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The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) observes that evaluation and assessment have become an increasingly significant feature of the education sector across the world. It states that the nature and purpose of the assessment varies depending on national traditions, practices, infrastructures, educational policy and political agreements (OECD, 2013, p. 30). In short, assessment has become a priority on the national agenda for many counties, as governments aim to transform the education system with a view to prepare students with the skills necessary to meet changing social demands. Assessment tools used generally evaluate the learning of the students, and can indicate the level of involvement of parents and teachers (OECD, 2013, p. 30).
The success of inclusive education is subject to the teachers’ implementation of assessment standard with adaptation to suit SEND children (Steen & Wilson, 2020). Teachers generally have a positive outlook to an inclusive approach with a few concerns. They perceive that children with SEND, especially with emotional and social difficulties, may negatively impact the studies of other pupils (Morley, et al., 2020). In this regard, in order have a complete perspective on impact of assessment on SEND children, it is necessary to analyse the teachers’ perception of the inclusive policy. Thus, it is necessary to analyse the perception of teacher towards the assessment of children with assessment.
UK legislation (The Educational Act 1996) defines special educational needs as a child that has a learning difficulty that calls for special education provision to be made for them (Section 312(1)). Such special needs may include physical disability, multi-sensory impairment, hearing impairment, visual impairment, Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, speech, language and communication needs, profound and multiple learning difficulties, severe or moderate learning difficulties, or a specific and other different difficulty (Cumming, 2012, p. 33).
Considering the need to adopt an inclusive approach to consider factors related to children with SEND, Smith and colleagues (2020) state that standard educational assessments are being used that are not specifically designed for or adapted to the needs of children with SEND. This renders recording any progress made by them at school problematic (Smith, et al., 2020). They further state that even the introduction of the Pre-National Curriculum Performance Levels, or P-levels to assess children with SEND did not serve the desired purpose as they were deficient in addressing the complex difficulties associated with children with SEND (Smith, et al., 2020). A 2021 research conducted by Education Policy Institute found that the situation has not improved (Hutchinson, 2021). Schools determine which children will access SEND support based on a lottery system. The schools explain the identification processes. This causes inconsistencies in identification. Moreover, the schools and the local authorities have different focus areas in assessment. Schools focus on communication, language and literacy whereas the local authorities focus on social, personal and emotional development (Hutchinson, 2021).
There are two sides to the subject matter of this research. On one hand, there are government policy measures that recognise the needs of SEND children with the Educational Act 1996 defining what constitutes special education needs to possibly better inform policy decision making. On the other hand, there seems to be a greater focus on assessment being formed a main agenda of the government focused on outcome of skill-set necessary to meet changing social demands. Out of the interaction of these two aspects, the inclusive education approach may not be desirable for children with SEND where standard educational assessments may not consider the diverse needs of SEND children.
This research will critically discuss the impact of the academic assessment on children with special educational needs and/or disability (SEND).
This research will critically discuss the existing literature concerning the impact of assessment on children with special needs and/or disability. In order to explore this subject, it is necessary to capture the perception of the teachers and other educators, the parents and guardians of the children, the children themselves.
The OECD states that traditionally, assessment is focused on students (OECD, 2013). However, there has been a prominent development whereby performance data, depicting student outcomes, is used to inform school and classroom practices and policies (OECD, 2013). It is also used by students to help them reflect on and monitor their own progress. Thus, academic assessment is focussed on student outcomes with accountability placed on school agents and the educational standards maintained (OECD, 2013).
In regard to the national curriculum assessment, it is recommended that the assessment task can focus more on generating information that could help teachers regarding learning and development of students rather than accountability and (Davis, 2015). Legislative enactments, such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 also support this aspect whether they provide for removing discrimination and disadvantage against students with disability. While it has been observed that there is an inclusive approach in assessments and generally in the education system, it is also observed that the assessment is particularly to determine whether a child must be placed in a special needs programme or a special school (Lebeer, et al., 2012).
This chapter will explore the existing policy framework and practices regarding the assessment and learning and development in schools. While doing this, this chapter will explore the skillsets requirements to assess children. It will explore whether or not there is differential treatment of assessment framework, particularly any specific guidelines for assessing children with SEND. This chapter will review recent government’s consultation responses and literature to determine an inclusive approach is feasible in regard to SEND children or whether the assessment in mainstream education is appropriate for children with SEND.
In the UK, the assessment and reporting arrangements of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) (the statutory framework for Early Years education in England) are provided by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) (Standards & Testing Agency, 2020). The EYFS is claimed to be an inclusive assessment covering a wide range of children’s learning and development outcomes (Standards & Testing Agency, 2020). However, the STA also indicates that observation and assessment may be challenging when the outcome does not provide the full picture of a child’s learning and development (Standards & Testing Agency, 2020). There may be an inability on the part of the STA practitioners to conduct the assessment, which results to a deficient value communication with the students.
In addition to the gap between the assessment outcome and a child’s actual development ‘on the ground’, there seems to be differential treatment of assessment in certain sections of the educational institutional framework. For example, the STA provides for the national curriculum assessment and reporting for children in Key Stage 1 (KS1) for the 2020/21 academic year. However, it exempts pupils that are electively home schooled from participating in this assessment, unless these pupils are registered at a maintained school, academy or a participating independent school (The Standards & Testing Agency, 2020). Even the non-maintained special schools may exempt themselves from the assessments. If they do, they are required to follow the arrangements in this assessment and reporting arrangements provided by this assessment guidelines (The Standards & Testing Agency, 2020). Thus, in general, there are no specific guidelines for assessing children with SEND. If they are to be assessed, they are to be assessed according to the standard assessment and reporting arrangements applicable.
Davis (2015) observed that educational assessment must have a constructive purpose, particularly holding the school and the teachers within it to account on their teaching quality. Tests are thus being used to assess the quality of the education system. The education system has arguably therefore been dominated by high-stakes assessments, with tests seen as determining the quality and effectiveness of the school (Davis, 2015). Davis states that while high performance in assessments is crucial in schools, for teachers, students and the public at large, teachers intend that assessments should be for learning and not for accountability. Learning drives the teachers to understand their students more, including their motivation, difficulties, aptitude and interest levels. Hence, tests as a part of this process often include some form of informal observation of student responses and interactions in the classroom. Stobart (2001) reviewed the validity of the National Curriculum assessment found that the assessment task cannot focus on both accountability and in generating information to help teachers the support learning and development of students. Yet Davis (2015) observed that the UK government shows a reluctance to, and little sign of, reducing the assessment stakes. The problem is that the UK government is more focused on short-term gains (high-stakes tests) to reflect visible successes in the education system to voters (Davis, 2015).
The inclusiveness of assessments and the education system in general is not forthcoming when it comes to children with SEND. For example, Lebeer and colleagues (2012) reassessed the assessment practices regarding children with SEND in Europe through their project, ‘DAFFODIL’ (Dynamic Assessment of Functioning and Oriented at Development and Inclusive Learning), covering whether or not the functional and learning assessment systems facilitate or inhibit participation of children with SEND in inclusive education. The participants were medical, psychological and educational professionals, as well as parents of children with SEND, in Hungary, Sweden, Portugal, Belgium, Norway, Romania and the Virgin Islands (Lebeer, et al., 2012). The report showed that in the majority of the cases, static standardised psychometric tests covering intellectual, behavioural and language functioning were used. Around 5% of the professionals used formative assessment and contextual observation covering learning or developmental potential. The report found that the experts were generally dissatisfied with the assessment practices, which lacked time, human resources, materials, follow-up and cooperation (Lebeer, et al., 2012). The study moreover found that assessment practices were predominantly applied to determine whether a child must be placed in a special needs programme or a special school. The parents also only showed satisfaction with the assessment procedure when the purpose of the assessment was to obtain disability benefits. The report showed a paucity in recommendations governing how to work with children with SEND (Lebeer, et al., 2012). This indicates that the practice of assessment in many European countries was not focussed on learning and development (although this study may be outdated now). Only quality-oriented assessment methods can address these issues, placing central importance on obtaining a better understanding of a child’s specific needs.
