posted by Peter Imray on the 10th January 2020

Background.

The delivery of Relationships and Sexual Education (RSE) will become compulsory in English schools from September 2020. This has always been a necessary, though challenging subject to teach to pupils and students with profound and multiple learning difficulties and severe learning difficulties (Stewart et al, 2015) with or without an additional autistic spectrum condition, because the very nature of relationships is naturally flexible, movable, contextual and therefore engages with numerous abstract constructs and situations. One of these concerns the nature of masturbation, particularly in relation to where and when one can do it. It is relatively easy to teach about private and public and though the lessons may for some, take a long time to learn, they are learnable by most.

However, a very small number of people, usually the most complex with the greatest degree of learning difficulty and the highest level of need, may well find extreme difficulty in deferring sexual release and indeed, in understanding the necessity to defer sexual release. It has therefore become fairly common practice for special schools particularly, not only to allow pupils who are obviously in need to use a locked cubicle in a school toilet to masturbate, but also to actively encourage those who are obviously in need to do so. That is, it has become an essential part of the curriculum and teaching process to encourage learners to take responsibility for self-regulation. They can only do this if they can have access to an immediate solution, such as using a locked cubicle in a school toilet.

Part of my responsibilities as Director of Developments at Equals (a UK Based not-for-profit charity working for the educational interests of people with SLD and PMLD and their families) is to develop curriculum materials. In order to discover the latest thinking in the area of RSE and learning difficulties, I attended a one day course recommended by the Sex Education Forum (SEF) run by two very experienced workers in the field namely, Mel Gadd and Claire Lightley. They advised in the strongest possible terms, that the strategies evolved by special schools over a number of years are illegal and therefore invite prosecution of both students and staff.

This short paper is written with a desire to find areas of agreement that can overcome an apparently intractable contradiction. That is, whilst the argument on the illegality of the act of masturbation in a school toilet (or indeed in any public toilet) whether in a locked cubicle or not, is certainly factually correct, I would suggest that the Sexual Offences Act 2003, does not mean that:

‘if you allow or enable a person with learning disabilities to masturbate in a public place or where other members (especially other children) of the public access, such as a school or college toilet, you are potentially enabling or/and committing a sexual offence and placing the young person and yourself at risk of prosecution.” (Gadd, 2018)

Indeed, I am arguing that such advice is

(i) positively harmful to the mental well-being of a number of young people and adults with severe learning difficulties (SLD) and profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD);
(ii) in direct contravention of the Equality Act 2010 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
(iii) potentially and unnecessarily placing in physical danger those who are supporting young people and adults with SLD and PMLD, as well as other members of the public, other students and indeed the persons themselves;
(iv) in direct contradiction to the process of maximising independence in learners, particularly with regard to maximising opportunities for all learners in all circumstances to take control of, and be responsible for, their own behaviours.

Let me expand on these one at a time.

1. Literal enaction of Sections 17 and 71 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, may well be positively harmful to the mental well-being of a number of young people and adults with SLD and PMLD.

Gadd and Lightley are rightly insistent that masturbation is a natural, normal and pleasurable activity, and that:

…..every young person with learning disabilities receives programmes of education on growing up, sex and relationships tailored to age and developmental ability. (Gadd, 2018 p5)

There are however a small but growing number of children, young people and adults, presenting with very complex needs (Pinney, 2017) for whom Carpenter (2011) has described schools as being ‘pedagogically bereft’. That is, their needs are so severe, so different, so complex, they do not fit into any category for whom the current education system has an answer. One thing is certainly clear; it is not possible to instruct these young people to do anything they don’t want to do and have any reasonable expectation that they will concur (Imray, 2018; Imray et al 2017).

Interestingly, two of the examples used (Gadd, 2018 p5 and Gadd, 2019 p7) talk of a young man with the developmental age of a six year old, and advises that he should wait until he gets home. In severe learning difficulties (SLD) terms, this is the equivalent of a very high functioning learner who is possibly able to defer gratification and fully understand the concept of waiting until he gets home. There are however, many with SLD, particularly those functioning consistently and over time within the lower levels of the P Scales, that is, well below the developmental age of six, and all with PMLD, who do not, and by definition, cannot, have this level of understanding. One might as well expect a 12 month old to stop crying on demand because this is not an appropriate place to cry.

Further, even the young man with the developmental age of 6 is unlikely to be able to do what other neuro-typical, conventionally developing teenagers in school can do and often do do; that is, ask to go the toilet when he wants to masturbate. As long as the neuro-typical, conventionally developing teenager doesn’t advertise the reason for going to the toilet, no-one is going to deny him. The neuro-typical teenager probably knows that it’s perfectly normal and natural to masturbate, works out that the only way he can concentrate on his school work is to relieve himself, and takes himself off, making sure to lock the cubicle door and not draw attention to himself. If someone with SLD, even a high functioning person with SLD, is to have the same right, we will have to teach him that it’s a positive thing to do. It is highly unlikely that he will be able to work this out for himself because this is generalising understanding and if he found this level of generalising easy, he wouldn’t have SLD.

We therefore have to spend a considerable amount of time positively teaching him that it is a good thing to go to the toilet to relieve himself when he is not able to suppress his sexual excitement, providing he follows certain basic rules, such as locking cubicle doors. It is, I would suggest, contradictory to argue that masturbation is normal, natural and good, but masturbating when one really needs to, is bad. Such a stance can only lead to confusion and misunderstanding and will quite possibly be extremely deleterious to his good mental health. We would not consider denying other natural desires; we accept that ensuring sufficient food, water, exercise, warmth, kindness, love etc is good for one’s mental health. If a learner desires food and water now, it would be perverse and even abusive to demand that the learner defers this desire for several hours; why should we do this for masturbation?

Given these conditions, it seems reasonable that we teach all those with learning difficulties, whether high functioning or not, a certain clear, basic principle. That is,

any form of sexual activity needs to take place in private, this means in places where other people are not and I can be by myself (Gadd, 2019).

This phrase is taken from the handout given on the day of the course. My argument is that a toilet with a locked door (wherever the toilet is) is a place where ‘other people are not and I can be by myself’.

Secondly, it can be argued that the Gadd and Lightley advice is in direct contravention of the Equality Act 2010 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The nature of the law is that by and large, it operates under the principle of reasonableness. One can see this in the recent judgement of Judge Rowley (Sellgren, 2019).

Judge Rowley questioned whether the law as it stands within the Equality Act discriminates against children who habitually express challenging behaviour, which is itself part (and sometimes a very central part) of their SEND. The key lies in recognising that “aggressive behaviour is not a choice for children with autism”. In making this statement Judge Rowley held that:

“In my judgment the Secretary of State has failed to justify maintaining in force a provision which excludes from the ambit of the protection of the Equality Act children whose behaviour in school is a manifestation of the very condition which calls for special educational provision to be made for them. In that context, to my mind it is repugnant to define as ‘criminal or anti-social’ the effect of the behaviour of children whose condition (through no fault of their own) manifests itself in particular ways so as to justify treating them differently from children whose condition has other manifestations.”

We know, do we not, that expressed and overt challenging behaviour is a common feature of a number of conditions that fall within the SEND umbrella. Autism is certainly one, but it is also fairly common in those with severe learning difficulties, moderate learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties, and when these conditions are mixed, that is ASD plus SLD for example, it is even more likely (Emerson et al, 2014 for example). Indeed, challenging behaviour has long been regarded as being ‘normal’ for those with learning difficulties (Hewett, 1998). We know also that the nature of challenging behaviour is enormously disabling for those who are stuck in the cycle (O’Brien, 2016; Ashton, 2015 for example) and that challenging behaviour is defined by us.

‘Challenging behaviour’ is a socially determined construct. Reiteration of this construct and its accepted definition is necessary to focus assessment, formulation and interventions on the relationship between the individual and their environment, rather than on the elimination of behaviours. (Learning Disabilities Professional Senate, 2016, p4)

Imray (2018) argues that recognition of this has profound implications for how we, as educators, carers, advisors, supporters etc respond.

