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TEC 2 Workshop - Demonstrating Progress for Learners with Additional Needs

We held our second Tapestry Education Conference (TEC 2) in November 2019 with a focus on Changes in the Early Years Curriculum. The afternoon consisted of three table-top discussions led by members of the Early Years community, and for these we were joined by colleagues from Tapestry to record each conversation. Here, FSF and Tapestry’s Jack writes up the workshop led by Stephen Kilgour, Education Advisor and SEND outreach teacher. 

Stephen's overview for the workshop was: 

Demonstrating progress for learners with additional needs

Stephen, formerly Deputy Head of the outstanding Cherry Garden school in south London, designed the unique Branch Map system, a new assessment tool which supports settings and schools to demonstrate progress for children with significant difficulties. Fully aware that assessment data isn’t always meaningful and that many children do not make linear progress, Stephen set about designing a system that better reflected the attainment and progress of children with SEND.  The system is available at no cost and Stephen offers free training to PVI settings and mainstream/SEND schools in the North-East of England so that as many settings as possible can benefit.


During Stephen Kilgour’s table talk, we discussed all things SEND. Not only Stephen’s fabulous Cherry Garden framework but more generally about how children with SEND are supported and celebrated at school.

It was a diverse group ranging from those not from education backgrounds who had little formal experience working with children with SEND, and others who have worked in that sector for decades.

One of the first questions Stephen asked the group was “Do you think the formal training for teachers and Early Years practitioners, properly prepares them to teach children with SEND?”

The consensus was… 'no'.

I know from my personal experience, having finished my training about five years ago, that the amount of formal instruction you get on a topic as wide and complex as SEND is inadequate. One group member spoke of her experience when she first started teaching in the early 1990s. She had a boy with autism in her class and felt “wholly unprepared”, facing a huge learning curve when it came to catering for this pupil’s needs. The group wondered whether this was largely down to a lot of SEND going undiagnosed back then. On top of this, there was really no help readily available to her or to the parents. This made it so hard for the parents to fully understand their child’s needs and therefore to develop that all-important partnership between teacher and parent.

I think a lot of this has improved over the years. Obviously, as awareness goes up so does the number of children who get successfully diagnosed. This, in turn, drives parental awareness and involvement.

We started talking about the inherent difficulty in trying to “measure” children’s development and how this links in with the Cherry Garden framework.

Stephen explained that the framework is broken into 6 main areas of learning and each one of those breaks the statements into “branches”. The overall ethos is there is no expectation for the development to be linear or all-encompassing. Children may be achieving some statements in branch 5 and some in 7, all of branch 3 and none of 2. It all really depends on the child.

But assessment, at its core, is a measure of some kind. The problem with mainstream assessment is the expectation of linearity: start here and end here in this amount of years. But this, in most cases, isn’t the way it works! Stephen explained that the Branch Maps were designed to tackle this problem. To provide practitioners with an alternative way to assess children in a more holistic, nonlinear fashion.

Interestingly, Stephen said, “People are crying out for help.” Referring to practitioners wanting an alternative assessment system for their children with SEND. He visits schools in and around Newcastle to hear their needs and introduce them to the Branch Maps as an alternative way forward. 

Stephen asked us to do a “mini case study”: think of a child that we had worked with, or perhaps a family member or friend that had SEND. Could we plot them on the branch map? Could we follow their progression at all?

I had a child in mind from the start. A boy I taught in Year 4 who was working around Reception level in most areas. Teaching him, I experienced what I think a lot of practitioners feel in that situation: disorientation.

All I had planned, resourced and researched had little or no relevance to him.image.png

This five-minute exercise Stephen had us do brought so much clarity to that situation. I suddenly saw the pathway that could have been for that child and was inundated with fresh ideas for him.

One member of the table discussion proffered a very sobering question to the group: “What do you do for children who suffer from life-limiting conditions?” I must say, this is something I have never thought about before and I shared that sentiment with most of the group. The thinking behind this was these children aren’t necessarily going to make progress as their condition worsens. So how could you show parents, or Ofsted, the journey? Stephen suggested finding out and starting with what the child can do and expanding on that, in whatever direction it takes you. Which is, really, how we should be treating every child.

The discussion gravitated towards online learning journals. Stephen discussed how valuable they are when working with children with SEND. In a lot of cases, children with SEND don’t produce physical “work”. The ability to upload pictures and videos of children in the moment makes documenting milestones like “notices and responds to stimuli" so much more meaningful. 

Using the visual and immediate technology of an online recording system simplifies the celebration of children’s successes. The ability to share observations with parents and staff members means a more joined up and collaborative approach to recognising the strengths and progress of children with additional needs.

One of the things I like most about the Cherry Garden framework is it moves away from the traditional “age-appropriate” format. Children with SEND don’t fit into the rigid age appropriate boxes we try and put children into. Developmentally appropriate is a much more useful and relevant way of looking at development and that’s exactly how the Cherry Garden works. As well as this outlook, Stephen explained the importance of it always being “child led”. Let the children show you what they can do and what they are going to do next.

One of the staff members here at Tapestry HQ asked “Does the framework cover everything?” Stephen explained that it doesn't - in fact it couldn't really as there are so many steps that will be unique to each child. This led us back to the child-led ethos. “If a child is displaying a strength that isn’t a statement on a branch, just add it! Scribble all over them if you wish,” said Stephen. There are plenty of “personal goals” children develop as they get older like ‘keep your glasses on’ or ‘use people’s names when addressing them’ – these can be added to the branch maps if needed. They are intended to be as versatile as possible.

The table discussion ended, as so many educational conversations do, with a chat about Ofsted! As I’m sure we are all aware, the new Ofsted framework promises less emphasis on data. Whether this will filter down and affect the way schools track attainment and progress remains to be seen.

One encouraging thing Stephen did mention was when his school was last inspected, Ofsted showed no interest in data and numbers and simply wanted to be shown the processes and systems in place to help the children. A VERY important message to end a very interesting discussion!

To find out more about the Cherry Garden framework and to access free downloadable copies of the Branch Maps, please read Stephen's article

Jack Dabell
Jack is part of the Product Support Team and the Education Team at Tapestry. He taught in Key Stage 2 for four years but now spends most of his time stroking his beard and thinking about how to make his articles funnier.

Edited by Jules

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