The UK government started taking reformatory measures around the mid 1980s to address the issues surrounding the education of students with special needs. For example, it enacted the Education Reform Act 1988 that declared mainstream schools must enrol and provide a curriculum suited to students with special education needs (Section 18). This led to the adaptation of the national curriculum to accommodate the needs of such students (Lawson, et al., 2001). The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protected against discrimination on the basis of disability in regard to admission to a school and to prevent substantial disadvantage being impose on students with disability (Section 28A and 28C). The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 was developed to assist local authorities to develop strategic plans to give pupils with SEND maximum access to the school curriculum (Section 14). The inclusive or integrated education approach is found in the Education Reform Act 1988, which gives the Secretary of State the power to set attainment targets and assessment arrangements. This Act thus requires the national curriculum to have an inclusive approach with the aim of giving all students equal opportunities for learning, including students with SEND (Cumming, 2012). However, the provisions are general in nature. The Reform Act, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act or the Education (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators) (England) Regulations 2008 do not cover access to national assessments, particularly the external standardised Key Stage 2 tests in English and Maths. Children with SEND are not expected to participate in such examinations as they are considered below the level required or unable to access the tests (Cumming, 2012).
In regard to the UK situation, the 2017 government consultation response showed the areas of improvement in the assessment system. The government acknowledge the crucial role that the format and uses of assessment occupies regarding the success of assessment. It called for a single supplier of assessment rather than multiple suppliers, with key stakeholders involved in the assessment (The Department of Education, 2017). The fact that it called for a high-quality baseline and necessary training for schools with reliably assessable skills and attainment in English and maths shows the focussed areas of improvement. The 2017 consultation response called for the pupils’ regular teacher or teaching assistant to conduct the assessment, which means that children and teachers may feel more stress and burden while undergoing the assessment. It also called for an inclusive level of assessment considering children with SEND (The Department of Education, 2017).
The assessment methods used within mainstream education may not always be applied to children with SEND. In that regard, Smith and colleagues recommend that schools should come up with their individual assessment standards and the curriculum should be reorganised (Smith, et al., 2020). There is a lack of a national assessment tool to address issues associated with assessing children with SEND (Smith, et al., 2020). Further, schools are left with no statutory guidelines or framework to develop the assessment standards, which can mean the assessments lack the theoretical grounds required to validate them (Smith, et al., 2020). This also opens the school to challenges regarding the assessment of new students from different schools when joining a school. That the P-levels were abandoned, and schools have been left to devise specific assessments for students with SEND without guidance, indicates the differential treatment towards Children with SEND (Smith, et al., 2020).
The government has clearly recognised the need to provide educational reforms addressing the education issues surrounding children with SEND. For example, the 2011 Green Paper, Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability, outlined various proposals and reforms, which became Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 (House of Commons Education Committee, 2019). There was also the development of the SEND Regulations 2014 and the SEND Code of Practice. These laws provide guidance and support for schools to provide an inclusive system governing the special needs of children and young adults with SEND. For example, the SEND Code of Practice is statutory guidance, as Section 77 of the 2014 Act provides for the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice, which sets out how the local authorities, schools and the health sector must support children with SEND (House of Commons Education Committee, 2019). Yet it is critical to ascertain how stakeholders (teachers, schools, parents, and children/young adults with SEND) perceive the statutory changes made in the last decade.
The differential treatment of students with SEND when it comes to assessment in schools is echoed by the perceptions that parents of such students hold regarding the mainstream education system. The New Labour government in 2009 commissioned a review regarding home education with specific reference to children with SEND. This review, known as the Badman report, was to assess the merits of home education in England (Kendall & Taylor, 2016). The report particularly focussed on a review of elective home education for students with SEND. The report stated that the parents of children with SEND often perceived that mainstream schools did not adequately meet the needs of their child(ren), leading to difficulties, anxiety and misunderstanding (Badman, 2009). By default, the education system allowed these parents to withdraw their children from school and home school them (Badman, 2009). The report also pointed out that the desire to home school children with SEND arises from a range of factors, including: the lack of appropriately resourced units in mainstream schools; the lack of provision for children with SEND; a breakdown of the parent-school relationship; and the withdrawal in the interest of the mental and physical health of these children (Badman, 2009). Considering these factors, the option given to the parents to withdraw their children does not seem to be out of choice. It could, therefore, be stated that the parents, by default due to compulsion arising out of the factors, withdraw their children.
The Badman report recommended building constructive relationships between parents and school staff, and better training for local authority staff, to assist them in supporting and monitoring students with SEND (Badman, 2009). The OECD also supports this recommendation. It states the support for inclusion of parents in the learning programme started in the 1970s and 1980s (OECD, 2020). During that period, people with disabilities have been empowered and parents with children who have disabilities also argued for their children rights. The inclusion of parents is found in the UK’s nation-wide Early Support programme that promotes co-operation with parents in the early education of students. It aims to make families of SEND children active in decision-making concerning the educational development of the students. Similarly, the programmes, ‘Aiming High for Disabled Children’ also aims include parents and guardians in similar fashion (OECD, 2020).
Kendall and Taylor (2016) drew data from the Badman report and found that school staff lacked understanding regarding the issues of children with SEND, particularly regarding ASD, and failed to engage the parents. Along with these problems, the school setting and the staff did not understand the impact of the school environment upon the children (Kendall & Taylor, 2016). The situation does not seem to have change. The findings of the 2021 research report by Education Policy Institute is the evidence. Its recommendation includes specialised training, increased access to education psychologists, and developing framework in consultation with parent groups among other (Hutchinson, 2021).
The instances mentioned here demonstrate that there may be differing perceptions of the teachers, the school staff and the parents of children with SEND regarding the particular needs of such children. Given the potential gap in the way that parents of children with SEND perceive the adequacy of mainstream education, and the efforts of the school systems to address issues relating to the needs of children with SEND, the question arises as to the format and impact of the educational assessment of children with SEND, and whether it is able to meet their specific needs.
Morley and his colleagues in 2020 conducted a study to assess physical education (PE) teachers’ perceptions of including SEND pupils. They sampled a total of 31 teachers from 28 state secondary schools located across three cities in the North of England. The sampled group comprised experience ranging from the least experience male and female teachers to male and female teachers with three-seven years of experience and to most experienced male and female teachers. They found that the teachers favoured including SEND pupils in mainstream schools. While the teachers states that they should include SEND pupils in the PE programmes, they also mentioned that certain challenges when pupils have significant impairments. Morley and colleagues found that the concern is that including SEND pupils might have a negative impact on the learning and development of other pupils. However, some of the teachers also state that including SEND pupils can improve other pupils’ attitudes towards inclusive education that will help them develop social and emotional skill (Morley, et al., 2020).
The main concern seems to be associated with SEND pupils who have experienced social and emotional difficulties (Morley, et al., 2020). Teachers found them to be the most difficult to include due to their disruptive behaviours. Hence, some of the teacher raised the issue regarding the appropriateness of mainstream schools when it comes to pupils with more complex learning needs. However, some of the teachers found pupils with physical disabilities the easiest to include in the learning programme and plan their lessons as per their needs (Morley, et al., 2020). There may be a certain level of adjustments that the teachers might make in order to effectively include SEND pupils in learning and development. Steen and Wilson (2020) found that the teachers’ attitudes are influenced by an interplay of demographical and cultural factors. They examined 64 samples of classroom teacher and found that the willingness to make adaptation is subject to the teachers’ attitudes. Thus, the success of inclusive education is subject to the teachers’ implementation of certain adaptation concerning SEND children. Teachers generally hold a positive attitude toward such inclusion (Steen & Wilson, 2020).