Let’s just deconstruct this statement, because this is very, very important. Challenging Behaviour, with capital letters and as a ‘category’ or as a label which we might assign to a child, young person or adult is not the same as severe learning difficulties or profound and multiple learning difficulties or autism. These are also categories or labels, but it is not possible to change them. A child who has SLD will grow into an adult with SLD and there is nothing anyone can do about this. It is not because of bad teaching, or bad schooling, or bad parenting; it is what it is. It might be considered to be an impairment, in the same way as having no right arm is, though it is not necessarily disabling, if we as a society choose not to make it so. (Imray, 2018 p7)

We can however, decide the opposite course and actively choose to make the impairment disabling. That is, we can (and often do) choose to disable, by for example, insisting that all children conform to our rules, do things our way, cope with situations and stresses that we can cope with, communicate in ways in which we communicate, are interested in things which we find interesting, obey rules which we are able to conform to, are conversant with and apply social rules which we have put in place etc, etc, etc. We do all of these things even when we know that children will have difficulties in doing so, and all of their behaviours are telling us that they have no interest in doing so. In such situations we should not be surprised when some children raise objections. And this is very much the point, the objections are highly likely to be physical expressions of challenging behaviour, often violent, often painful, because those who are expressing them have no other way because of their SEND. Children who express habitual challenging behaviours do not do so out of choice, they do so because they have no other way (Imray and Hewett, 2015).

Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights obliges us to reach decisions which do not involve us acting irrationally, given the information we have before us. It requires that all of the rights and freedoms set out in the Act must be protected and applied without discrimination. Discrimination occurs when one is treated less favourably than another person in a similar situation and this treatment cannot be objectively and reasonably justified.

Similarly, the spirit of the Equality Act is to state very clearly and plainly that we cannot use a person’s impairment as a reason to disable them. We would I’m sure regard it as ‘repugnant’ to suggest that someone without physical mobility should be excluded because they can’t get to their next classroom under their own volition. The issue relating to challenging behaviour, and indeed masturbation, is no different. Judge Rowley has (rightly) argued that the law must not be interpreted in a way that disadvantages those with SEND. Not offering a person an opportunity to sexually relieve him or herself in the same way that is open to those without a learning difficulty (by for example, innocently asking to go to the toilet) is effectively discriminating against that individual because of his/her learning difficulty.

3. The advice potentially and unnecessarily places in physical danger those who are supporting young people and adults with SLD and PMLD, as well as other members of the public, other pupils and indeed the persons themselves.

I don’t think I need to overly expand on this, because the arguments have already been made. Most with learning difficulties may be able to defer sexual relief, some will not. Those ‘some’ may well react in a negative manner, which may be physically violent in nature, and to be honest, who would blame them.

If a learner has communicated a basic request – I am hungry and need food, I am thirsty and need drink, I am cold and need warmth, I am frightened and need comfort, I am sexually frustrated and need relief – but this is being refused, it is not unreasonable that the person being refused gets annoyed. Why would they not? Clearly the level of that annoyance will vary from person to person, but those who are doing the refusing have to expect challenging behaviour, and no amount of admonitions, strong/strict voices, clear instructions etc. will overcome this crisis. The point is here that this is entirely unnecessary. All learners can be taught to take control of their own behaviour, providing they are given control over the resolution. If we are not willing or able to give them control, we mustn’t be surprised at the behaviour.

4. Lastly, and following on from the points above, the advice is in direct contradiction to the process of maximising independence in learners, particularly with regard to ensuring wherever possible, that all learners in all circumstances take control of, are responsible for, and crucially, are able to self-regulate their own behaviours.

We can, through repetition and constant over-learning, ensure that all learners with SLD at least understand

  • which parts of the body are universally private
  • that permission is central to touching others and being touched by others, especially on private parts of the body
  • that sexual acts such as masturbation must be conducted in a private space
  • that a private space means somewhere where I can lock the door, where other people are not and where I can be by myself
  • that I will be taught the exact geographical location of private spaces and public spaces in the environments that I normally inhabit such as school, home, out in my local community etc.

If we are reliant on members of staff telling learners what they are not allowed to do, and ensuring that they do not do what they are not allowed to do, the individual with learning difficulties will always be reliant on such people making the decision. Any notion of independence will be a sham since we are fostering a paternalistic relationship where those without learning difficulties always know best and will always be directive.

Peter Imray
9th January 2020

References

Ashton B (2015) Promoting Positive Behaviour in S Martin-Denham (ed) Teaching Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. London. Sage.

Carpenter, B. (2011) Pedagogically Bereft!: Improving learning outcomes for children with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. British Journal of Special Education 38 (1): 38–43.

Emerson, E., Blacher, J., Einfeld, S., Hatton, C., Robertson, J., & Stancliffe, R.J. (2014). Environmental risk factors associated with the persistence of conduct difficulties in children with intellectual disabilities and autistic spectrum disorders. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 35, 3508–3517.

Gadd M (2108) Common concerns and suggested solutions: Guidance document 2017. FPA Project Jiwsi.

Gadd M (2019) Masturbation: Working with people with learning disabilities. Lightly Consulting/Cwmni Addysg Rhyw/Sex Education Company.

Hewett D (1998). Challenging Behaviour is Normal in P Lacey and C Ouvry (eds) People with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. London. David Fulton.

Imray P (2018) Turning the Tables on Challenging Behaviour (2nd ed). London. Routledge.

Imray P, Colley A, Holdsworth T, Carver G and Savory P (2017) Listening to Behaviours: adopting a Capabilities Approach to education. The SLD Experience. 76: 3-9.

Imray P and Hewett D (2015) Challenging Behaviour and the curriculum in P Lacey, R Ashdown, P Jones, H Lawson and M Pipe (eds) The Routledge Companion to Severe, Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. London. Routledge.

Learning Disabilities Professional Senate (2016) Challenging Behaviour: A Unified Approach. London. The Royal College of Psychiatrists.

O’Brien, J. (2016) Don’t Send Him in Tomorrow: Shining a Light on the Marginalised, Disenfranchised and Forgotten Children of Today’s Schools. Carmarthen. Independent Thinking Press.

Pinney A (2017) Understanding the needs of disabled children with complex needs or life limiting conditions. London. Council for Disabled Children/True Colours Trust.

Sellgren K (2019) School exclusion of autistic boy unlawful, judge rules. Katherine Sellgren, BBC News education report; accessed at www.bbc.co.uk on 19th October 2019.

Stewart D S, Mallett A and Hall T (2015) Sex and Relationships Education in P Lacey, R Ashdown, P Jones, H Lawson and M Pipe (eds) The Routledge Companion to Severe, Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. London. Routledge.



Thoughts on Curriculum and Assessment by Peter Imray – January 2019

Curriculum

Over the last five years or so there has been increasing interest in curriculum development which has recognised the problems of target driven models. Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector at Ofsted, has stated that

The curriculum is the yardstick for what school leaders want their pupils to know and to be able to do by the time they leave school. It is therefore imperative that the new inspection framework has curriculum as a central focus.’ HMCI (2018)

The resultant new (2019) Ofsted framework which highlights the centrality of the 3 I’s of ‘intention, implementation and impact’ fits perfectly with Equals’ stated ambition within its Semi-Formal Curriculum, for all teachers to ask key questions of their daily work, namely (i) why am I teaching what I’m teaching (ii) what am I trying to achieve and (iii) am I making a difference.
For schools teaching pupils and students with SLD and PMLD, this view also mirrors and moves forward with the points expressed in the Rochford Review, which noted that

schools already have the freedom to use any curriculum they feel is appropriate for the needs and requirements of …… pupils (not engaged in subject specific learning)’ (Rochford Review, 2016, p20).

There is certainly a case to answer that the National Curriculum is an entirely inappropriate model if learners are never (by definition) ever going to get beyond its very earliest levels, and where most never even reach the start. It has been argued that

‘…children, young people and adults with severe or profound learning difficulties will not succeed in the National Curriculum, or indeed, in any curriculum model designed for neuro-typical conventionally developing learners. They will not succeed because they have severe or profound learning difficulties. It is not possible for them to succeed. If they could succeed, they wouldn’t have severe or profound learning difficulties’ (Imray and Colley, 2017, p58).

