NC28: Memorandum submitted by TreeHouse


Executive Summary


TreeHouse welcomes the Committee's inquiry into the National Curriculum which is a core entitlement for all children. Making this entitlement relevant and effective is vitally important for children with autism for whom education is recognised as the most effective intervention.


The National Curriculum is an essential entitlement to learn and develop for all children. This entitlement was a welcome development to the education system. It helped to push forward thinking about the education of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) well beyond an historic approach of merely keeping these children safe in schools, and instead began the way forward for standards of education, progress and promotion of public understanding for children with SEN and all children.


The current system does not effectively recognise the progress and achievements of pupils with SEN. This risks disengagement from the education system of these pupils and their parents. Additionally there is no accurate account of the achievement and progress within schools and with pupils. In order for the National Curriculum to be fit for purpose there needs to be a greater acknowledgment of learning and progress below Level 1.


Flexibility within the entitlement is essential for children with SEN, especially as they move into secondary education where the disparity between chronological and developmental age increases. The National Curriculum needs to be flexible enough to adapt to this situation, so that it remains relevant for all learners and assessment can be accredited appropriately. The personalised learning agenda is particularly valuable for this purpose.





1. TreeHouse is the national charity for autism education. 1% of school-age children are on the autistic spectrum. Autism is unique because there is no other condition of such complexity, affecting so many children in the UK, about which so little is known and for which society's response is currently so inadequate.


2. TreeHouse runs a special school for children with autism and campaigns for improved autism education services nationally. It was established in 1997 by the parents of newly diagnosed children with autism in response to the huge unmet national need for specialist autism education. TreeHouse runs a pioneering and innovative pro-inclusion special school which currently educates 59 children with autism who have statements of SEN and are funded by their local authorities.



The principle of a National Curriculum


3. The National Curriculum is a benefit for all children as it establishes an entitlement to learning and to develop knowledge and skills. This entitlement is as important for children with SEN as it is for other children, if not more so. Children with SEN deserve the right to learn and develop, as well as to gain skills, understanding and attitudes in order for them to live fulfilled lives.


4. One of the greatest barriers to progress for children with autism is low expectations. Too many children, particularly those who are 'passive' and do not disrupt the education of other children, were merely kept safe in schools rather than educated to their full potential. An entitlement to an education is a human right[1] and is fundamentally important to children with SEN and their families, as well as to an inclusive society.


5. The National Curriculum is also important in the establishment of standards in learning and attainment, and its promotion of continuity and coherence and public understanding. The National Curriculum's promotion of standards across the board should be a means of bringing children with SEN into a mainstreamed education system. This is vitally important for our children's development and inclusion.



Improving the fitness-for-purpose of the National Curriculum


6. Unlike for some other SEN there remain many questions about how to best educate children with autism. Yet the absence of appropriate education can mean that some children with autism never acquire even the most basic skills - speech, functional communication or self care and independence skills. However, gaining basics skills along with other more traditional educational achievements cannot be overestimated for many young people with SEN and their families.


7. The Curriculum as it currently works is not flexible enough to genuinely acknowledge the hundreds and thousands of children and young people who are working below Level 1 of the National Curriculum. A key problem is the way in which assessment works, which often is not suitable as an assessment of progress for Learners with Learning Difficulties and/or Disabilities (LLDD). For instance, many children with autism have a 'spikey' profile of achievements, meaning that they may do well or even excel in some areas yet experience difficulties with other topics. This can make assessment difficult in current practice.


8. The risk in the current system is that many achievements and progress are missed. This is not only a misrepresentation of what is happening in schools and with pupils but also acts to disengage parents and pupils from the system. To improve the fitness-for-purpose of the National Curriculum for LLDDs, assessment and the measurement of achievement needs to be reviewed and refined so that progress at all levels and across the National Curriculum is charted in a meaningful way.


The management of the National Curriculum


9. TreeHouse has shown that children in our school can make real progress when their needs are accurately assessed and appropriate interventions are put in place. We have also shown that where this is done those whose behaviour that might otherwise be very challenging can learn and develop. Personalised approaches to learning work well for our children and other children with SEN.


10. Flexibility in the system is essential in order to respond effectively to individual needs. In particular the secondary curriculum needs flexibility to cope with the range of levels at which learners are at. Children with SEN do not develop learning in accordance with their age. This inevitably becomes more apparent the older a child gets. So although a child may be aged 15, developmentally they may be at age 2 or 3. The secondary curriculum needs to be adaptable to these needs, so that it continues to be relevant and achievements are accredited.



[1] UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 28