NC31: Memorandum submitted by Special Education Consortium (SEC)

 

Summary

SEC believes that the Curriculum is a useful tool for ensuring a broad and balanced education, but that more needs to be done to ensure that children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities enjoy equal access to the Curriculum and are able to have their learning and development within it accredited.

SEC is concerned that whatever revisions are made to the National Curriculum the Inclusion Statement which is a statutory part of the National Curriculum and provides a requirement equivalent to the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act remains.

SEC believes that in any revision of the National Curriculum it is vital that SEN and disability considerations be taken into account at the design stage and not bolted on after the event.

SEC would advocate a 'thinner' curriculum where the broad principles are set down but teachers are given the time to use their professional expertise to work out how best to deliver those principles to their students. In particular we would like to see clusters of schools working together on effectively differentiating the Curriculum for disabled pupils and those with SEN. Within those broad principles SEC would like to see sufficient weight given to issues of equality and diversity with teachers being encouraged to explore disability in a positive way; looking at the history of disabled people and their contribution.

SEC suggests that consideration be given to the idea of assessing pupils not against a standard norm for their age, but against an individual person's previous best. This would ensure that all learning and development, even where children are working below age related expectations, can be accredited and celebrated.

 

Introduction

 

The Special Educational Consortium (SEC) was set up to protect and promote the interests of children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities. SEC is a broad consortium and provides a policy forum for voluntary organisations. It also includes professional associations and local government organisations.

SEC welcomes this opportunity to submit evidence to the Inquiry into the National Curriculum. This submission seeks to draw the Committee's attention to the particular issues faced by disabled children and those with SEN and the ways in which the Curriculum could be further adjusted to better meet their learning needs.

 

1 Arguments for and against having a National Curriculum

 

1.1 SEC believes that disabled children and children with SEN do benefit from having a National Curriculum as long as there is sufficient flexibility to ensure that they can enjoy access to all areas of the Curriculum and that their learning and attainment can be accredited.

1.2 For this to happen it is vital that whatever revisions are made to the National Curriculum the Inclusion Statement which is a statutory part of the National Curriculum and provides a requirement equivalent to the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act remains.

1.3 We would want additionally to see a commitment that in any revision of the National Curriculum SEN and disability considerations are taken into account at the design stage and not a bolt on after the event.

1.4 SEC believes that the Curriculum is a useful tool for ensuring that certain areas of learning and social development are covered. For instance some subjects such as modern languages would otherwise too readily be dropped, yet they can be exceptionally useful learning tools for some disabled pupils or those with SEN.

1.5 Whilst advocating a less prescriptively detailed National Curriculum we would want to see the broad principles of the curriculum including equality and diversity and encouraging teachers to take advantage of opportunities to explore disability in a positive way; looking at the history of disabled people and their contribution.

 

2 Broad principles or detailed aims and objectives?

 

2.1 We would suggest that pupils would benefit from a Curriculum which was 'thinner' in terms of the level of detail and prescription. We would draw the Committee's attention to the very high performance of pupils in Finland when compared to pupils in other countries.

2.1 The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an internationally standardised assessment that is administered to15-year-olds in schools in 57 countries. In the PISA assessments which have taken place in 2000, 2003 and 2006 Finland has regularly been one of the very best performing countries. The Finnish curriculum for basic education is very 'thin'. It offers the guidelines for Finnish education nationwide but the schools draw up their own curricula on that basis. It is left to the teaching professionals to decide how best to implement those guidelines and engage children in learning. The success of this system does however, depend on specialist teachers who understand how to apply and differentiate the curriculum for disabled pupils and pupils with SEN.

 

3 Balancing central prescription and flexibility at school/classroom level

 

3.1 SEC advocates such a system where teachers control the curriculum which flows out of their experience of working with children and is child centred.

3.2 We believe that this would free teachers up to adopt a more exploratory style of teaching which could better capitalise on children's interests and styles of learning.

3.3 We would like to see the National Curriculum taught through project work. This would enable teachers, rather than swapping between lessons, to start from an exploratory - child's - point of view. Thus a project on the Roman Empire could be used to teach and explore history, geography and maths and relevant/themed literature.

 

4 The extent to which the National Strategies are effective in supporting the National Curriculum

 

4.1 SEC believes that the Inclusion Development Programme has a very significant role to play in improving the access of disabled children and those pupils with SEN to the National Curriculum.

4.2 We believe that the principle of encouraging schools to work together in clusters which is a key aim of the National Strategies is vital if schools are to be able to find the time to do the necessary work on curriculum differentiation.

4.3 Schools need to be supported to come together in clusters so that they can plan differentiation of the curriculum across all programmes of study. In one school in Tower Hamlets teachers were supported to spend their development days looking at how to differentiate different levels of the curriculum. Groups of teachers focused on particular parts of the curriculum. This needs to happen strategically across clusters of schools and to be disseminated and shared nationally so that all teachers have a tool box of good practice examples for say explaining the concept of symmetry to a blind child. There is also important work to be done in ensuring that children who are working below age related expectations still have age appropriate materials.

4.4 As an additional point we would suggest that if the Curriculum is to be made accessible then the SENCO must be one of the curriculum leaders within the school.

 

5 The impact of the current testing and assessment regime on the delivery and scope of the National Curriculum

 

5.1 We believe that there are two distinct problems with the current testing and assessment regime. The first is that the Curriculum is overly focused on getting children to perform well on narrowly based tests which only reflect academic intelligence. This automatically heightens the risk of pupils with other skills becoming disaffected. There is an increasing understanding of the role and importance of other forms of intelligence such as emotional literacy which are also critical as goals. A broader education would better equip children for the modern world in which person skills are key.

5.2 In our view this leads to the second problem which is a failure to think creatively about how to accredit learning. For instance at present many children with speech, language and communication difficulties will struggle to get credits for speaking and listening in English. Children with disabilities and SEN therefore can't access part of the curriculum or get accreditation for it. Any new curriculum needs to look at how you accredit. Disabled children and those with SEN need much wider forms of accreditation and the system must think creatively about how to reward and accredit learning - if a child who cannot write produces a film on a topic it could count as much as an essay in terms of creativity and thinking if not in terms of writing.

5.3 We believe that disabled pupils and those with SEN would benefit from a greater focus on formative rather than summative assessment; so that assessment of learning informs planning for future learning. We would also like consideration to be given to the idea of assessing pupils not against a standard norm for their age, but against an individual person's previous best so that all learning and development, even where children are working below age related expectations, can be accredited and celebrated.

 

 

 

5.4 If we are to develop a truly inclusive curriculum that fits all pupils for adult life then the assessment of learning development should give more weight to the development of a portfolio of life skills.

 

6 The implications of personalised learning, including the flexibility introduced by the new secondary curriculum

 

6.1 As indicated above we believe that added flexibility is key for disabled pupils and pupils with SEN and welcome the added flexibility in the new secondary curriculum. We would argue that the primary curriculum needs to do the same but more so for key stages 1 and 2.

 

 

 

 

7 How well the National Curriculum supports transition to and delivery of the 14-19 diplomas

 

7.1 We would simply wish to note that there are problems with the 14-19 diplomas for children who are working below age related expectations. At present the diplomas are not awarded against achievements at entry level and therefore exclude many children.

 

8 The role of teachers in the future development of the National Curriculum

8.1 Pulling together points made above, we believe that teachers should have a greater role in deciding on the detail of the implementation of the National Curriculum, and that more should be done to encourage teachers to work together across schools to share learning and ideas about the implementation of the curriculum.

 

March 2008