Such sentiments echo previous suggestions that a curriculum geared to the norm cannot be an appropriate model for those 70,000 or so learners with PMLD and SLD who make up less than 0.8% of the whole school population in England and Wales (Pinney, 2017) yet have the greatest complexity of need.

By definition, exceptional students require an extraordinary response from educators – something different from the ordinary, even if the ordinary is good………Failure to create these explicit structures to accommodate students at the extremes of performance distribution inevitably results in their neglect. They are forgotten. They don’t just fail a little. They fail a lot, and their noses are rubbed in their failures.’ (Kauffman, 2002, p259).

This school acknowledges that there is a growing interest in the concept of a multi- tiered curriculum approach which sees Pre-Formal and Semi-Formal curriculum models working in with the existing Formal model that is the National Curriculum. It is known that a number of Ofsted ‘outstanding’ schools such as Priory Woods School in Middlesborough, Melland High School in Manchester, John F Kennedy School in Stratford east London, Three Bridges School in Bath, St Ann’s School in Hanwell, west London, Columbus Grange School in Sunderland and The Russett School in Chester, just to give a few examples, have already, or are in the process of, adopting this approach.

All of these schools run the Equals Semi-Formal Curriculum (Equals, 2018) and we feel that this model, which Equals regards as the only curriculum in the world written specifically for children, young people and adults with severe learning difficulties, gives us a solid base on which to move forward.


In the model above, it is neither necessary nor advisable to adopt a hard line on which curriculum might be appropriate for each learner as it is evident that learners on the edges of a learning difficulties spectrum, such as are described by the terms PMLD, SLD or MLD, may benefit from some involvement in the adjacent curricula. That is, those assessed as P3 (i) and (ii) may benefit from some elements of a semi-formal curriculum; those on P4 or P5 from elements of an informal curriculum; learners working at P8 or L1 may well cover some elements of a formal curriculum. Similarly, learners working consistently and over time at levels at or even above L2 may still benefit greatly from elements of a semi-formal curriculum, especially in for example, independence.

There is therefore a fluidity about this model which both allows for and encourages a personalised (or individualised) approach, whilst still recognising that core elements of each curriculum will broadly fit the learning needs of all learners within the PMLD and SLD spectrums. The logic behind this approach comes from the sure and certain knowledge that our learners can make progress within curricula specifically designed for them, but will struggle to do so within curricula that is not (Imray and Hinchcliffe, 2014).

We believe that the nature and extreme complexity of both the severe and profound and multiple learning difficulty spectrums, as well as the absolute necessity of extensive repetition being built in to the learning process mitigates against fulfilling one’s potential in both academic and alternative curriculum models. Such ‘dilemmas of difference’ (Norwich, 2008 and 2013) mean that choices have to be made, because not making such choices leaves insufficient time in the school life of the learner. For us, the argument is made by the fact that, by definition, the very best that can be achieved by the most able on the SLD spectrum within a National Curriculum model (that is, fulfilling their academic potential) is equivalent to the start of the academic model, and for most on the SLD spectrum and all on the PMLD spectrum, well below the start. It seems self-evident that to have one’s ambitions limited to the start of a curriculum indicates that it is the wrong curriculum.

This also opens up another debate about the relevance of neuro-typical (mainstream) time frames. There is some logic to seeing the validity of a curriculum framework as being in its ability to prepare the learner for the next stage, whatever that might be. In UK mainstream terms, there is a fairly seamless transition from 3 to 5 (early years), from 5 to 11 (primary), from 11 to 16 (secondary), from 16 to 18 (sixth-form), from 18 to 21 (university) and then on to work. Each curriculum model builds on and extends from the last.

These time frames however do not make sense and therefore cannot apply to those on the SLD or PMLD spectrums, because of the degree of repetition required, the difficulties with communication and cognition, and the naturally extended time required for progress to be established within independence, fluency, maintenance and generalisation (Sissons 2018) even within a specific SLD or PMLD curriculum model. For these learners the key ages are 2 or 3, when they enter the education system and 19 when they leave it. It is not an accident that the majority of UK special schools specifically for those with SLD and PMLD cater for the 2 to 19 age range, and see this as a perfectly normal and sensible arrangement. For learners on the SLD spectrum, there may be some logic in delivering a broadly academic framework, particularly within literacy and numeracy, until the age of 8 or so, because this would allow sufficient time (i) to assess the accuracy of a SLD or PMLD ‘diagnosis’ and (ii) to make a reasonable judgment on academic potential. A reasoned, informed, experienced and expert multi-disciplinary judgement can then be made, and if it is assessed that a non-academic route is more appropriate, still leave 10 or 11 years to concentrate on a specialised SLD or PMLD curriculum model.

Our conclusions on curriculum and curriculum design are therefore that the current school cohort (and indeed, cohorts for the foreseeable future) are not best served by the National Curriculum alone. Our experience, concurring with a number of outstanding special schools, has led us to adopt a much more flexible and personalised approach which sees the curricula on offer changing to meet the needs of the pupil rather than the other way round. The learner must be at the centre of curriculum design.

Assessment

Returning to the Rochford Review and its primary function of determining on assessment for learners working consistently and over time below age related expectations, we believe that there are a number of other key statements.

As it is neither possible nor desirable to set national expectations for what these pupils should have learned at a particular age or by the end of a key stage, the members of the Rochford Review do not believe it is appropriate to apply a framework to statutory assessment that evaluates their attainment in that way. It would be neither fair to the child, nor to the school.’ (Rochford Review, 2016, p20)

As assessment for pupils with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties should be suitable for each pupil’s individual needs, the review does not feel that it would be appropriate to prescribe any particular method for assessing them. (ibid, p6)

That is, schools should be responsible for determining the best way to assess the attainment of their particular pupils, and that this must be an ipsative judgement, rather than one which is comparative to other learners. This is an important statement, as it establishes that attempts to design assessment schemas by using estimations of ‘expected’ progress over a specific time period (such as was used with the P scales and other variations of this, notably Pivats and B Squared) are not effective and can often be counter-productive in their tendency towards assessment led teaching.

Assessment is a good master but a terrible servant……..Too often we start out with the idea of making the important measureable, and end up making the measurable important.’ (Williams, 2015).

Nevertheless, this school accepts the fundamental need for accountability and fully supports the notion that

schools must be able to provide evidence to support a dialogue with parents and carers, inspectors, regional schools commissioners, local authorities, school governors and those engaged in peer review to ensure robust and effective accountability.’ (Rochford Review, 2016, p7)

With this in mind we have adopted a wide ranging ‘basket of assessments’ after the approach mooted by Swiss Cottage School (2014) see Figure 2 below.

Our conclusions on assessment of pupil progress are therefore that

(i). accurate formative and summative information is vital, but that this cannot be achieved by a single measurement
(ii). the assessment schemas used must be able to show both lateral and linear progress, and reflect the real progress made by learners wherever and however that may be made
(iii). the assessment schemas used need to reflect the curricula on offer and the effectiveness of teaching, but must not drive either.


References

Equals (2018) The Equals Semi-Formal Curriculum. Newcastle. Equals.

HMCI (2018) HMCI commentary: curriculum and the new education inspection framework.  Available at wwhttps://www.gov.uk  Accessed 10th October 2018.

Imray P and Colley A (2017) Inclusion is Dead: Long Live Inclusion. London. Routledge.

Imray P and Hinchcliffe V. (2014) Curricula for Teaching Children and Young People with Severe or Profound Learning Difficulties. London: Routledge.

Kauffman J M. (2002) Education Deform: Bright People Sometimes Say Stupid Things About Education . Laham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

Norwich B. (2008) Dilemmas of Difference, Inclusion and Disability: International Perspectives and Future Directions. Abingdon, Oxford: Routledge.

Norwich B. (2013) Addressing Tensions and Dilemmas in Inclusive Education. London: Routledge.

Rochford Review (2016) Final Report
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rochford-review-final-report

Sissons M (2018) MAPP. Mapping and Assessing Personal Progress. Newcastle, Equals.