Hayward (2013) observed that assessment plays a major role in identifying but also labelling children and young people in the area of special needs education. Different kinds of tests are prevalent, such as standardised tests, national tests, locally devised tests, professional judgments and behavioural inventories. However, they each have inherent difficulties as are presented by Ainscow and colleagues (2006), who observed that these tests have categorisation processes, practices, and language, all of which act as barriers against the development of a broader view of inclusion. Their view is supported by Ballard (2003), who held that categorising children as ‘special’ differentiates them from others, meaning they may not be as valued in mainstream schools and society at large. Despite these observations, some assert that standardised assessment processes and practices are deeply embedded in the educational practice (Hayward, 2013).
The perception of the teachers regarding the assessment of children with SEND does not generally appear to take into account the mental stress or appropriateness of the test for children with SEND. As observed by Warnes and colleagues (2021), teacher perceptions surrounding assessment are generally more focused on the additional workload a teacher experiences in assessing children with SEND. They sampled some 93 teachers from across the public and private education sectors (66 from state mainstream, 18 from independent, 5 teachers from UK-based international schools, 3 SEND specialists, and 1 from alternative provision. They found that the teachers perceived the assessment of children with SEND as an onerous adjunct to their already stressful teaching role. Including students with SEND into their classrooms was found to increase their perceived stress, as they were required to adopt a new teaching style to meet the needs of all students. As such, they perceive that full inclusion into mainstream education is problematic and challenging. This may mean that teachers demand specialist support in terms of resources, including funding for specialist and support staff, and appropriate infrastructure (Warnes, et al., 2021). The government in considering of this demands has on 9 April 2021 announced a £280m capital funding for children and young people with SEND. This fund came after the £365 million allocation from 2018 to 2021. The funding aims to improve provisions for SEND pupils and provide more specialist places across the country (The Department for Education, 2021).
Bonner (2016) observed that teachers have conflicting beliefs about assessment. Stressors stemming from internal conflicts, external factors and professional development may likely affect their beliefs and practices regarding assessments. Bonner drew on the findings of previous studies, such as Brown (2006), Harris and Brown (2009) and Gebril and Brown (2014) to reflect teachers’ perceptions regarding assessment, relating to the areas of school accountability, student accountability, education improvement and the concept that assessment is irrelevant. These interrelated dimensions were found to all shape the teachers’ belief system. Some teachers associated accountability with improvement. Some associated assessment for instructional purposes. They also vary in perceptions depending on the level at which the teachers taught, which may be due to the structures and policies in place. At the primary level, for example, assessment was perceived to be more useful for improvement purposes and at the secondary level, it was more associated with accountability (Bonner, 2016). There seems to be a paucity of literature on the teachers’ perception of the assessment for students with SEND.
There appear to be a lack of statutory guidelines on the educational assessment of children with SEND in the UK, which may impact teachers’ perceptions on this topic. Teachers may feel they lack the skills required to handle the unique needs of children with SEND. It is also observed that the high-stakes testing in mainstream education, despite focusing on inclusive education, has raised questions on the standards of performance given the historically poor performance of students with SEND (Katsiyannis, et al., 2007). This begs the question – what is the impact of such assessments on these students?
Children with SEND may need additional educational, health and care support – perhaps above and beyond what the school can provide. Such support may include a written progress check, health check, written assessment or reasonable adjustment for disabled children when they are under 5. When they are between 5 and 14-years-old, they may require a special learning programme, extra teaching, classroom observation and specific or tailored classroom activities (GOV.UK, 2021). It is currently unclear whether any such support exists during the time of exams, tests or assessments, which may subject children with SEND to anxiety or stress if not received. There are currently calls for implementing special policy provision, particularly pertaining to examination procedures, to accommodate candidates with SEND, enabling them to demonstrate their skills and knowledge (Kellaghan & Greaney, 2019).
There seems to be a paucity of literature on the impact of assessment particularly on SEND children. However, a general observation that assessment impacts the wellbeing of pupils could be made based on a survey conducted by UCL Institute of Education (IOE) in 2019. The survey covered 288 primary school headteachers and had conducted 20 in-depth interviews. The report found the high-stakes nature of standard assessment tasks (SATs) involving 10 and 11-year-olds is causing stress on the student. With over 80% of headteachers confirming the negative effects on the wellbeing of the pupil, the 91% of the headteachers were critical of the lack of improvement in the assessment concerning the changes made in 2016 of Key Stage 2. The changes did not add the headteachers’ knowledge regarding the capabilities of the pupils and their abilities to cope in Year 7 and beyond (University College London, 2019; Bradbury, 2019). The issue of stress is not confined to school level. It is also found at the college level. Hughes (2005) examined this aspect with participants who were all full‐time undergraduate students of psychology. He found that students performing a stressful task on a computer had depressed blood pressure responses, which were found to be associated with their academic fear of failure. The students also exhibited higher blood pressure before their end‐of‐semester examinations than afterwards. The study also found out that students who had relatively high academic ability demonstrated stress before examination and showed signs of an increased level of blood pressure responses (Hughes, 2005).
There are reports this year (2021) that the UK government is considering to bring back assessment for 14-year-olds. The government views that the lack of a formal assessment regarding KS3 (seven, eight and nine of secondary school), abolished in 2008, the pupils may lose focus (Study International, 2021; Weale & Adams, 2021). Further, a study by Jerim (2020), regarding the link between national tests and the wellbeing of pupils in primary school, reveal found no evidence of the link. His study focussed on the concern about the mental wellbeing of young people in regard to national tests. His focus was on the claim that by the end of KS2 tests, schools, pupils and teachers are under stress. Jerim used data from the Millennium Cohort Study. The Millennium Cohort Study follows lives of over 19,000 young people born across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England in 2000-2002 regarding their socio-emotional, physical, cognitive and behavioural development (Millennium Cohort Study , 2021). Jerim compared the data regarding the wellbeing of the pupils in England considering that the pupils are sitting the KS 2 test Key Stage 2 tests) to the rest of the UK where these tests are not taken. Jerim did not find any evidence associating the tests with lower levels of happiness or enjoyment of school; or self-esteem or mental wellbeing of the pupils. Also, Jerim did not find evidence that children who are with higher levels of wellbeing, happier, or more self-confident obtain higher KS2 test scores (Jerrim, 2021).
When Williams-Brown and Hodkinson (2021) examined the teachers’ perception regarding inclusion learning, they found that although, teachers support such learning, they found the learning to be challenging when it comes to SEND children, especially conerning the issue of whether or not SEND children should be included in SATs. They recommend that for a continuous use of SATs, it need to be reconceptualise to enable inclusion of all children (Williams-Brown & Hodkinson, 2021). In connection, Kellaghan and Greaney (2019) state that there may be a problem in formulating a special policy concerning SEND pupil with respect to assessment. Such pupils will have many diverse needs in different examinations. Kellaghan and Greaney (2019) state that if such benefits are afforded to those with SEND during high-stakes examinations, it may give rise to public concern. These concerns may include: the absence of professional personnel to testify for the special needs of a student; a lack of awareness in exam administration of the requirements of candidates with SEND; the benefits to students with SEND may be detrimental to disadvantage students; the exposure of students with SEND to stress and anxiety during the examination; or irregularities in the examination due to any special advantages given to students with SEND (Kellaghan & Greaney, 2019).
