Every SEND school measures children in their own way and assessing and monitoring children’s progress is a challenging process for a school supporting deaf children; with some very unique complexities.
Rachael Irgi, teacher of the deaf and complex SEND co-ordinator at Royal School for the Deaf Derby (RSDD), explains how the school has moved away from the number crunching aspect of pupil assessment, and instead focuses on assessment criteria that is appropriate to each child and shows the true progress of the pupils; success which has been acknowledged in the school’s latest Ofsted report.
With a nationwide catchment area, the school supports 120 children aged between 3 and 19, providing both day and week-long residential places for deaf children and young people. Most of the pupils are severely or profoundly deaf, 49% of the pupils have complex needs in addition to deafness. All lessons are delivered through BSL/SSE and spoken English.
The school has successfully tailored its approach to assessment to reflect the wide range of pupil learning needs, customising it to also reflect the British Sign Language curriculum that is taught across all key stages. Rachael explains the previous challenges of showing student progress right across the board, and the difference that breaking down the assessment criteria has made, especially for those with complex needs.
Rachael shares how a move away from rigid curriculum assessment to one that it tailored to fit the unique needs of deaf students helps the school’s drive to deliver better results for its pupils.
We had tracking and progression information but wanted to be able to clearly demonstrate where students were currently, and their expected progression in knowledge, understanding and skills. We could predict from key stage 2 to 4, showing what should be achieved at the end of year 11, but we needed to have visibility between stages. This highlighted the need to measure the interim stages to understand progression or if specific interventions were required.
We began by setting up spreadsheets, beginning with literacy and numeracy. Teachers created objectives based on the national curriculum and allocated point scores to record on the spreadsheet. It worked in that we could see pupil progression; but it was very time consuming, relying on the curriculum lead to set up.
Each term we need to produce reports for the school’s stakeholders including the pupils and parents. This was a manual time-consuming process and we still struggled to predict expected levels of progress. During an inspection, Ofsted appreciated the steps being taken, but further work was needed to cover all subjects. With such a wide curriculum, we faced a significant challenge – we needed something quicker and more robust.
The unique aspects of teaching deaf children
We have a real mix of students. Some from deaf families; others from hearing families – students may have been in mainstream education, whilst some may never have attended a mainstream school.
In mainstream schools they may have been in a unit which would mean they are taken out of class to provide extra support, some would have had a communicator with them most of the time, all very different situations.
The biggest challenge in the classroom is communication – if they are not accessing the delivery by the teachers how can they understand the information they are being given? In terms of their language development it can have a massive effect as they don’t have that incidental learning that hearing children have – hearing things going on in the background, discussion amongst their peers – but because everyone is signing at RSDD they are seeing discussions happening first hand – they are not relying on a signer, interpreting everything for them.
Finding a solution
I began my search for a single system to track everything across the school. We’re an ‘All-Through’ school from Primary to Post-16 and had additional aspects such as British Sign Language (BSL) as well as wanting to track life skills, emotional well-being, and communication skills. We needed to incorporate all these areas, whilst being able to tailor to our requirements.
After some research I came across Classroom Monitor. The team provided a demonstration and were very helpful, quickly answering all my questions around setup and customisation.
Creating a curriculum appropriate for the school
Our starting point was the Rising Stars curriculum available preloaded in Classroom Monitor. Some of the Rising Stars curriculum didn’t need changing, but due to the specific requirements of our school and students, we needed to break down the objectives into smaller steps. By consulting with our subject leaders and working to a schedule, me and our data manager worked with the teachers inputting, adding and changing what was required for the school.
A key requirement was accommodating British Sign Language (BSL) – this was important as the current tracking only recorded if a student passed level 1 or 2. We needed steps between the levels to record interim progress, as some students had low language levels and might not reach level 1 for some time. For the younger students, the BSL coordinators were also able to create a pre-stage 1 level, showing progress towards the first unit.
Measuring what matters
The school provides a residential service for our students and it’s important we can track activities and progression between in-residence and in-class, which Classroom Monitor is now enabling. The residence team outlined four areas working across Key Stage 1-5, incorporating life skills such as cooking, using a washing machine, setting the table and preparing snacks.
We have other unique areas such as audiological management – can students manage their hearing aids, change batteries, clean their ear moulds and can they report faults? As students progress into the upper key stages, it includes knowing how to book a BSL interpreter, understanding their rights, such as if they attend an appointment and the interpreter doesn’t turn up, what do they do about it? We’ve also incorporated career aspects; finding jobs and writing CVs. We have been able to tailor the curriculum exactly to what the school and students need.
Our latest residential inspection impressed Ofsted as they could see a clear cross over between school and in-residence:
Ofsted Dec2017 – Social Care Inspection Report
“The school uses a very helpful and comprehensive educational tracking programme. This ensures that young people continue to make good progress in all areas of the curriculum. Staff in residence use each young person’s individually designed targets to continue their learning in residence.”
With a national catchment and being in the Midlands, we have children from a wide area. We’re accountable to Local Authorities across the country; all needing to be kept up to date on children’s progress annually at a statutory meeting. This was a challenge as we’d have to consult various teachers for their individual updates and essentially get the feedback from their subject tracking files. Now we just log on and print off the reports for the children we need to discuss in the meeting. It’s proved informative and saves lots of time.
It’s important that we clearly report to parents – they need to be fully aware of progress, especially for our residential students. Last Christmas was the first time we used the assessment summaries to report to parents, then at Easter we did it all online by email and that went quite smoothly.
We now record assessment regularly across the whole school which enables us to set interventions when and if they are needed. It means staff are aware of the data, the whole picture and not just their area. We can breakdown and report on cohorts – pupil premium, gift & talented, complex needs students, boys and girls, allowing us to look at our residential students separately to see any impact on their academic achievements.
We’re now moving in the right direction. It’s easy to make comparisons with the children and cohorts. SLT can now clearly see the progress being made and its simple to produce the reports they need – they get a snapshot of what’s happening, backed up by observations and evidence.
Teachers find the system easy to update, they see the benefit but are also engaging with the curriculum and helping to adapt and refine objectives. They are using it in a meaningful way that’s supporting their planning.