Swiss Cottage School (2014) Progression Planners. Meaningful Assessment for learners with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. London. Swiss Cottage School Development and Research Centre.

William D (2015) Planning Assessment Without Levels. Available at
https://www.teachprimary.com   Accessed 23rd April 2018.

 


click here to download a word version of this post

by Peter Imray
 


by Peter Imray

I have recently had a query sent to me by a colleague working in an all age special school who have just decided to move over to an Informal, Semi-Formal, Formal Curriculum model, and it struck me that the issues raised relating to the time devoted to Literacy and Numeracy and their relative importance, might be of interest to Equals’ members. The teacher’s questions are in italics followed by my suggestions.

My main concern is for the ASD pupils who have reading/math levels that are old L1. How do you suggest that we support those pupils in the lessons to ensure that they do not lose those skills? Do we teach them a formal curriculum for those subjects? I am concerned that if we don’t continue to teach them those core subjects using the formal curriculum, then they will lose those skills!

I’m afraid there is not a definitive answer, since the degree to which you run with a formal/semi-formal combination and how much of either you put into an individual’s timetable will very much depends on a number of factors; these being

    1. Age
    2. Current ability levels 
    3. Potential to get up towards level 4 (old money) 
    4. Interest of the individual learner

1. Age – I would be more inclined towards the formal curriculum model the younger the learner is and by extension, less inclined the older the learner is. Generally speaking, if the learner hasn’t got number by the time they’re 8 or 9 and certainly by the time they’re 11, they’re probably not going to get it to a level that will help.

Learners MUST have an abstract understanding of the relationship between every number and every other number if they’re going to have a chance of being numerate, otherwise it just tends to be learning by rote. Rote learning also of course, comes in to reading, and again, learners really need to understand that words themselves are merely abstract symbols representing ideas that are put together to form ever more complex thoughts. The ability to read, so often apparent in learners with ASD, does not signify understanding, otherwise I would be able to understand Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, which I can’t. I can read the words, but have no idea what they mean!

The thing about such rote abilities is that they open teachers up to dilemmas of difference – do I carry on teaching literacy and numeracy in the hope that the learner eventually gets it or do I follow a different model knowing that the learner can and will succeed at that? Unfortunately there is no right answer, but I’m not certain that you will be able to do justice to both because both will take up SO much time.

2. Current ability and levels and 3. Potential can be more or less taken together, because both numeracy and especially literacy only really start to make sense from a position of positively helping with ordering and living our lives – that is, helping us to make sense of the very complex world around us – when we get to around level 4 of the National Curriculum, a position achieved by most neuro-typical 10 year olds by the time they leave primary school. If children haven’t already or are not going to (in your and others’ professional opinion) get to those dizzy heights, there doesn’t seem to be much point in spending large amounts of time pursuing the ambition. You may however, spend small amounts of time doing it, and how large or small will be decided by how much this additional work impinges on their making progress within the semi-formal curriculum.

Of course the other very important issue that we mustn’t forget here is that simply because you’re not teaching formal Literacy and Numeracy does not mean that your learners are not improving their literacy and numeracy skills. Maths is everywhere and in every thing. All learners will learn HUGE amounts of maths by being able to successfully cross a road, make a pizza, kick a ball, take their feet off the bottom of the pool, traverse across the hall. One doesn’t have to learn formal maths to learn maths! Similarly, we tend to forget that literacy is merely a higher and more complex form of communication, because that’s what it is – communication. Stephen Hawking has not managed to communicate with me and obviously, the complexity of the language used means that he wasn’t trying to communicate with me in the first place. If he was, I have to tell him that he’s failed abysmally! Is that my fault – no! It’s his fault because to be effective and therefore meaningful, the communication MUST be understood by both parties. If it’s not, what’s the point?

4. The individual learner’s particular interest is I think also a key factor – do they like reading, counting, doing sums? Some do, and if they do, why not carry it on, though again how much time you spend on this depends on how this will impinge on their successes in other areas.
Finally, on losing skills, my view would tend to be that rote skills not practised tend to stay pretty solid over time and will come back once practice recommences. That’s what makes them rote skills. And anyway a little bit of practice will largely keep them intact.

In summation, there is unfortunately, no definitive answer – it is a dilemma and dilemmas tend not to have easy answers otherwise they wouldn’t be dilemmas! Trust your judgement as a professional of long standing and experience. Trust the judgements of others you trust – your Senior Leadership Team, your TAs, SaLTs, OTs, Physios. Make a collective judgment on where you think the learner will be academically in 5 years time if you just carried on with a formal curriculum. This may not be entirely accurate (what forecasts are?) but given experience and knowledge you are likely to be broadly correct, that is, within a P scale or two. Trust that collective judgement and make your decisions accordingly.

 


Hi all

I am forwarding on a message from Christopher Robertson (Birmingham University) which contains a link to a summary report of Monday 13th July’s Upper Tribunal judgement ruling relating to autism, behaviour and exclusion.

The judge took the view that the Equality Act does not offer sufficient protection against exclusion for children with autism, but I think we can also take this to cover CYP with SLD and PMLD since they can be equally discriminated against when it comes to the view that the behaviour which leads to the exclusion is ‘not a matter of choice’. I am not going to underestimate the significance of this ruling for all schools!!
 
https://www.irwinmitchell.com/newsandmedia/2018/august/aggressive-behaviour-is-not-a-choice-for-autistic-children-jq-671403

All the best

Peter

 


by Peter Imray

Organisations that train staff in physical intervention (restraint) techniques such as Team Teach, PRICE, CALM etc generally advise on training needs (including retraining needs) in relation to the level of risk in the school. Traditionally this has meant the special schools, which naturally have a higher level of challenging behaviour (CB) than mainstream schools, potentially classify as a higher level of risk. In turn this has attracted advice to the effect that all staff need an initial two days training with a further one day at regular (either annual or bi-annual) intervals.

I believe however, that schools who are on top of CB operate on certain key principles which, when executed well, significantly reduces the risk of physical intervention. That is, such schools (i) have a proactive rather than a reactive policy to CB (ii) regard any physical intervention as a ‘failure’ and therefore a cause for concern (iii) do not use static holds such as holding to chairs or wrapping holds for smaller children, and will NEVER take any children or young people to the floor. Let’s look at these in turn.

(i) Operating a proactive rather than a reactive policy implies that the school will seek to resolve serious and habitual behaviours before they happen rather than afterwards. This involves not waiting for the behaviour to occur but listening to the behaviours, and crucially ACTING on such communications, because these behaviours are telling us something, usually involving ‘I don’t want to do this or to be here’ and/or ‘I need attention’. This is I accept, a fairly simplistic interpretation, and if you want more depth I have put a reading list at the bottom of this post. The principle is however, sound. If we merely follow the physical intervention training, whoever it is from, we are in real danger of waiting for the behaviour to happen in order to distract or defuse or guide away or hold, because naturally, that’s what the training is about.

(ii) Regarding any physical intervention as a ‘failure’ naturally springs from the proactive policy. If schools are regularly holding and/or restraining, and particularly if they are regularly holding and/or restraining specific (named) children/young people, their proactive policy is clearly not working. Holding and/or restraining is not good for anyone, the child, the staff, the parents, society at large. Two recent BBC programmes (one on the radio, one on TV) highlighted the potentially catastrophic and illegal consequences of regular restraint. Of course things will occasionally go wrong, and schools therefore need training in guiding children to a safe place, but even this must not become the norm, and if it is, this must be a serious cause for concern.
(iii) Not using static holds, forces schools to think inventively about enabling learners to take control of their own behaviour. That is, static holds are about overpowering, forcing children to be still, and give the message that if you can’t control your own behaviour, I will control it for you. This is however, an extraordinarily negative message. We should be teaching learners to take responsibility for their own behaviour, and they’ll never be able to do that when they’re pinned to a chair or to the floor. Using guiding holds such as a two person single elbow, or a single person double elbow or (as the least intrusive) a caring C guide above the elbow (these are all Team Teach names, but I believe that other organisations use similar holds) enables staff to guide the learner to a safe space where they can come down in their own time. I fully accept that such a policy needs careful planning and thought and of course space, but if the proactive policy – listening to the behaviours and acting on the learners’ communications – are done well, there will be no need for static holds and a considerably reduced need for guiding holds.