The literature review has found that there is a lack of a detailed research exploring the impact of assessment on students with SEND. This gap in the research presents an opportunity for further research on the perspectives of SEND children regarding assessments and their parents, guardians and teachers who are directly involved in their care and education, to firstly, ascertain the extent of impact of the standardised assessments, including on their mental health, and secondly how far these assessments are perceived to accurately capture their academic performance, learning and development.
This chapter explored the perception of the stakeholders regarding SEND pupils. The literature review has found that the outcome of assessment may not present a clear and complete picture of the learning and development of children (Standards & Testing Agency, 2020). The issue may lie in the absence of a single set of specific guidelines for assessing children with SEND.
The inclusive approach may not generally serve the purpose when it comes to children with SEND although with certain adaptation by the teachers and the schools. There is no clear indication of whether the learning and assessment practices are facilitating participation of SEND children (Lebeer, et al., 2012). The area of improvement stated by the 2017 government consultation response, thus, focuses on the format and uses of assessment, including the use of pupils’ regular teacher or teaching assistant to reduce the stress of and make children comfortable (The Department of Education, 2017). The problem lies with the inability to adapt the standard educational assessments or create special provisions that could address the issues of assessment and learning of children with SEND (Smith, et al., 2020; Hutchinson, 2021).
The areas of improvement that the literature review has found is the inclusion of parents in the decision making process; the improvement of the skillset and support to school and local authority staff (Badman, 2009; OECD, 2020). This indicates a better inclusion of stakeholders who have a direct role in the children development is needed together with specialised training, access to education psychologists, and developing consultation framework in consultation with parent groups among other (Badman, 2009; OECD, 2020; Hutchinson, 2021). This may address the main issues faced by teachers, particularly in dealing with children with more social and emotional issues by allowing adaptation to the needs of the children.
Teachers have a positive attitude toward inclusion of children with SEND in learning and development (Steen & Wilson, 2020). The government effort, for example the 2021 finding of £280m capital funding, to address the issues regarding specialist and support staff, may bring some positive changes. Although there a paucity of literature on the impact of assessment particularly on SEND children, the fact that the wellbeing of other pupils could also be affected indicates that SEND children are potentially at similar risk to. The absence of a specially designed assessment for children is the area that need to be addressed. This is particularly relevant as the UK government is considering to bring back for 14-year-olds (Study International, 2021; Weale & Adams, 2021). At the same time, it is also observed that at KS2 level, there is no association between the tests and wellbeing of the students. Considering the range of issues and observation, the finding of this literature review suggest that a further detailed research is necessary that will inform the establishment of an assessment framework that could be effectively implemented with specific adaptation at school administration level.
There are three principal research paradigms within psychological research, from which other paradigms may have been developed: positivism, interpretivism and realism (Howitt, 2016). Positivism is used for many types of research (Hayes, 2000), stems from natural science, and accepts that there is an objective reality and researchers can make predictions and hypotheses regarding specific things as a result of earlier observation and theory (Paley, 2008). Observable social realities can be measured, and the positivist method makes the assumption that knowledge is only valid if observations exist that can create generalisable laws and theories to demonstrate cause and effect relationships (Flowers, 2009). Positivism then is entrenched in the gathering of ‘facts’, on truth, validity and reason, attained through direct observation empirically measured using quantitative methods such as surveys and experiments. Statistical analysis is used to highlight and create levels of significance (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006).
The contrary to positivism is interpretivism (or constructivism) (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006), although Blaikie (1993) emphasised that this position can be labelled as post-positivism, given the important difference between natural and social science. Human beings are argued to make sense of things (situations) through personal experience, perceptions, expectations and memories. Consequently, individuals create meaning and continually re-create this meaning over time through experience, leading to a variation of dissimilar understandings of the same phenomena.
Interpretivists view reality as personal, with many realities existing dependent on experience (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003), and understood based on the context of the researchers’ speculative and personal lookouts and experience (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006). Therefore, interpretivist research is often inductive, trying to build theories based on the meanings and experiences of individuals. Interpretivist research is not fully generalisable (Saunders et al., 2012), given that it is embedded in the context of the individual. Qualitative research methods to collect ‘data’ are then employed to understand people’s thoughts and feelings, as well as verbal and non-verbal communication, to evaluate meanings (Willig, 2013), and importantly researchers should aim to at all times remain clear and reflective to avoid bias in their interpretations.
Lastly, a realist position takes the midway standpoint between positivism and interpretivism, drawing on both positions, it implies that reality does exist outside human consciousness; but, it opposes that knowledge is socially constructed (a sociological process of training people in society to respond in a way mainly accepted by society) (Flowers, 2009), with social conditioning shaping our knowledge of reality (Saunders et al., 2012). Thus, realities can exist outside of human knowledge, undocumented by scientific observation (Blaikie, 1993), yet realism also declares that as far as possible, science and societal realities must be relying on experience and observations - empirically based, impartial and rational. Dissimilar to positivists, which assume that direct, universal causal relationships exist from which predictions can be made.
The chosen area of study has adopted an interpretivist research model, given the subjective, social constructionist nature of the research question being asked, with an inductive, top-down research philosophy. The intention was not to investigate an established existing theory, but instead to gather basic and fundamental data from participants in the research to possibly create new theories and make improvements or add to existing literature and understanding of how far testing affects the mental health of children with SEND.
Information gathered can be qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative research aims to offer a greater understanding of what is being studied, while quantitative research concentrates on creating numerical/statistical data to quantify the research problem (Willig, 2013). This study has relied upon qualitative data, in place of quantitative data. Moreover, qualitative data is more aligned to an interpretivist research stance, which means qualitative research methods are a more useful option to ensure the subjective nature of the research questions being asked can be more fully explored.
This research is on a subjective topic, which requires an interpretivist view focused on reality based on personal life experience (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003).
The semi-structured interview followed in this research allows a flexible approach to understanding the meanings and experiences of individuals, which in this case is the meaning, experiences and perspective of the SEND teachers and understanding of SEND children through. As this interpretivist research is not fully generalisable (Saunders et al., 2012), the focus is on the context of the teachers and the SEND children. given that it is embedded in the context of the individual. The subjective nature required the adopting of a qualitative method that allowed understanding the participating teacher’s thoughts, feelings, experiences and verbal and non-verbal communication (Willig, 2013) regarding the impact of assessment on SEND children.
The research involved 3 semi-structured interviews to aid an in-depth understanding into the viewpoints of participants. The interviews asked detailed questions will be asked from the interview list, whilst permitting flexibility for extra questions to be asked to fully comprehend participants’ thoughts and feelings. Interviews have taken placed in a neutral environment, such as a room booked out at the university, or considering the convenience of the participants, at their child’s/student’s school. Interviews lasted approximately 45 minutes, depending on the participants’ availability and willingness to engage in dialogue with the researcher.
The researcher initially planned to interview 3 teacher’s groups: 2 non-parent teachers; 2 TAs; and 2 teachers that are parents of SEND children, and to include 4 parents of children with SEND children. However, the interview was possible with 1 teacher, 1 teaching assistant and 1 student.
