04 SES 03 A, Improving Education
This paper reports findings from a study conducted within 13 special schools in one city in Scotland. The local authority in this area makes provision for almost all children and young people with additional learning needs within its mainstream schools and centres. In addition, approximately 1000 learners (2.1% of the local school population) with a complexity of significant additional learning needs are educated in 13 special schools or in specialist provision located within mainstream schools. The factors giving rise to additional support needs include: social and behavioural needs, autism spectrum disorder, significant visual/sensory/health and medical needs and learning disability.
In the past, there have been significant challenges in providing meaningful and reliable comparative information about learner progress in such schools. This is partly because the schools themselves support children and young people with quite different sets of needs, and comparison has been seen as unhelpful; it may also relate to ways in which monitoring of achievement and progress of learners in special school settings has often been less rigorous than in mainstream, perhaps reflecting assumptions about the need to make a ‘special case for special schools’. It may also be because the achievements of learners in these schools tend to go unrecognised and unscrutinised by national and international studies such as PISA and TIMSS which examine school attainment.
The study emerged from a concern at local authority level that although all school leaders wanted the very best for their young people, schools varied widely in how they evaluated the outcomes and impact of their work and planned for next steps. This concern led to a focus on developing a more systematic, robust and meaningful process for effective self-evaluation in these 13 special schools. The work included development of a framework designed to support schools in how they evaluate the progress of learners. This allows key baseline comparative data to be gathered but also collates data customised to reflect the local and particular needs of each school. This data includes for example; national attainment data, achievement of individualised targets set by the school, achievement data from other awarding bodies, statistics reflecting onward destinations for those leaving school, attendance and exclusion levels.
The study reported here sought to use the data gathered as a basis for broader discussion about how we might understand and evaluate learner progress and achievement in special schools. The key objectives of this study were to:
- Provide an overview of learner progress in the special schools in one local authority area
- Evaluate the progress made by schools since the introduction of this evaluation framework
- Identify areas of strength which could be shared across these schools to help improve outcomes for learners
- Identify the support and skills needed by school leaders to further improve outcomes for learners
- Evaluate the challenges and successes of the performance framework to date and identify implications for teaching and learning
- To consider how lessons learned in this study might be applied more generally in special and mainstream schools.
Black Hawkins, K., Florian, L. and Rouse, M. (2007) Achievement and Inclusion in Schools, London: Routledge Florian, L. and Black-Hawkins, K. (2011) Exploring Inclusive Pedagogy, British Educational Research Journal, 37, 5, 813-828, HMIE (2007) How Good is Our School? How good can we be. The Journey to Excellence. Part 3. HM Inspectorate of Education, Livingston. HMIE (2008) Improving Outcomes for Learners through Self Evaluation. The Journey to Excellence. HM Inspectorate of Education, Livingston
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