The point about this is that the rejection of static holds significantly reduces the need for two day initial training and one day follow up training and schools do perhaps need to be much more insistent about devising a policy that suits them. I would suggest that the initial training should revolve around simple ‘escapes’, safe spaces, and the guiding holds noted above, which would take one day at the most. I personally would be much more concerned with ensuring that all staff have understood and agreed on a proactive policy, because that will ensure that reactive strategies, such as escapes and guiding holds are kept to an absolute minimum. I am certainly not accusing physical handling training organisations of operating a cash cow, but there is not a legal minimum standards training requirement, and these organisations have a moral responsibility to try and keep schools’ costs to a minimum by advising them on ‘appropriate’ levels of training. BILD (the British Institute of Learning Disabilities) currently accredits some 40 physical intervention training organisations, but there is no legal sanction to this and it is not an Ofsted or DfE requirement that organisations who train schools are on this list. It should be noted for example that Team Teach, one of the biggest organisations currently working in special schools, are no longer on BILD’s list.

Finally, and crucially, the rejection of static holds also leads to a realignment of risk. If schools are only using guiding holds to enable learners to get to a safe space as quickly as possible, the ‘risk’ factor, that is, the risk of using invasive and potentially dangerous restrictive holds, becomes significantly reduced. Special schools who regard challenging behaviour as normal (Hewett, 1998) are usually much less likely to make a crisis out of an everyday event, and are actually, probably significantly better at the whole issue of working with CB than the traditionally low risk mainstream school. This low risk assessment also has a knock on effect on retraining, so that schools might think of an additional hour or so after school just to ensure that that standard guiding holds noted above are understood and remembered. This training can of course, be done by the school’s own trainers.

In conclusion therefore, I would suggest that special schools invest much more time in ensuring a proactive behaviour philosophy, and much less time on learning holds and strategies they probably shouldn’t be using in the first place. This would make for a considerably reduced training and re-training obligation, save time and money, and lead schools towards a safer, more positive practice which is better for learners, staff, parents/carers and society in general.

Peter Imray
peter.imray@hotmail.co.uk

Reference
Hewett D (1998b). Challenging Behaviour is Normal in P Lacey and C Ouvry (eds) People with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. London. David Fulton.

Reading List

Amid the plethora of books on challenging behaviour there are (still!) very few books relating to CB and PMLD/SLD. In which case the old ones are probably the best if you can get hold of them, namely

Harris J, Cook M and Upton G (1996). Pupils with Severe Learning Disabilities who present Challenging Behaviour. Kidderminster. BILD.

Harris J, Hewett D and Hogg J (2001). Positive Approaches to Challenging Behaviour. Kidderminster. BILD.

For more up to date thoughts I would advise looking at

Imray P (2017) (2nd ed) Turning the Tables on Challenging Behaviour. London. Routledge.

Imray P and Hewett D (2015) Challenging Behaviour and the curriculum in P Lacey, R Ashdown, P Jones, H Lawson and M Pipe (eds) The Routledge Companion to Severe, Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. London. Routledge.

And finally, still the best book on ASD and SLD
Jordan R (2001). Autism with Severe Learning Difficulties. London. Souvenir Press.


by Peter Imray on 29th March 2017

SMART targets are not the best way to set learning intentions for either SLD or PMLD, and may indeed be the worst way. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • they make motivational teaching problematic and therefore take away the necessary condition of target ownership
  • they can appear to offer clarity of purpose but actually limit opportunities to learn
  • they tend to rule out a constant learning approach by narrowly focussing achievement
  • they can be over-reliant on shallow, rote learned facts and skills

A google search reveals that SMART targets seem to have been first devised by George Doran, an American businessman, in the early 1980’s. What is also interesting is that the acronym has changed over the years with a number of versions being on offer. I have long been confused by Achievable and Realistic since I can’t see how they differ from each other. Haughey (2014) for example prefers Agreed Upon, whilst the original from Doran (1981) offered Assignable. Both ‘A’s directly infer something fundamental to the origins of SMART targets but which are missing in later educational versions, that is, the centrality of ownership. For Haughey, the ownership of the target and the motivation to succeed at the target are key to the achievement of that target, and of course this must be so. If someone is not motivated, why would they expend time and energy on achievement? The first fundamental principles of any mnemonic must be that it makes sense and I would therefore suggest that whatever the A and R might stand for, they must, if they are to remain true to the original sense of the mnemonic, effectively mean ownership and motivation. They CANNOT remain as Achievable AND Realistic, because neither of these is directly related to motivation.
As it appears however, that the educational version of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) is not entirely true to the original, this creates even more additional problems when related to those with SLD and PMLD. Taking Penny Lacey’s 2010 questioning of SMART targets as a starting point, she refers back to the principles of ‘assessment for learning’ by looking at the educational purpose of assessment. This may in turn she argues, be derived from Black et al’s (2003) seminal work on the subject.
(Black et al’s) assessment for learning is concerned with how assessment can inform teaching and learning: how evidence from learning is used to plan what comes next. Learners’ voices are at the heart of assessment for learning as they decide what they are going to learn and how they are going to learn it. (Lacey, 2010, 17, my empahasis).
This again comes back to ownership and my overarching concern that learners with PMLD and SLD will, by the very nature of their learning difficulties, have targets thrust upon them. More on this later.

Ensuring the target has been achieved
The logic behind SMART is that un SMART, fuzzy, or perhaps SCRUFFY targets make it difficult to ascertain whether the target has been successfully achieved. This does however, very much depend on the specificity of the target and the degree of achievement. It is possible to have a loose learning intention and a varying degree of achievement, as for example, when achievement is (i) less than expected (ii) expected (iii) more than expected on a scale of three; or when achievement is (i) a lot less than expected (ii) less than expected (iii) expected (iv) more than expected (v) a lot more than expected on a scale of five. SLD and PMLD teaching and assessment has a long history of using similar gradations, as in the achievement of a target never, occasionally, frequently or consistently.
This point is strengthened when one considers that it might be overly and in the end, self-defeatingly simplistic to be so black and white in the assessment of achievement. A SMART target is achieved or it is not achieved, there is no room for dubiety; but I wonder if life is like that for anyone. I start my day with a list of 10 things to do; is my day a failure if I only achieve 7 on this list. Probably not, in fact this could be considered a considerable success. What about achieving 4, is that a success or a failure? Well it could be either, especially if I’ve actually achieved a couple of somethings that were not on my list at the start of the day but still needed doing. This is the great advantage of NOT having a black and white, all or nothing approach, since we are not closing ourselves off to accidental or additional learning, or indeed gradations of achievement. This might be considered to be a constant learning approach which constantly looks for learning opportunities, irrespective of what has been planned. Simply because an achievement has not been forecast does not mean that the achievement is not worthwhile.

Motivation must be a key to learning
Further, within the SMART concept, both Specific and Time Bound present real difficulties especially when the targets are being chosen for the learner, as will be inevitable with learners with very complex needs and severe/profound communication difficulties.
GAS (Goal Attainment Schedule) as defined by Turner-Stokes (2016) and used by a few special schools to determine ‘good’ progress, derives from the NHS and specifically appears in relation to rehabilitation. This means that the SMART target agreed on with the patient has to have the patient’s clear approval, otherwise s/he won’t co-operate in its attainment. Medical staff may push the patient further than the patient believes s/he can go, but the patient must believe that some progress is both desirable and achievable. That is, the individual must be able to perceive the big picture to be able to work out that the pain, discomfort and effort is worthwhile. If a pupil with PMLD or SLD cannot see that big picture (because they have PMLD or SLD!) encouraging them to ignore, overcome, look beyond the pain/discomfort/effort becomes incredibly difficult and entirely reliant on short term rewards. This will do nothing for generalisation because the isolated activity is actively divorced from the big picture.