The researcher initially thought that the interview would have some limitations. For instance, there was the possibility that some participants would not completely disclosed their true opinions on the matter as they have a professional relationship with me and will continue to see me after the research has been completed. Considering such contingencies, in order to improve the accuracy of my findings, the researcher thought of considering other schools. Ideally those that the researcher has a link to so that the participants would be more willing to participate, while ensuring that the researcher do not them to avoid the afore mentioned bias. However, CONFIRM WHETHER YOU WERE ABLE TO INTERVIEW THE PARTICIPANST INITIALY CHOSE OR THE ONES FROM OTHER SCHOOLS
This research has considered Year groups two and six students as these year groups
Grounded theory by Glaser and Strauss (1967) is one of the approaches used most widely to analyse qualitative research in almost all academic disciplines worldwide. These researchers argued that this is an inductive approach, which enables researchers to discover and explore phenomena. It focuses on generating theoretical ideas or hypotheses from the collected data based upon a thematic coding approach, in order to create a theory (or theories) from the data that are grounded in reality to explain the phenomena (in this case, the mental health of SEND children as a result of testing). According to Strauss and Corbin (1990), grounded theory as an analytical approach includes the discovery of the theory from bottom-up (inductive approach) and building generalization and inferences from the obtained data.
This study proposes to use grounded theory to analyse the data using a thematic coding approach to analyse raw data to examine the perspectives of parents and teacher groups regarding how assessment affects the mental health of SEND children. This thematic coding approach will help to identify themes and any existing relationships between these themes. For instance, ….
Researchers following this approach tend to read through all of their collected data first before searching for passages within interview transcripts that represent or share an idea or notion. The researchers then code the transcripts. Brewer (2000) clarifies this by stating that researchers in the analysis process start by reading the obtained data for the first time. Researchers then start writing notes, before developing these notes into codes, categories, themes and concepts to search for any similarities, differences, contradictions or correlations between participants.
The following are several steps suggested by Brewer (2000, p.109): i) data management (organising data into manageable units); ii) coding (indexing the data into categories and themes); iii) content analysis; iv) qualitative description (identifying the key events, people, behaviour, providing vignettes); v) establishing patterns in the data (looking for recurrent themes, relationships in data); and vi) developing a classification system of ‘open codes’. These techniques above will be used in order to apply grounded theory to the interview transcripts collected from the participants in the proposed study.
Given the nature of the proposed study, there are various ethical considerations that must be taken into account when conducting this research. Some of these have already been addressed; for example, the researcher decided against interviewing SEND children themselves, given the ethical ramifications of this. Nevertheless, interviewing teachers and parents regarding the mental health of their child/student is naturally a sensitive issue; therefore, the interviews was be conducted in a sensitive manner. the researcher intended to hone interview skills with both my supervisor and a pilot group of parents of SEND children, to create various open-ended questions apriori and to practice interview technique to ensure that the researcher remain professional yet empathic.
It is essential that interviewees understood their right to withdraw themselves and their data from the study at any point, either during the interview or until a specific date when the data has been analysed and the report is about to be written up. Participants were be made aware of this beforehand, via an information sheet that would be sent to potential participants before they agree to take part. Moreover, participants (who must be over 18 for ethical reasons also) were required to read and sign a consent form, allowing the researcher to use their data (unless they withdraw it up until an agreed time/date), prior to the commencement of the interviews. Moreover, the participants were made aware that their data would remain anonymous and confidential; their names (and the name of the school and their child) would never be used in the report, as a pseudonym would be given, and the data (the interview recording and transcript) would be stored on a password-protected, encrypted file on the researcher’s personal laptop. These items would also be destroyed once the research study has been written and submitted.
The researcher understandS the importance of interpretation and attempting to remain neutral and as objective as possible throughout, to safeguard against making false claims or drawing incorrect conclusions. Therefore, the researcher kept a reflexive diary throughout this process to make any observations, interpret own feelings and thoughts and work through how they may impact on the findings, and share these ideas with the supervisor to remain accountable, honest and transparent throughout the process, regardless of – and because of – any preconceptions the researcher holds regarding the possible outcomes and findings of the study.
This aim of this research is to get different perspectives, from the perspective of teachers who deal with SEND children or whose teaching activities include SEND children and from the perspective of parents of SEND children. As mentioned in Chapter Three, this research could not get the recording of the parent incorporated into this research as it got damaged and the parent declined the second interview request. As such, this chapter will analyse the data belonging to and perspectives of the participating teacher (T1); Teaching Assistant (TA); Student (S1).
The interview is based on the specific observation that SEND Children needs special education framework and support in terms of their teaching, learning and assessment or preparing them for assessment. Hence, this interview with the T1 and TA started with identifying the type of children with special needs. Thus, when asked T1 and TA of the type of SEN, they replied that they have child with down syndrome, which meant he is non-verbal, which also meant that he has physical needs. They have a child with epilepsy ‘who’s starved with oxygen.’ They have two children with dyslexia and a girl with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They also have two children with education, health and care (EHC) plan (EHCP), one who is diabetic who has his insulin injection and under constant medical monitoring They have a child with speech and language needs and some children with processing delays and communication delays. They have a child with autism. Thus, there is a wide range of special needs that could be found in SEND children. These SEND children have inadequacies, including physical, medical, mental and emotional inadequacies.
Based on the grounded theory that comprises an inductive analysis (Strauss and Corbin, 1990; Brewer, 2000), the interview questions were framed to this effect which resulted in collected data showing the type of SEND children, their diverse needs, the learning and appropriateness of standard assessment and national curriculum. Accordingly, when T1 was asked about the type of support, T1 replied that they are three of them, including T1, the teacher (TA) and the LSA. There is a child with ADHD who share a one-to-one support, and a child with EHCP who has a one-to-one support. There is a differentiation of the level of support depending on the child’s needs.
When asked whether only those children who are sick have access to support and other do not, T1 replied that the others do not, but they provide interventions outside the class. To elaborate, T1 stated that children with support plan, the child with speech and language needs, and the children with processing delays and communication delays have interventions outside the class. For example, the teachers have speech and language interventions outside the class. This data helped analyse the different level in support and helped raised the issue of whether the support is adequate.
In this regard, as (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006) stated, interpretivism involves a human making sense of things or a situation employing their personal experiences, expectation and perception. When asked about whether the support is adequate considering those children that require additional support while also considering the support for the rest of the class, T1 replied that the support is not adequate. T1 stated that the needs of the children, as seen above, are very diverse. Thus, one teacher allocated for them will find it difficult to address the diverse needs and differentiate the needs properly. Thus, T1, TA and the LSA gave support to three children on a one-to-one basis out of which two are sharing the support. T1 replied that funding was not enough to cover an extra staff despite the requirement of the stipulated hours for children with the need for a one-to-one support. Similarly, when it comes to helping the children with English or Maths, TA replied that they need more support.
The inductive analysis as applied to the type of SEND children and the diverse need and support was also then applied to how the teachers respond to standard assessment, particularly SATs and the national curriculum. T1 is teaching Year 2 and when asked whether they were conducting SATs at the end of the year and whether all the children would be taking SATs, T1 replied that they were conducting SATs, but not all children would be taking SATs. T1 shared their experiences, expectation and perception in that regard. Thus, when asked whether SEND children would take SATs or not, T1 replied that they do not know. T1 reasoned that the children with EHCP are not ready, and it would not make sense for to undergo SATs. T1 further stated that children with semi needs may support children with EHCP, who may access the access the tests. T1 further stressed that if the children with EHCP had to undergo SATs, it would be surprising as there is not benefit for them. Similar response was from TA regarding children at Key One stage. TA replied that there are “certain children who were worried and didn't want to come to school.” They explained and intervened for Year-one children to go through to assess whether the children progressing. In case, the children manage the year-one paper, then they are given a year two assessment form. This intervention and assessment happened outside classroom as certain children are very disruptive that teachers have to adjust.
