Donaldson and SEN/ALN

In March 2014, Huw Lewis, the Minister for Education and Skills, asked Professor Graham Donaldson to conduct a fundamental review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales from Foundation Phase to Key Stage 4 resulting in a report called Successful Futures which makes a total of 68 recommendations. You can read an ‘At a Glance Guide’ to the report here. Yesterday, 30 June 2015, the Minister addressed the Senydd and announced that the Welsh Government was going to accept all of the report’s recommendations. Last week the Minister cited the implementation of Professor Donaldson’s recommendation together with Professor Furlong’s recommendations on Initial Teacher Training and the ‘New Deal’ education workforce development initiative amongst the reasons why he wasn’t going to introduce a substantive ALN Bill during this Assembly. Instead, the Welsh Government is going to introduce a draft ALN Bill for ‘informal’ scrutiny which I blogged about at the time. Basically, the Minister’s reasoning seemed to be twofold: firstly, all of these initiatives, including the draft ALN Bill, were ‘intrinsically linked’ and the draft ALN Bill would need to be considered and developed in light of them and vice versa; and secondly, the introduction of the various recommendations would present a significant challenge which will need carefully planning and management so as avoid ‘reform fatigue’ and to ensure that the education workforce have the capacity to deliver all of the reforms effectively and coherently.  The latter  aspect will no doubt also draw on another report that the Welsh Government commissioned specifically regarding the skill base of the education workforce involved in supporting children with SEN/ALN which I blogged about here.  So, what does Professor Donaldson actually say about SEN/ALN? Before we consider what he says about SEN/ALN we need to have a bit of an understanding of some of the concepts being proposed and to do that I’m going to quote from two very useful blog articles by Michael Dauncey of the National Assembly for Wales Research Service: the first can be accessed here and the second here. The first concept to get under your belt is ‘Area of Learning and Experience‘:

“Professor Donaldson recommends that the curriculum is organised around six ‘Areas of Learning and Experience’ rather than separate, narrow subjects as at present. This would build on the precedent of the Foundation Phase which uses Areas of Learning whilst widening the concept to also recognise the value of learning through experiences.

The six Areas of Learning and Experience recommended by the Donaldson Review are:

  • Expressive Arts
  • Health and Well-being
  • Humanities
  • Languages, Literacy and Communication
  • Mathematics and Numeracy
  • Science and Technology”

Then we have ‘continuum of learning‘ or ‘learning continuum‘:

“The Review recommends a fundamental change in the way we think about the journey children and young people take through their life in school. Professor Donaldson has set out a new model for organising the curriculum timeline, in line with the direction given by the Minister for Education and Skills for a continuum of learning. (This term is likely to be one that is highly used during the next few years and arguably emerges as the most prominent concept of the Review.)

Professor Donaldson recommends an end to the current system of key stages, so that there is a ‘learning continuum’ for pupils. He says this will ‘increase potential for higher attainment by minimising transitions and shifts in purposes and approach at intervals’ during a young person’s school life.

Currently, pupils study the curriculum in three key stages (Key Stages 2, 3 and 4) following the Foundation Phase, which itself has been introduced since devolution to combine Early Years and Key Stage 1, establishing a new way of learning in early years. The Review finds that dividing the curriculum into separate stages creates unhelpful transition points and can hinder progression.

The Review advocates a clear line of sight from start to finish of the curriculum journey rather than seeing it as a series of blocks or stages.”

The next couple of concepts to grapple with are ‘progression steps‘ and ‘achievement outcomes‘:

According to the Review, learning should be viewed like an ‘expedition’ with ‘stops, detours and spurts’ along the way. Rather than having ‘levels’ of achievement, Professor Donaldson recommends measuring progress through ‘Progression Steps’. These would be used at five points of the learning continuum’ and would relate to expectations at ages 5, 8, 11, 14 and 16.