Limiting opportunities to learn
GAS works as a measure of ‘good’ because it factors in (i) the desirability of the achievement and (ii) the difficulty of the achievement and multiplies these (in a very complicated mathematical formula) by the rate of progress in scale of 3 or 5 noted above.
Unfortunately, in the world of SLD/PMLD education, staff may well be pushing learners to achieve a specific something that they have no interest in achieving, or may not be able to achieve when they want to achieve it. Let us take for example, a broad (and very un SMART) learning intention ‘to encourage William towards independent movement’ arrived at through multi-disciplinary discussions which included William’s family. To smarten this loose learning intention up, we can use our knowledge that William (who is working consistently and over time at around P6) loves the sensory room and enjoys following the sensory trails that the school uses to enable independent movement throughout the school. A SMART target can then be devised, to the effect that ‘William will follow a tactile track and stop at the sensory room object five times a week’. This assumes his continued desire to travel to the sensory room, but has all sorts of automatic limitations built in. How often is the sensory room free? Is there staffing available to escort him when he can go? What will be the point of travelling to the sensory room if he can’t spend time in there? Will he have the energy and the desire to go when the sensory room is available? Does this mean that he is only working on his movement target 5 times a week, and if so why? If we make this 15 times a week, won’t this just increase the complications of sensory room and supporting staff availability?
Such specifics may well have the effect of restricting Wlliam’s opportunities to learn because it makes the generalisation of any specific skill learned, particularly difficult. When the purpose of the goal is to encourage him towards independent movement, narrowing this into one particular movement in one particular place at one particular time (when the sensory room is free) doesn’t make sense. If we have the freedom to explore the opportunities for a much looser learning intention, we may find 55 (rather than 5 or 15) weekly opportunities for extending his learning through a SCRUFFY (Student-led, Creative, Relevant, Unspecified, Fun, For, Youngsters) approach. In the interests of engaging with SMART targets we may well have to narrow the learning not broaden it. And it is difficult to see what benefits there are to this. Penny Lacey’s warning of the dangers of narrowing broad aims into SMART targets (Lacey, 2010) should not automatically be put to one side on the basis of her whimsy, though there is undoubtedly an element of tongue in cheek about the word. SCRUFFY targets allow staff and learners to explore LOTS of different avenues to achieve the same desired goal, and because there will not be a single road to travel, as in a SMART target, learners are able to exercise far more control in the direction and pace the of learning as well as maintaining their motivation and experience generalising opportunities to learn.

The dominance of shallow, rote learned skills
‘Sometimes, when assessing children’s calculation skills, rote learning can mask underlying procedural or conceptual difficulties. A child may know that ‘3+2 is 5’, in the same way as they know their sister’s name is Phoebe. However, it should not be assumed that the child understands how to add up, or what is meant by the word ‘add’. Assessment should therefore consider children’s understanding of procedures and principles as well as the ability to recall number facts.’ (Gillum, 2014; p279/80 author’s emphasis).
We need to continue to be aware of valuing only that which can be easily measured, since this this is likely to lead to compartmentalisation of learning, followed by compartmentalisation of achievement. Little thought or consideration is given to contextualised, deep and meaningful learning that makes sense to the learner and which the learner can actually use. Shallow learning – the rote remembering of unrelated or isolated facts or skills – is given high priority because assessment of progress is considered the most important part of teaching. One of the most significant pronouncements of the Rochford Review (2016) was to recognise that an over-reliance on assessment leads to teaching to the next step schemas which then drive the curriculum. Such schemas make much of rote learned ‘abilities’ which may in fact, not be abilities at all because understanding is so often absent.

In conclusion, SMART targets for pupils and students with either profound or severe learning difficulties may well be stupid, because they can form a barrier to both learning and achievement by being overly prescriptive. The SMART target approach is unfortunately, yet another example of theories applicable to neuro-typical, conventionally developing learning that are universally applied without thought. They are I would suggest, neither helpful nor smart.

Peter Imray, March 2017.

References

Black P, Harrison C, Lee C, Marshall B and William D (2003). Assessment for Learning: putting it into practice. Maidenhead. Open University Press.

Doran G T (1981) There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives. Management Review: 70 (11) 35-36.

Gillum J (2014) Assessment with children who experience difficulty in mathematics. Support for Learning. 29 (3) 275-291

Haughey D (2014) A Brief History of Smart Goals. Available at https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/brief-history-of-smart-goals.php Accessed 12th February 2017

Lacey P (2010) Smart and Scruffy Targets. The SLD Experience. 57: 16-21.

Rochford Review(2016) Final Report www.gov.uk/government/publications/rochford-review-final-report

Turner-Stokes L (2016) Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS) in Rehabilitation: A practical guide. London. Kings College.

Available at https://www.kcl.ac.uk/lsm/research/divisions/cicelysaunders/attachments/Tools-GAS-Practical-Guide.pdf

 


People may wish to read a very recent SLD forum post, which is in italics, and my response, which is not, both below. I am becoming increasingly interested in this issue of non-engagement in the formal education system. The traditional response seems to be an automatic rejection of the learner’s point of view by the education system as it stands, and I wonder whether we ought to be seriously reviewing this approach. It would not be difficult to imagine this young man in five years time as now having a label of ‘mental health’ problems as seemingly do all of the children who express what used to be called Social Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD) and is now called Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs (SEMH) in the UK at least. I find it VERY disturbing that overt rejection of the norm is now automatically described as madness!

We have a student with a diagnosis of ASD and Tourette’s.  He is working at about L2/3 NC level (old money) – he is 13 ½ .

The Tourette’s developed in the last couple of years.  He has always been very distractible but this is increasing to the extent that he can only focus for a few seconds at a time.  For example he often can’t get through a whole sentence without losing focus and retreating into his mind.   He can attend for long periods of time on favoured activities (talking about video games, drawing).  These favoured activities may be interrupted by tics and some noises but only for a few seconds.

He has tics and some noises associated with the Tourette’s but he is also almost permanently playing out a fantasy video game in his head that has accompanying noises and hand movements.  He describes this as dreaming the game and sometimes he enjoys this and may laugh to himself and sometimes, when asked to focus, he might say, with a little distress, ‘but I just can’t stop the dreams’.

He is also developing what might be OCD type behaviours (tapping books on table several times, touching hand rail in a particular way) and whilst I am on my steep OCD learning curve I wonder if there are any strategies to inhibit the development of OCD?

We are struggling to unpick what is an ASD type internal world/special interest, what is Tourette’s and what is OCD.   We are waiting for a follow up on the Tourette’s diagnosis.

We use visual timetables and a work schedule, motivators, time out, breaks, social stories and other visuals to try to alert him to his lack of focus and ‘game playing’ but as we aren’t entirely sure what is internal world stuff and what is Tourette’s I am worried we may do more harm than good.  We have also tried to work with his parents to change the amount of time he spends on computer games at home.

Has anyone got any ideas about how we can unpick what is causing his huge difficulty and any strategies to help this boy spend enough time in the real world to learn.

Thanks

J.

 

 

Hi J

This is very interesting and is perhaps a typical example of the wave of very complex learners that all schools (and especially all special schools) have been increasingly involved with over the last 10 years or so. These are the learners that Barry Carpenter calls ‘new generation’ and who are ‘pedagogically bereft’ (Carpenter et al, 2016; Carpenter, 2011), that is, disengaged with and from the education system. It is not that your young man cannot concentrate and attend, he can clearly do that very well indeed, it’s that he does not wish and sees no purpose to concentrating and attending to stuff that for him is boring and meaningless. The problem is, he has a point! Unfortunately the UK education system is set up to condition people to be like ourselves; the subjects are the ones we worked on, the school/class/learning structure is the one known and familiar to us, the outcomes are the ones we want for ourselves, which might loosely be described as ‘helping this boy spend enough time in the real world to learn’. But to learn what, and what for? Clearly, whatever the ‘real world’ is to him does not involve him doing the stuff that you want him to do. So he disengages by slipping into his own world and daydreaming, and the older he gets the more powerful this tactic becomes. Perhaps we should count our blessings as at least he is not displaying extremes of challenging behaviour, as so many others do.