In this qualitative research methods, data were collected regarding the perception of teachers on SEND children and support in regard to the level of stress SEND children undergo during assessment. This was necessary to explain the impact on their mental health as a result of such assessment. In that regard, when asked whether ‘children find the SATs stressful in general or are they okay with it’, T1 replied that in ‘year two, they don’t find it stressful’. In the context of the above question, in order to assess whether T1 and the others have access other support regarding dealing with SEND children, T1 was also asked whether it was easy or difficult to communicate with the school SENCOs. T1 replied that it was really easy to do that through email, phone, or messages. but it was harder to meet in person. When asked about the manner of communicating with the teachers, the SENCO and parents regarding children needing extra support, TA replied that they do not speak to the parents. In case of any behavioural issues with SEND children, they submit a C form about the details of the problem and send it to SL teams, who may an LSA or MLSA or a key therapy. Regarding parents, they have the SANCO meetings or, separate parents evening meeting.
To further assess whether the learning and assessment position of SEND children, the interview questions also touched upon their views and perspective in terms of national curriculum. When asked whether the SEND children follow national curriculum, T1 replied that all the students, except for the two boys with EHCP follow the national curriculum. In view of the special needs of the children, T1 was asked whether they do any alteration of the curriculum so as to support the children, T1 replied that it could be done. TA also gave input regarding the curriculum when T1 designs alteration to the curriculum. However, T1 replied that it was harder this year as the planning was not done by T1. Thus, T1 replied that if T1 was doing the planning, T1 would have more time to plan and accommodate the special needs of the children needs. This evidences that T1 and other others directly involved with SEND children know the needs and the manner to cope with the needs better. This is evident when TA stated that they used to called up the Speech and Language Therapists, as required when the situation becomes too hard to handle for them, the therapists used to come and handle the situation. However, that did not work out and it was left to the T1 and the others to handle the situation on their own.
The above answer indicated that the teachers could do more in terms of teaching and providing support if they are the ones planning the studies. This indicates that the teachers are adopting methods to address special needs of learning. This raised the next question in the context of the personal methods adopted by the teachers in addressing in the lesson plan to maximise the learning of the children. When asked about the alteration in lesson plan in that regard, T1 replied that it is on a case-by-case basis. T1 replied:
‘if a child cannot ‘necessarily write or they can’t write at length or they’re struggling with that, we might give them some sentence frames or might give them some key words, we might give them less sentences to write, might just ask them to do a picture to communicate their thoughts. Might just give them pictures and get them to so it depends what we’re doing. With the maths, we try and make it a bit simpler so maybe either smaller numbers or more manipulatives. Longer to do the task, if there’s an adult to sit with them and do it.’
The inductive method used in this interview helped built a generalisation and inferences from the reply of T1 and TA that depending on the kind of abilities or limitation, whether physical, mental, or emotional, they alter the lesson plan to maximise learning. The reply shows that teachers differentiate special needs based on cognitive needs and physical needs. When asked whether SEND children should undergo mainstream school assessment tests, T1 replied that it depends on the needs. For example, if the need is physical that do not affect the cognitive abilities, the children can undergo such assessment. If on the other hand, the question is about cognitive need, they do not generally need to, but it is subject to case-by-case basis.
To further understand in detail how the teachers determine the impact of the assessment, such as SATS, and how the learning plan is altered and how it impacts the SEND children, the interview went in-depth as to how the teachers monitor the well-being of SEND children. Thus, T1 was asked how they and the school conduct and address such monitoring. T1 replied that it depends on the particular needs. They determine based on the behaviour and the mood, including whether they want to come in to school. T1 gave an example of a child who did not want to come to school last year, but he is now happily coming to school. The teachers adopt different mode of communication and of expressing feeling and thoughts. For example, T1 replied that they ask students sometimes to show a picture of how they are feeling. Thus, it was easier for them to address the special need when they have identified the need.
The mode of communication to identify the need and to address the need varies on a case-to-case basis. When asked how the ‘school copes with the emotional needs and wellbeing of the students’, T1 replied that most of the intervention occur outside classroom, and it mostly involves a lot of nurturing and support. Such intervention occurs once or twice a week. TA stated that they group SEND children into small groups and focus on developing their social attitudes. T1, the teacher and the LSA are given two year-four classes. TA stated that the children they have split up into groups are the one that require more emotional needs, and they need people with a more nurturing background. The year four groups are more behaved and do not need such level of nurturing.
Not only relating to emotional needs, such groupings also help the teachers in addressing the needs concerning Maths or English. Thus, in regard to their way of coping with these needs, TA stated they put children, like the boy with one-to-one support, who can assess curriculum in class with children with Early Help Delivery Plans (EHDP) to work on Maths as the children with EHDP cannot read and access the curriculum. Thus, a social learning approach suiting their needs is adopted in the manner the children are paired and seated together to them develop social interaction.
The kind and the level of intervention showed that SEND children require constant, intense care and nurturing. In that context, T1 was asked whether they have ‘experienced incidents of heightened levels of anxiety amongst students, especially those who are SEN or undiagnosed SEN whilst preparing for exams or assessments in the past.’ T1 replied that it was not necessary that the heightened levels of anxiety were only during exams or assessments. T1 replied that they did not have exam last year, but her reply indicated that there were such incidents. On this question, TA replied that:
‘girls are very good masking their anxieties. And you sometimes tend to forget that they're on the special needs register because they cause no trouble, they get on with their work. But when it comes around times to doing an assessment or anything like that, they're absent from school. the parents will say that they're worried. Or they start to say they've got stomach ache or, you know, they're just agitated.’
TA mentioned one girl, which according to her is very bright. But she was exempted from the assessment as it was causing her ‘too many anxieties and she didn't want to come in to school.’ T1, however, stated that one of the causes for her anxiety is the parents. T1 stated that:
‘There are so many...if you know about the parenting background, you know that sometimes the parents are the ones that's got the more challenges. Whatever, but they...they cause the anxiety more. But when grandparents might bring them in, there's no messing about. And so they will come in and whatever. But when parents are around, they're like, oh are you sure you want to go in and all the rest of it. And you're just, like, thinking, oh leave the child alone and just go. When she's in there, she's fine. But that particular child, right when she gets home, she plays up differently to what she does at school. So she's calm and nice and bubbly at school, but she lashes out when she gets home . So the stress and anxiety is at home.’
This reply shows that the diverse range of needs according to the range of limitation (physical, mental, emotional) points towards an environment in any part of school time where there is bound to see some level of anxiety. In regard, when asked about the strategy to calm the students, T1 replied that with their experience and examples. They give the children or a particular child some quite quiet space by themselves. The children are taught ways of calming themselves down, such as exercises of taking deep breathing or giving them some activities, they like to do.
At the same time, the stress is on the teachers. TA compared the payment they are receiving and the amount of effort that they are putting in nurturing and supporting the children. TA stated that TA has underdone through a personal traumatic situation, and it was too much for TA to handle the responsible of a SEND children. TA suggested that if teachers and others working with SEND children should be special training on the needs of the children to be confident enough to do address needs of SEND children.
TA also highlighted the challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic. TA stated that the teachers did not have a major challenge in filling the gap in the education schedule. TA stated that they were working on year three curriculum to bring them up before they start the year-four curriculum. They were conducting the first assessment since COVID, which involved benchmarking for their reading, basic assessment to see the area of improvement or any improvement and to determine how the children have been reading and everything else.
T1 and TA statements suggest that SEND children generally undergo stress during the exams/assessments and SATs. They make excuses of illness during exams/assessment or are apprehensive about SATs. However, the interview with the SEND student (S), who is 26 years old, second year medical student, and has autism and ADHD showed that she did not need any accommodation from the school. When asked what special education needs and disabilities she has, she replied that she does not need any accommodation, but would want to have flexibility in time of when to take exams. She could move the exam in a time on the exam day, have more time (“not all the time”), and be in a different classroom with three or four people as he cannot be alone. When she was in elementary school, she found weekly tests to be better than homework. She did not find class work interesting, skipped classes, did her classroom work in just 15 minutes, completed pending three months homework in just one afternoon. Interview responses of S shows that she is a bright student, who manage to jump to high school and attend college. She likes the university environment better as she considers it to be neurodivergent. COVID restriction did not affect her studies.
