The SEN Assessment Toolkit encompasses a lot of the areas that I need to refer to, and is suitable for use across our school with EAL and SEN children. I feel reassured that I have a trusted set of resources that covers me with everything I need.Charlotte Carey, SENCo, North Walsall Primary Academy
Based in a richly multi-cultural area, North Walsall Primary Academy is an inclusive school, where children get the very best educational start. 60% of pupils have EAL (English as an additional language), with 13 different languages spoken at the school including Urdu and Polish. There are also 35 children on the SEN register.
“As you might expect, one of our main areas of need is speech and language,” explains Charlotte Carey, the school’s SENCo.
“Unfortunately early communication interventions in our area, such as ‘Tiny Talkers’ baby classes, are not really designed for parents who speak English as a second language and so many do not attend. The outcome is that when children join our nursery or Reception class, it can be difficult to assess their level of ability. Are they quiet because they are shy or because they don’t understand? Are there ‘real’ learning difficulties independent of a lack of vocabulary?
“In order to know how we can best support our pupils, whether they are EAL, SEN or both, it’s imperative that we use a broad range of assessments to pinpoint the issues.”
Covering all bases
The school has chosen to use the SEN Assessment Toolkit, comprised of 12 assessments that focus on unearthing barriers to learning across dyslexia, literacy, numeracy, and mental health and wellbeing.
Wellcomm is one of four literacy assessments in the toolkit. Suitable for use with children aged from six months to six years, it can play a crucial role in identifying potential language difficulties. Results are placed in a traffic light system of coloured bands – green means there is no intervention currently necessary, amber means extra support and intervention is required and red means the school should consider a referral to a specialist service.
Charlotte comments: “Wellcomm’s traffic light system makes it very straightforward to understand a child’s current level of speech. We have been using it for three years with selected children. However, to nip any issues in the bud, this year we have decided to screen our whole nursery class. Out of 30 children, 18 were in the red or amber band.”
Wellcomm comes with ‘The Big Book of Ideas’ which gives practical advice for targeted intervention. “We have the benefit of a full-time Speech and Language Assistant, but you could follow ‘The Big Book of Ideas’ to the letter. We started an intervention programme with these 18 children and, at the end of six weeks, four of the 18 had made accelerated progress, nine had moved on to the next step and five have been referred to a Speech and Language specialist.”
At a time when waiting lists for professional intervention can be lengthy, screening with Wellcomm offers the school a number of benefits. “It means we can start improving language skills while children are waiting for an appointment. We’re also able to create a report directly from Wellcomm which provides concrete evidence about the steps the school has taken so far.”
Checking basic vocabulary
On the occasions when a child experiences severe language delays, the school uses the British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS3) to assess their receptive vocabulary. In this one-to-one assessment, the teacher says a word and the pupil responds by selecting a picture.
“Often children need a basic vocabulary to access intervention programmes, so BPVS3 is a good pre-assessment and helps me know where to start. It’s accessible to both EAL and SEN pupils. If a child has autism or cerebral palsy, they can point or blink. The pictures are bold with a black outline, so it’s also suitable for children who are colour-blind.
“If it transpires there is something in particular a child doesn’t know, such as parts of the body, we can work on those targets via stories or songs such as ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.’ We also feedback to parents and ask them to work on things at home.
“We tend to find our EAL children struggle with similar issues, such as prepositions. Knowing this means we can group children together, and teachers can personalise their learning effectively in class.”
All SEN children in Years 1 to 6 are screened with additional literacy and numeracy assessments.
“We use the Phonological Assessment Battery (PhAB2), which helps identify sound structure difficulties with our SEN pupils, and we also screen any children staff are concerned about. For example, we had a child in Year 5 who seemed to be having trouble blending and segmenting sounds. With PhAB2, you can pick out the bits you need so I specifically looked at these sections. This gave me the levels she was working at, which were not age appropriate.
“While we investigated the possibility of dyslexia, we were able to start some intervention around active literacy, which delved into the sounds she doesn’t know and helped plug the gaps in her knowledge.”
“We also screen SEN pupils with the Sandwell Early Numeracy Test(SENT), which assesses skills such as oral counting, value and identification.
“The children love this assessment as there is a colourful flip chart. We ask them the questions verbally and, as the script is written on the other side of the flip chart, consistency is straightforward. When they make two errors, we stop.
“We test every autumn and spring term, and create a report for teachers. This forms part of their Individual Education Plan (IEP), and includes a ‘maths age’ and details of what a child can and can’t do.
“Again, we group children with similar needs together for targeted work in the afternoon. This approach is working well. For example, in Year 3, we have two groups of five SEN children. Since September, they have made almost the same rate of progress in maths as our non-SEN children.”
Mental Health and wellbeing
The school has found the Emotional Literacy assessment useful for addressing issues such as self-awareness, motivation and social skills amongst some of their SEN pupils.
“We have five autistic children who sometimes struggle to see what is appropriate behaviour. This assessment can really help. There is a matching game which asks ‘What would you do?’, if you had an argument with a friend, for example. Would you run away? Talk to someone? Shout and scream? It helps them see how to cope with different situations.
“Ultimately, having so many assessments under one umbrella is a great help when I’m explaining results to teachers as it all looks familiar. The SEN Assessment Toolkit encompasses a lot of the areas that I need to refer to, and is suitable for use across our school with EAL and SEN children. I feel reassured that I have a trusted set of resources that covers me with everything I need.”
"The assessment framework should be built into the school curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage, and so that they can report regularly to parents."
“Without a doubt, the elephant in the room is comprehension. If a child can decode to an extent, that develops confidence – but this confidence is easily shattered quite quickly when they enter secondary school.”