It might however help if we looked at his area of special interest in a different way, that is from his perspective. Were for example his obsessional behaviours directed to a cause that you and the school could perceive as being ‘useful’, matters might be different. I would imagine that Mozart’s, Turner’s and Einstein’s ‘education’ involved very little other than music, art and maths respectively otherwise they would not have become the geniuses that they were. They were allowed to do this because their educators could see these ‘obsessions’ as being central to their lives. They didn’t want their charges to have an education like everyone else and be like everyone else. Our education system demands that we try and make children think like us, learn like us, be like us, have our ambitions and dreams, live in our real world. That is fine for most, but clearly not for all.

It sounds to me that you are doing all the right things in your attempts to steer him out of his preferences and towards a more rounded education with your emphasis on ‘visual timetables and a work schedule, motivators, time out, breaks, social stories and other visuals’. But it will require his co-operation, and it seems that he is not willing to give it!

Student voice must be listened to if education is not just going to be about educating those who are willing to comply. This means listening to behaviours and acting upon what these behaviours are telling us, not merely insisting that everyone does the same. We must give children and young people a reason to belong, and whilst it may be ideal that this happens in the same classroom, in the same school and studying the same curriculum, the evidence tells us that this is not possible, however much we might like it to be so. Sadly, there is a now real question to be asked within our current education system; would we now allow Mozart and Turner and Einstein to focus on their areas of special interest so that they could become the best that they could be and do the best that they could do? Probably not!

All the best

Peter Imray

 

References

Carpenter B (2011) Pedagogically Bereft!: improving learning outcomes for children with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. British Journal of Special Education. 38 (1) 38-43.

Carpenter B, Carpenter J, Egerton J and Cockbill B (2106) The Engagement for Learning Framework: connecting with learning and evidencing progress for children with autism spectrum conditions. Advances in Autism. 2 (1); 12-23.


by EQUALS on JANUARY 24, 2017

Hi All
I’ve been working on a post-Rochford Basket of Assessment Approach (after Swiss Cottage School, 2014) and I thought some people may be interested. This is my updated version.

Some explanatory points.
(i). Despite having looked at lots of different alternatives I’m still of the view that MAPP (for SLD) and Routes (or Quest) for Learning for PMLD are the most convincing. I understand Mike Sissons is re-writing MAPP, but in any event I’d be surprised if he radically changed the Continuum of Skill Development (CSD) that is the heart beat of MAPP or the principle of spread sheet recording which makes quantitative measurements SO much easier. It is perfectly possible to put any learning intention, including any derived from RfL, into the MAPP spreadsheet and this means that both MAPP and RfL are ideal for both qualitative and quantitative data. There seems little doubt however, that schools’ use of both MAPP and RfL must be completely wholehearted. It is not possible to pick these off the shelf at the end of every year (or even term) and expect them to work effectively. All school staff need to be really comfortable with how they work and that takes time and commitment.

(ii)  There is no denying that SCERTS is very good, giving lots of detailed and cross-disciplinary information, but it is also very complex and very time consuming. It is the old adage of the more you put in the more you get out; however, I am not convinced that the additional information gained from the SCERTS process is worth the extra effort, time and complexity involved. This is especially so with a Basket of Assessments Approach because this very process views the assessment through a number of different angles and perspectives anyway.

(iii)  There seems no reason to stop using the P scales as a broad academic assessment, even though Rochford suggests we will no longer have to use them as a statutory assessment tool. The P scales have always provided a common language and an essential part of both SLD and PMLD definitions and a simple yearly single P scale assessment gives invaluable information. The point with this is however, not to spend a huge amount of time on assessing the yearly P scale attainment, since the detailed information will be obtained from other sources such as MAPP and RfL. This means that more intense P scale measurements like Pivats are largely pointless since you will want (and need) to know that a learner is still on P4 or now on P7, though believing that a learner is P4 (iii) or P7 (ii) brings very little extra to the table. I do not believe that there are any circumstances where the use of B Squared can be justified.

(iv)  The middle sections are directly related to Rochford and depend on whether pupils are engaged with ‘subject specific learning’ (SSL) or not. I take this to be National Curriculum (NC) subjects, particularly Maths and English, and is a recognition that SSL may not be the optimal model for all children. Again, this is a judgement call, but for me it is MUCH more difficult to build a case for any NC subject, including English and Mathematics (and by reference Literacy and Numeracy) for those with SLD and PMLD since it is a defining characteristic that all those with SLD and PMLD will be working consistently and over time at levels below (and usually well below) the subject’s starting point (DfE, 2012; Imray and Colley, in print). Having the start of a curriculum model as the summit of ambition cannot be a healthy state of affairs for either pedagogy or curriculum and might indeed, constitute a startling lack of ambition for all learners on the PMLD and SLD spectrums!

(vi)  The IPKeS Standards OR the Engagement Scales are Rochford requirements but only up to KS2. It is interesting to note that Rochford is entirely silent on KS3, 4 and 5. I cannot believe that KS3 will continue to be subject to the P scales and can therefore only assume that Rochford takes the (unspoken) view that if pupils haven’t got the 3R’s by the time they’re 11, they’re probably not going to get them. This seems to me to be an eminently sensible position.

(vii)  Rochford is very clear that a wide variety of evidence is going to be increasingly important, and one must assume that this should include qualitative evidence.

Rather than following the letter of the P scales, it is much more important that knowledge, concepts and skills are acquired in a range of contexts and situations, according to a varied and stimulating curriculum. Assessment should be similarly varied to evaluate pupils’ attainment and progress in different ways according to their age, interests and needs. (Rochford Review, 2016, p14)

We need therefore to make sure that any qualitative evidence is as robust as possible and the best way of doing that is through extended longitudinal studies of as many learners as we can, and perhaps even, all learners in the school. The use of digital recording opportunities makes this a much less onerous option than even 10 years ago, especially as teachers are likely to be using such evidence within MAPP and RfL anyway. Kate Davies of the SLD Forum (and of Ash Lea School in Nottingham) speaks highly of Evidence for Learning as a suitable app for collation of qualitative evidence.

(vii)  I have put it in but I remain sceptical of the benefits of KS4 and KS5 accreditation schemes such as offered by ASDAN and others, though many may well be used as schemes of work. I do not see how Ofsted can take seriously any accreditation scheme that only requires continued life to guarantee a pass, and failure is impossible. The work required of staff (rather than students!) is however considerable, and quite possibly an unnecessary distraction since no worthwhile summative or formative information can be forthcoming from the actual accreditation procedure.

(viii)  Given the DfE’s (2015) suggestion that all schools need to follow up on post school outcomes, it seems pertinent to spend some time researching what happens to learners after they leave school. One would assume that this to a degree, should inform curriculum development, since the curriculum should in large part be related to preparing learners for their next stage, whatever that may be.

In relation to external moderation, Rochford are keen that schools form monitoring clusters and it makes sense that schools open themselves up to a ‘critical friend’ approach in order to ensure that any and all data is as objectively reached as possible.

One final issue, still to be resolved: how do schools judge ‘good’ progress? This is a REALLY thorny problem. I can point people to GAS (Goal Attainment Scaling) commonly used to assess levels of rehab in the NHS, and clicking on the link referenced in Turner-Stokes (2016) below gives you a free download of the principles and a handy set of guides on how to use them. GAS works on the basis of quite a complex mathematical formula which factors in both difficulty and relevance of targets, though thankfully, an excel spreadsheet provided makes this easier to assess. Be cautious however, because they’re keen on SMART targets and Penny Lacey’s warning that those with PMLD are ‘poor consumers of SMART targets’ (Lacey, 2009) surely also applies to most with SLD as well.

I am worried that Ofsted’s obsession with defining good progress will lead us into the same sort of cul-de-sacs that the P scales led us and perhaps we need to have another debate around SMART and SCRUFFY targets, but this post is long enough already!

All the best

Peter Imray
peter.imray@hotmail.co.uk

References
DfE (2012) Glossary of special educational needs (SEN) terminology. Accessed 8th February 2016.