On being asked when the schools and universities she went too had provisions for special educational needs, she replied that they were inclusive, and the programmes did not look like special needs programmes. On a different note, when asked how inclusive the standard exam and assessment are, she replied that they do not serve any purposes for her. She said that the testing was “made for neurotypicals by neurotypicals”, and it disrespects their intellect as people like her can only focus on the things they like. It also does not stimulate her. She stated that standardised tests are not fair as there are many neurodivergent. She found 2,400 SAT version easy as she completed in half time and she scored high.
S also responded in similar manner like T1 and TA regarding national curriculums incorporating needs of SEND children. She found this to be in the right direction but suggested that they need to be updated across the board. She stated that to be inclusive the policies must note that neurodivergent are not all the same. Thus, when asked what type of curriculum would work to maximise her learning experience, she replied that it should be formatted differently. S suggested that it needs to be updated to be more inclusive. S stated that it is on the right direction, but it requires some alteration to consider special needs situation, such as a child who is hyperactive or autistic given that fact that all cases of neurodivergent are not the same. Likewise, with the suggestion that teachers should be paid more, S said that they themselves should do that lesson plan and not merely follow the standard routine activities. For example, ‘for the kids that we know are not going to do the homework’, they can ‘give them a test every Friday, you have a nice little pop quiz and they’ll stay fresh.’ This would require more work from the teachers and so they should be paid more. She further explained that the same lesson plan cannot work as some students would thrive in homework and some would not and should be given weekly test. Likewise, when asked whether mainstream assessment is crucial for SEND students, she replied that it is not. She does not find the material useful, citing the example of how ‘useless’ Math is. She stated that many of the kids do not know Math or the ‘stamina to do anything difficult’.
Reiterating (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006), the experiences of S are relevant with interpretivism where she is making a sense of things or a situation by using her personal experiences, expectation and perception of the standardised education format, curriculum and assessment. Her experience and the meaning that could be derived from them have given similar understanding as that of T1 and TA when it comes to special needs of SEND children. However, a different understanding could also be found regarding the same phenomena, which is standard assessment. She did find it difficult or stressful. She found that it is lacking respect for her intellect. However, when asked about anxiety or incidents among her peers with special education needs during exams or after academic assessments, she replied that she had “high levels of anxiety about normal grade exams than standardised testing”. Whether the stress is manageable or not, she replied it is generally not manageable. However, in some case, where one has sufficient resources, a good home environment, or no issues of adjusting to the world, it may be manageable. Generally, for those children who do not have a good home environment, it is difficult to manage the stress. This is similar with what TA observed that education depends on the student’s background.
There are some overall major findings or the themes from the interviews of the participating Teacher, the Teaching Assistant and the Student. Firstly, the outcome of the interview with the participating student was not validate the finding of the literature review that students with special education needs are exposed to anxiety and mental stress due to exams and assessments. The student did not struggle at all with the exam. She did not use her extra time she was entitled to due to her special needs. She did not use any access arrangements that were put in place. Secondly, based on the Teacher and the Teaching Assistant’s responses, special needs are diverse. The funding, the level of support, or the skills of the teachers are not adequate to meet all the diverse needs. The exams and assessments are found to stress the children with special education needs. The least the teachers are doing is to adapt the curriculum to the specific needs of the children, nurture the children and manage their needs. The family background also impacts the management of stress of SEND children. For some parents, they become one of the causes for increasing the stress for such children.
The purpose of this research was to explore the perceptions of parents and teachers regarding the impact of the standard testing and assessment procedures upon the SEDN students. This was necessary given that evaluation and assessment have become an essential part of the education system (OECD, 2013, p. 30). The question is the extent of inclusiveness or adaptation of these assessment standards in particular regard to children or student with special education needs.
Firstly, there seems to be a gap between the assessment outcome and the children actual development. This gap seems to be mainly institution driven. Some examples are non-consideration to specific needs in the educational assessments; inadequacy of the P-levels to assess SEND children to serve desired purposes; or the inconsistent identification process of special needs across schools (communication, language and literacy) and local authorities (social, personal and emotional development) (Smith, et al., 2020; Hutchinson, 2021). All these gaps are also reflected in the themes recognised in the interview process. The general themes gathered from the T1 and TA and the Student demonstrated a diverse special needs. The curriculum had to be adapted or altered to meet the special needs. Special needs recognised were diverse from emotional needs to the need of physical care and from different form of neurodivergent to different family background. The alteration and adaptation conducted by the teachers demonstrates that the curriculum and assessment standards are on one hand inclusive approach giving discretion to the schools to adapt to the special needs and on the other hand, the standardised curriculum and assessment seems to support the argument of (Lebeer, et al., 2012). that they merely determine whether a child must be placed in a special needs programme or a special school.
Secondly, the assessment seems to have created a differential treatment of assessment. The literature review found this in the form of the STA’s assessment and reporting for children in Key Stage 1 (KS1) that also exempts pupils who are home schooled (The Standards & Testing Agency, 2020). The non-maintained special schools also have the option to exempt themselves (The Standards & Testing Agency, 2020). This leaves out the exempted students from assessment without any specific guidelines to their assessment but under the standard assessment and reporting arrangements. The effect of such exclusionary policy is seen in the response of the TA who mentioned about some girls exempting from assessment or from attending the school due to high level anxieties. Had there been special assessment accommodation for such situation involving SEND children, such exemption might not have happened.
As Davis (2015) stated, educational assessment must have a constructive purpose. Schools and the teachers should be accountable to their teaching quality. This is supported by the interview findings where teachers have to deal with too diverse special needs of children with different capabilities. Some were with down syndrome. One child was with epilepsy. Two were with dyslexia. A girl with ADHD. Two children with EHCP. One with speech and language needs. One with autism. Some were with processing delays and communication delays. Despite the lack of funding and access to proper resources and expertise, they are providing the children with whatever care is necessary in terms of teaching, nurturing, and managing their special emotional and mental needs.
Thirdly, there seems to be a lack of specific guidelines to deal with the assessment of SEND children. With no control over formulating the entire plan for educating and assessing SEND children, schools and teachers are only left with discretion to adapt the curriculum. This produces the high likelihood of differentiation between schools or between students. The reason is that tests are used to assess the quality of the education system, which is dominated by high-stakes assessments (Davis, 2015). Such tests seem to be more focussed on outcome defining the quality of a school. Thus, a school that lack resources or expertise may be differentiated from a school that has the necessary resources or expertise. As the Student participant point out, even though she had autism, as she had sufficient resources, a good home environment, or no issues of adjusting to the world, her anxiety relating to her special needs was manageable. Similarly, the TA also responded that it was too much for TA to handle the responsible of a SEND children. They need special training on the needs of the children to be able address the needs of SEND children.
Fourthly, the curriculum and the assessment seems to be focussed on short term gains. The performance in assessments may be crucial for schools, teachers, and students. However, learning outcome is equally crucial (Davis, 2015). While the former may be stated to focus on short-term gain, the latter is focussed on the best interest of the SEND children. The short term-focus in found in regard to some assessments assessment practices, which lacked support in terms of time, human, material and management resources. The example is the use of assessment to determine whether a child must be place in special needs programme or a special school or to obtain disability benefits (Lebeer, et al., 2012). The legislative intervention, such as The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, The Education Reform Act 1988, The Reform Act, The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act or the Education (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators) (England) Regulations 2008, are attempts to address these issues. However, the question is about quality-oriented policy measures, which were found lacking. For example, SEND children are not expected to participate in examinations such as the standardised Key Stage 2 tests in English and Maths as they are considered below the level required or unable to access the tests (Cumming, 2012).
