEN support shows the three most common additional needs as moderate learning difficulties (27%), speech, language and communication needs (21%) and social and emotional and mental health issues (17%); additional needs are likely to overlap within these categories. Those on SEN Support are also more likely to come from socio- economic disadvantage than their peers without an identified SEN and are less likely to move out of this category during their schooling. But it does not have to be like this.

An inclusive approach with frequent and rigorous interrogation of pupil data improves both progress and attainment for children and young people on SEN Support. This is of particular importance for those whose prior attainment is somewhere in the middle. If they fail to make the expected progress by KS2, they start secondary school behind and are less likely to ‘catch up’ by KS4. At 16 they move on and may not have the skills needed to gain employment or the minimum qualifications needed for further education or training; instead they repeat the same learning with a post 16 provider.

Ofsted is quite clear, in their review of SEND in 2010, education providers which achieved the best outcomes for their pupils/students with SEN had high aspirations for their learning and focused on enabling them to become as independent as possible; this has not changed today. Getting the best outcomes for those in the middle attaining bracket on SEN support means school leaders and teachers asking questions about their progress and attainment: what challenges do they face in learning? what challenges do they face in accessing learning? and where are the gaps?

Comparisons can be made with pupils/students with similar prior attainment, using national, local and school level data sets. 

The SEN reforms introduced in September 2014 have gone some way to close the gap for those on SEN support. Identification of need is more accurate and happens earlier, more teachers engage with specific professional development and SENCOs, qualified to Masters level through the National SENCO Award, provide the practical day to day guidance. But more can still be done.

Until every school in England develops an inclusive approach, with teachers and leaders asking challenging questions about learning and outcomes, those on SEN Support, in the middle attaining band may never progress beyond the middle.

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