Improving quality of provision for SEND learners through cognitive assessment

Posted on January 24th, 2020

Some of the most talented and successful people I work with tell me that during the early, and in some case the tertiary, stages of their education, they were told that they were ‘thick’ and wouldn’t amount to anything. Invariably, when we talk more, it transpires that this cruel and damaging label stayed with them until finally someone recognised that they probably had a learning difficulty, carried out assessments and then put support in place so they could learn effectively. As I work in education, it won’t surprise you to know that most of the ‘labelled’ I’m referring to now work in education and are passionate about helping others to succeed without having to go through what they have.

You would think that in this day and age learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD) would be quickly identified and addressed, but it seems this isn’t always so. Children still slip through the net and we often meet them on courses or apprenticeships.

By the time they come to us many have developed hiding strategies, some have developed coping strategies and most lack confidence in their ability. ‘I’m not academic’ is a refrain I often hear from learners of all ages who are just as articulate and as intelligent as the next person.

I realised a long time ago, and I still think it is true today, that two of the key issues facing education are quality and equality.

The Dyslexia Association say about 10% of the population are dyslexic, about 2% profoundly so. And that’s just dyslexia. When I ask apprenticeship staff what their SEND identification rate is, I am often shocked by their answers. Identification rates such as 0% or 2% just don’t hold true. When staff do have a better grip on identification rates, quite often LDD achievement rates are shockingly low. In one college I am supporting, the achievement rate of apprentices with dyslexia was 22% last year. Unsurprisingly, the college staff want to improve that.

Although I believe the vast majority of staff in colleges and providers want to help learners and apprentices with SEND, they often don’t know how to or have the tools to. This often means that SEND is not dealt with quickly or successfully, or that staff ‘over-help’ rather than giving the apprentice strategies to develop as an independent learner.
It’s not just me who thinks it’s really important that learners and apprentices with LDD are enabled to achieve, Ofsted do too. The Further Education and Skills Handbook 2019 says

‘Before making the final judgement on overall effectiveness, inspectors must evaluate the extent to which the education and training provided meets the needs of all learners. This includes learners with SEND and those who have high needs.’

This statement makes it very clear that Ofsted sees learners and apprentices with SEND as very important.

Central to the Education Inspection Framework, which has been used for inspections since September 2019, is the theme that all learners should have access to a well-designed curriculum which meets their needs and ensures they make good progress from their starting points. The curriculum is the vehicle by which learners make progress and is much larger than just qualifications. Ofsted see access to a powerful curriculum as a way to address social injustice.

As you will know by now, intent, implementation and impact are central to the new quality of education judgement. Intent refers to the appropriateness of curriculum choice and design. Implementation refers to how the curriculum is translated into teaching, learning and assessment. Impact refers to the outcomes for learners, for example the knowledge, skills and behaviours they develop, the qualifications they achieve and their progress and destinations.

Cognassist can help with intent because it can help ensure that you quickly identify any additional learning support needs any learners may have and plan learning to meet their needs. Sequencing of learning activity is very important in the EIF, and without assessing learners early on in their programme to identify their support needs you cannot be confident that you are planning learning or supporting your learners appropriately.

Cognassist can help with implementation because it can help ensure that you individualise learning and support to meet learners’ needs and that learners develop learning strategies which help them embed concepts into their long-term memory and apply them fluently and consistently.

Cognassist can help with impact by ensuring that learners improve and develop a wide range of skills and behaviours to help them with their learning and their work and that learners improve their chances of achieving. Engaging with their Cognassist personalised learning strategies each month, can help support learners within education and training, employment and their personal life. These include strategies for planning and managing time, handling stress and improving executive function.

For quality of education to be outstanding the FES handbook suggests:

‘Learners consistently achieve highly, particularly the most disadvantaged. Learners with SEND achieve the best possible outcomes.’

I believe that using Cognassist effectively can ensure that learners with SEND achieve the best possible outcomes, and have fulfilling educational experiences and careers.

One of the most common problems providers face is an inability to identify and support SEND due to a lack of reputable, standardised initial assessment tools and a lack of resources proven to support SEND. As you will no doubt know, Ofsted’s work is becoming increasingly influenced by research. Cognassist’s neurodiversity assessment and resources have been designed by neurodiversity experts, subject to peer review and used by almost 50,000 learners.

Evidence of the impact of Cognassist can be seen in published achievement rates. As the 2017/18 national achievement rate tables show, many providers using Cognassist had LDD apprentice achievement rates well above the national rate of 64%. For example, West Suffolk College’s overall achievement rate for apprentices with LDD was 72.6%, Bradford College’s was 73% and Woodspeens’ was 72%. I’m looking forward to the 2018/19 data being released!

Marina Gaze Author: Marina Gaze, former Deputy Director for FE & Skills at Ofsted.

Posted on January 24th, 2020
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