Fifthly, the assessment standard does not seem to have considered special needs or the question of whether the standard assessment would serve any constructive purpose for the SEND children. The responses of the T1 and the TA answer this aspect. T1 responded that although they were conducting SATs, not all children would be taking SATs. Children with EHCP were not ready, and undergo SATs did not make sense to her. T1 also did not see any benefit to children with EHCP undergo SATs. TA also responded regarding children at Key One stage. This is the kind of differentiation mentioned earlier. The 2017 consultation response evidences this kind of differentiation when it demanded an inclusive assessment considering children with SEND (The Department of Education, 2017). Thus, the legislative intervention and the policy regarding assessment have left out the consideration for SEND children. This argument is supported by the recommendation of Smith and her colleagues for schools to invent their individual assessment standards and the curriculum as the national assessment tool does not do so. This is not done so as T1 responded that she did not do the planning and if she had, she would have had more time to plan and accommodate the special needs in the curriculum. Even S suggested that teachers should themselves do the lesson plan and should not follow the standard routine activities. S also responded in similar manner like T1 and TA regarding national curriculums incorporating needs of SEND children. She found this to be in the right direction but suggested that they need to be updated across the board. She stated that to be inclusive the policies must note that neurodivergent are not all the same. She also suggested that the curriculum should be formatted differently to be more inclusive to meet maximum cases of neurodivergent as they are not the same.
The responses of T1, TA, and S and the recommendation of Smith and her colleagues demonstrated that the teachers or any other stakeholders directly working SEND student should have active and direct participation in the assessment and curriculum decision making. Developments particularly the 2011 Green Paper, Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability, Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 , SEND Regulations 2014 and or the SEND Code of Practice are steps at the right direction to setting up specific guidance and support that are inclusive in nature in governing the special needs of children and young adults with SEND.
Sixthly, the research suggests that there may be a lack of ability and resources to conduct the assessment. The Badman report (2009) stated that parents of children with SEND found the mainstream schools inadequate for their children. The fact that they are allowed to withdraw their children from the school demonstrate the lack of provision to address special needs. The report mentioned lack of resourced units and other provision for children with SEND; the breakdown of the parent-school relationship; and the withdrawal in the interest of the mental and physical health of these children (Badman, 2009). A 2021 research report by Education Policy Institute also presents similar finding in the form of recommendation for specialised training, increased access to education psychologists, and developing framework in consultation with parent groups among other (Hutchinson, 2021). Similar perceptions were held by the T1 and the TA. The fact that T1 found it difficult to communicate with SENCOs in person, but easy through email, phone, or messages; that TA stated that they do not speak to the parents; or that in case of any behavioural issues, they submit a C form about the details of the problem and send it to SL teams indicate an institutionalised non-personal commitment from the institutional stakeholders. This is also supported by the response from TA that the Speech and Language Therapists, left it to them to handle complication situation involving emotional and behavioral issues. The teachers seem to be left on their own to handle the adaptation and alteration to dealing with the special needs. The non-engagement of parents also did not help the situation.
Seventhly, the teachers may seem to more invested in terms of teaching and providing support. This aligns with the findings of Morley and his colleagues (2020) that PE teachers favoured including SEND pupils in mainstream schools although they also realised the challenges, including a possible negative impact on other pupils. The TI and TA responses also indicated that the teachers are mainly responsible to take care of the education of the SEND children, addressing their needs, nurturing them and take care of issues related with the emotional, mental and medical needs of the children. Their responses do not show that they face unmanageable problem regarding the teaching method, curriculum or assessments. Their responses support the view of the PE teachers SEND pupils could improve other pupils’ attitudes towards inclusive education (Morley, et al., 2020). They also support the findings that some of the PE teachers found pupils with physical disabilities the easiest to include in the learning programme and plan their lessons as per their needs (Morley, et al., 2020). Steen and Wilson (2020) are right when they stated that success of inclusive education is subject to the teachers’ implementation of certain adaptation concerning SEND children. Such positive attitude are found in T1 and TA in the manner they monitor the well-being of SEND children. They conduct intervention outside class and nurturing them; conduct groups learning exercises by applying a social learning approach; or teaching them breathing and calming exercising to anxiety and emotional outbursts.
Warnes and her colleagues (2021) argued that the perception of the teachers regarding the assessment of children with SEND are generally more focused on the additional workload a teacher experiences in assessing children with SEND. This is already presented in the responses of T1 and TA where they stated that because of the large diverse needs, they need better resources and skillset. Their viewpoints do not lack justification. Full inclusion into mainstream education will be problematic and challenging if proper resources and skillsets are not in place. With the cut in funding, inadequate resources and lack of specific guidelines regarding assessment and curriculum, the teacher may be exposed to maximum workload.
The problem may lie with the conflicting beliefs about assessment, as Bonner (2016) stated. Thus, the perceptions of T1 and TA do not seem to match with the perception held by S to a certain extent. S stated that schools and universities she attended had had provisions for special educational needs and they were inclusive. The issue she pointed out was the format did not look like for special needs programmes. Thus, she stated that they do not serve any purposes for her. This response aligns with what T1 replied in terms of the SEND children undergoing SATs where she did not see any benefits. Thus, the assessment standard lacks special consideration of the kind of intellect and not merely focussed on the needs SEND children have. S seems to be right when she stated testing was “made for neurotypicals by neurotypicals”, and the standardised tests are not fair as there are many neurodivergent. Thus, the arguments of Ainscow and colleagues (2006) and Ballard (2003) may be found appropriate when they stated that the different tests (standardised tests, national tests, locally devised tests, professional judgments and behavioural inventories) have difficulties as they follow categorisation processes, practices, and language, that differentiates, categorises and creates a barrier against inclusion.
The differentiation, categorisation and the lack of special consideration of the different levels of special needs may produce different levels of impact upon SEND children. Based on the discussion so far, assessments and tests seem to have some level of stress and anxiety. The data analysis has shown this with students exempting from exams and assessments. At the same time, it seems to be manageable had there been appropriate resources in terms of human, material, financial and expertise resources. The 2019 UCL Institute of Education (IOE) study showed that high-stakes nature of standard assessment tasks (SATs) involving 10 and 11-year-olds caused stress on the student. Students at the college level were also exposed to stress, based on Hughes (2005) findings. Reading this with the findings of Jerim (2020) that there does not seem to be a link between the wellbeing of students and national tests, it may be worth reconsidering by the UK government regarding bringing back assessments for 14-year-olds. (Study International, 2021; Weale & Adams, 2021). However, reviewing S’ response that she did not experience any high levels of anxiety when it comes to standardised testing. At the same time, she stated that she “high levels of anxiety about normal grade exams”.
It seems that there are certain level of stress or special needs that could be manageable and still produce the desired learning outcome. S has autism and ADHD, but did not need any accommodation from the school. However, she needed certain flexibility in exam time or of when to take exams, or be in a different classroom with three or four people as she cannot be alone. Thus, the special needs have a diverse range. Special needs can neither be standardised nor subject to standardised exams, curriculum or assessments. For instance, S stated that stress is generally not manageable. However, if one has access to sufficient resources, a good home environment, or no issues of adjusting to the world, it may be manageable.
The problem seems to lie with the formulating a special policy concerning SEND pupil with respect to assessment, as Kellaghan and Greaney (2019) stated. SEND students’ needs may differ based on the kind of assessments.
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