DfE (2015) Commission on Assessment without Levels. Final Report Accessed 26th November 2015.

Imray P and Colley A (in print) Inclusion is Dead: Long Live Inclusion. London. Routledge.

Kiresuk T and Sherman R (1968) Goal attainment scaling: a general method of evaluating comprehensive mental health programmes. Community Mental Health Journal. 4: 443-453.

Lacey P. (2009) Developing Thinking and Problem Solving Skills. The SLD Experience. 54: 19-24.

Rochford Review (2016) The Rochford Review: final report. Review of assessment for pupils working below the standard of national curriculum tests. Standards and Testing Agency.

Turner-Stokes L (2016) Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS) in Rehabilitation: A practical guide. London. Kings College.


by Peter Imray on the 1st DECEMBER 2016

I recently posted new definitions of Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) written by Andrew Colley and myself on the SLD Forum, asking for comments and views. I was hoping that I would get some intelligent responses that would enhance the definitions and so it proved. The piece below is a summation of the comments along with the revised definitions of the two groups’ learning characteristics.

There have been a couple of ‘concerns’ over the fraught issue of labelling, that is, the fear that putting a label on a child will merely encourage teachers to teach to that label, to not see beyond the label; that knowing the individual is much more important than knowing about the label; and at the more extreme ‘ableist’ end, that there is no such thing as a child with autism or Down’s or SLD or PMLD, there is only the child. Yes, we understand these concerns, but they are clearly concerns that have no faith in the teaching profession as being thinking, sentient beings. Of course one child with autism or Down’s or SLD or PMLD is not the same as every child with autism or Down’s or SLD or PMLD. Why would they be? It’s like saying that one child with glasses is the same as every child with glasses. Why would they be? I do not know of any good teacher who does not have a clear understanding that all children are different and all children are themselves, individual, unique. BUT, some children share common learning characteristics and it is extraordinarily useful for teachers to know that children with autism are likely to have difficulties with …………… and children with PMLD are likely to have difficulties with ……………To not know this and to not be prepared for this because we don’t like the idea of ‘labels’ seems to me to be both unprofessional and unnecessary. Further, these are defining learning characteristics, they do not define the child, any more than the wearing of glasses defines the child. Good teachers will not be limited by the label; they will see it as a starting point. Inexperienced teachers may initially see it as an end point but will soon learn, as all inexperienced teachers learn, to see the child behind the label. Poor teachers may well however, only see the label. To base a pedagogy on the failings of poor teachers seems to us irresponsible, crass and immensely disrespectful to the vast majority of teachers who understand that to regard someone has having PMLD or SLD does not and never will, define the child. And so we come full circle; if we’re going to have the terms, they might as well be concise and make sense!

As for the definitions themselves, there were several questions over our over egging the ‘multiple’ of Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties, so that it appeared as though the learner had to have multiple physical difficulties. We agree that this is not the case, that is, it is perfectly possible for someone to have a profound learning difficulty without necessarily having attendant and multiple physical difficulties. We have altered the definition accordingly. There was also a question mark over the suggestion that children with PMLD might use formal language. We agree that that this, though possible, is very rare and again, have altered the description. Lastly there were several posts which questioned the use of the P scales as markers of academic ability because the Rochford Review had recommended that they cease as a statutory measure of assessment. However, their cessation as a statutory measure does not mean that we should cease using them as a common language of approximate cognitive developmental levels. The Rochford Review (rightly) accepted that they were not fit for purpose as a comparative measure of attainment, but they were never designed for that in the first place, so this is hardly surprising. There is however, an extremely strong case for continuing to use the P scales as broad markers and to make them more internationally known, simply because they do provide that common language.

Here then are the two definitions re-defined, with the considerable help from the SLD Forum, and considerable thanks from Andrew and me.

Pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) are on a spectrum that indicates that they have profoundly complex learning needs. In addition to profound learning difficulties, pupils are likely, but not axiomatically, to have other significant difficulties such as physical disabilities, sensory impairment and/or severe medical condition(s). Pupils require a high level of adult support, both for their learning needs and also for their personal care. They are likely to need sensory stimulation and will need a curriculum which recognises that all learners will to a greater or lesser degree, have difficulties with object permanence, contingency awareness, declarative communications, making choices, learning by imitation and following instruction. Some pupils communicate by gesture, eye pointing or symbols and a very few by very simple single word language. They will be working academically, consistently, and over time, within P-scale range P1-P3, perhaps reaching some elements of P4, throughout their whole school careers to the age of 19 and beyond. (Imray and Colley, in print)

Pupils with severe learning difficulties (SLD) are on a spectrum which indicates that they have significant intellectual and cognitive impairments and may also have difficulties in mobility and coordination. Pupils may use objects of reference, sign, symbols and/or language to communicate, though all will to a greater or lesser degree have severe communication difficulties, which will affect both expressive and receptive communication skills. Other difficulties will be experienced to a greater or lesser degree in understanding abstract concepts, maintaining concentration and attention, retrieving both short term and long term memory, utilising sequential memory, exercising working memory, processing information, retrieving general knowledge, thinking, problem solving, and generalising previously learned skills. They will be working academically, consistently, and over time, within the P scale range P4-P8 for all of their school careers to the age of 19 and beyond, though some may reach into the opening levels of a neuro-typical academic curriculum such as the UK or Australian National Curriculums or a US Standards Based Curriculum. (Imray and Colley, in print)

(November 2016)

Reference

Imray P and Colley A (in print) Inclusion is Dead: Long Live Inclusion. Oxford. Routledge.


Where are we now?

Policy Paper Summary

This policy paper is based on a whole day seminar which enabled an early review of the new SEN / disability policy and legislation and which was organised by the SEN Policy Research Forum in June 2016.

Impact of the legislation on parental assurance by Brian Lamb (Consultant): Brian concluded that the reforms are in the context of a major squeeze on LA and Health budgets. Limits to the ability to deliver a reasonable level of provision could undermine some clear gains intended by the reforms. Early evidence suggests that while there is more to do to achieve a decisive shift in culture, parent carer forums are having a positive effect on strategic planning through the Local Offer and the Schools Information Report. For new recipients, the EHC Plan process is working for a majority of families in improving confidence and co-production. However, evidence from wider parent carer surveys and the recent acceleration in tribunal cases indicates some doubts about whether the system has secured the confidence of a significant number of families.

Impact of the legislation on school practices and SENCO role by Kate Browning (SENCo trainer): Kate concluded that the reforms for the most part have had a positive impact on the SENCO role and school practices, particularly when school leadership embraces the reform principles, such as collaboration with parents and carers of children and young people with SEN and recognition of the importance of the SENCo role. However, the SEND reforms are affected by shifts in mainstream educational policy and practice that are not aligned with improving SEND outcomes. Individual schools, multi academy trusts and local areas are taking different approaches to the implementation of the reforms which calls for more detailed research.

Impact of legislation from a national perspective by Andre Imich (SEN and Disability Professional Adviser, DFE): Andre concluded that implementation was moving forward positively; the varied evidence indicating that the vision for the new system was starting to be embedded. The examples of success need to be celebrated, but there remain significant roads to travel as the process involves an evolutionary process of change. The volume of transfers from statements to EHC plans, the capacity of local authorities, and difficulties in fully realising joint-agency working continue to challenge the system. Nevertheless, most of those involved in the SEN system believe in the new ways of working, in co-production with families and in embracing collectively the opportunities afforded to achieve improved outcomes and life chances.

Impact of the legislation on local authorities by Chris Harrison (SEND consultant): Chris concluded that reforms had sparked welcome changes by shifting ways of working through engagement with families. Though the reforms are ‘the right thing to do’, their implementation has proved a major challenge with uneven change across LAs. The reforms came at a time of austerity which has led to financial constraints, restructuring and the refocusing of LA attention away from schools. He suggests some simple ways to prevent LAs slipping into a negative cycle.

Peter Imray (November 2016)

The paper is also available for downloading at:

SEN Policy Research Forum – blogs.exeter.ac.uk

 


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