The Review anticipates that each child and young person would have their own unique‘roadmap’. Whereas the current system of levels is based on a best-fit judgement of overall attainment, the vision is that Progression Steps would be viewed as a ‘staging post’ rather than a judgement. Progression Steps would therefore be seen as reference points rather than universal expectations.

Source: Professor Graham Donaldson CB, Successful Futures: Independent Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales, February 2015, p55

Achievement Outcomes for each of the six Areas of Learning and Experience will be used to determine a pupil’s progress. These Achievement Outcomes will be described from the learner’s own point of view, using phrases such as ‘I have’ for experiences and ‘I can’ for outcomes.

The Review recognises that the learning continuum would need to be flexible and accommodate the different rates at which children and young people progress. Some pupils will reach progression steps faster than others and Progression Step 5 (usually at age 16) would be available earlier for those who comfortably meet Progression Step 4 at age 14. Professor Donaldson also recommends that schools should be under a duty to provide a curriculum that enables most children and young people to reach, or go beyond each Progression Step within the broad three-year window.

The Achievement Outcomes at each Progression Step will need to encapsulate the most important aspects of learning, take account of the ways in which children progress in different kinds of learning, and recognise what they need to be able to know and do in order to move securely to the next stage.

Armed with these concepts we can now look at what Professor Donaldson says in his Review specifically about SEN/ALN. Starting with the structure of the new system (page 54 and paraphrased at point 19 on page 56 and again at point 19 on page 115), it is clear that he intends that it:

“..will be inclusive, with all children and young people making progress along the same continuum, regardless of any additional learning needs they may have, although they may move between Progression Steps more slowly or quickly than others. Because of the particular barriers that they face to their learning, some may take considerably longer to reach the first Progression Step or move between Steps. The significance of all such achievements should be recognised.
Next on pages 91 – 92 he explains more about his vision for SEN/ALN:
This Review presents a curriculum and assessment framework for all children and young people in Wales wherever they receive their education. Special schools provide education for a wide range of learning needs and much of their existing good practice, including in assessment, is already in harmony with the Review’s proposals. The four identified purposes of the curriculum apply to all children and young people. Similarly, the Progression Steps and Achievement Outcomes should also be relevant to all children and young people and will provide opportunities for a rich range of experiences.
The programmes of learning currently on offer in special schools should be relatively easy to adapt to deliver a curriculum that comprises the six Areas of Learning and Experience, the three cross-cutting responsibilities and wider skills. As at present, they will need to design pedagogical approaches to match the specific learning needs of their individual children and young people. The curriculum will provide scope for creativity and innovation and it will be vitally important that  teachers and learning support workers (classroom support staff) use this scope to develop and deliver programmes of learning that are relevant and meaningful to the children and young people in their schools.
Schools will be able to decide the most appropriate implementation strategies, taking account of their own circumstances. Parents, carers and children and young people will have key roles to play in the development of learning programmes [added underlining], as is highlighted in the principles of the Review. Additionally,  multi-agency support will need to be integrated into all planning for children and young people who have the most complex learning needs.
All of these developments will require bespoke training to ensure that teachers and learning support workers have the skills and confidence to deliver the new curriculum. This should be seen as an important part of the New Deal for the Education Workforce.”
So, it is clear that Professor Donaldson’s recommendations (which the Welsh Government are taking forward) will affect children with SEN/ALN and in a way that will need to be reflected in either a future ALN Bill or a new Code of Practice, and probably both.
It’s evident from the last paragraph of the above quote that Professor Donaldson is not underestimating the difficulties involved in implementing his vision and he continues on page 92 – 94 to talk about the reform process in more detail: it’s well worth reading but I’ll draw your attention to the following which appears on page 93 where he says that, amongst other things, experience of major curriculum reform over many decades suggests that an effective change strategy should:
“…secure the understanding and support of key stakeholder groups, particularly parents and carers.” [Added underlining.]
It will be interesting to see how the Welsh Government sets about “securing the understanding and support” of the parents and carers of children with SEN/ALN and/or disability.

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