Measuring progress for children with SEND

The progress of all groups of children has been a prominent issue for all schools since the introduction of the 2012 Ofsted inspection framework. Parents also want to see evidence of progress.

The issue of showing progress is particularly challenging for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as they tend to make progress in very individual ways, and sometimes in very small increments. The challenge is therefore how to demonstrate both how and why progress is taking place.

Ofsted's view of SEND progress and achievement

Ofsted’s revised School Inspection Framework includes a SEND-specific focus. In terms of progress and attainment, it states that Ofsted inspectors must consider:

  • The learning and progress of different groups of pupils currently on the roll of the school, including disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs and those for whom the pupil premium provides support
  • The proportion meeting and exceeding expected progress from different starting points compared with national figures
  • Value-added indices for the school overall and for different groups of pupils and subjects.

However, Ofsted define expected progress as:

  • Two National Curriculum levels of progress between Key Stages 1 and 2
  • Three National Curriculum levels of progress between Key Stages 2 and 4.
  • Subsidiary Guidance to schools gives further advice on evaluating the achievement and progress of pupils with SEND by using SEN Progression Guidance materials (DfE) and RAISEonline data. The DfE have also heavily promoted Achievement for All as a strategy for raising the achievement of the lowest 20% of pupils in the school. The starting point of Achievement for All is a greater focus on SEND as part of Quality First teaching - both are promoted through our Local Offer.
The Role of the SENCo

The role of the SENCo is critical in having responsibility to advise and support classroom and subject teachers in planning for pupils in their class with SEND, and ensuring that all teachers have high aspirations, supported by consistent and accurate assessment that informs provision.

Schools therefore need to be clear about how they are going to report progress of SEND pupils, and the data that they will use, to show additionality for children and young people with SEND to parents, governors, Local Authority and Inspectors.

What does progression look like and mean for SEND pupils?

Where schools are aspirational, with good planning, assessment and scaffolded activities, SEND pupils will achieve challenging targets and make accelerated progress.

Once a baseline is established, progress can be tracked, with the national expectation that schools should facilitate the learning of pupils in vulnerable groups so that they make faster progress and close the gap with national expectations for all pupils.

SENCOs will monitor the progress of individual pupils with SEND, and will also want to look at the progress of all SEND pupils see if this tells a story about progress within the SEND population.

Tools and Approaches

Measuring progress with reading, writing and numeracy:

Most pupils identified with SEND have difficulties with literacy, with reading ages and spelling ages well below their chronological age. Tracking of gains should show solid progress if intervention is effective, even if the pupil has not yet transferred the new skills fully into independent learning in the classroom. P scales help to better capture such horizontal rather than linear progress.

Measuring qualitative progress:

Most SENCOs have developed in-house approaches to measuring the qualitative progress that pupils with SEND are making, e.g. by recording engagement, understanding and mastery of skills. Other interventions that provide evidence of increases in learning include cognitive development programmes, working memory programmes, speech and language interventions and occupational therapy programmes particularly for those requiring sensory programmes.

Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs:

For many pupils with SEND, progress in learning is inhibited by social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH). There are many published checklists that provide a baseline profile of a child’s SEMH needs, and which can then be used to show progress over time in developing sets of skills (e.g. Boxall profile).

For pupils who have not shown gains in sub-levels in a term in academic subjects like English and Maths, the evidence of improved SEMH is a positive feature. Another way of analysing progress in behaviour is to use the school’s behaviour policy sanctions e.g. points, the number of times they have been on a report card.


One of the most effective ways of encouraging and motivating pupils with SEND to persevere and achieve, is to involve them in monitoring their own progress. Most schools have a variety of schemes for pupils to self-assess and record progress.

Ofsted are also keen to talk to pupils about their learning, so it is good practice that pupils should be used to thinking and talking about what they know.

Anecdotal comment:

This technique has been well-developed in special schools for pupils with very complex learning difficulties, and can also be useful for mainstream SENCOs and teaching assistants (TAs).

In the anecdotal comment technique, teachers / support staff are asked to make a brief comment (no more than a few sentences) when they noticed a new piece of learning or skill that the pupil has achieved.

All they are required to write is the learning objective, the activity and the outcome for the pupil e.g. a learning or skill acquired, including where possible a precise level or sub level.

Case studies:

Another way of demonstrating smaller step progress of pupils with SEND is to have a regular case studies and intervention impact reports.

Used well, they are a good means of evidencing the quantitative and qualitative progress, and the value of interventions have in terms of engagement in learning and achieving.

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