Personalisation is the ambition of many specialist provisions but how personalised are we really?
The SEN Code of Practice (2015) states that “High quality teaching that is differentiated and personalised will meet the individual needs of the majority of children and young people”. However, with the wide-ranging demands upon us it may seem challenging ensuring that each student receives an educational experience fully suited to their needs. Nevertheless, with this being the most effective way to ensure individual progression, it is crucial that it remains the priority.
So what does true personalisation look like in practice? For personalisation to be the focus it needs to be embedded in all aspects of a school/ provision and be the goal of all staff members. Policies, behaviour support tools, the curriculum, assessment methods and timetabling should reflect and prioritise this focus on developing individual approaches in order for it to have the prominence it deserves.
Curriculum and Planning
The curriculum should underpin a students’ education and is the core element of individualisation. The curriculum has a requirement to provide consistency between students and a breadth of study but also must allow flexibility and personalisation of the approaches and content.
The National Curriculum (2014) states that “a minority of pupils” will need alternative approaches to which it offers. Schools must be confident to take that opportunity to develop a more appropriate and personalised curriculum. The focus on semi-formal and skills based curriculums is evident in many outstanding specialist schools and is at the crux of being able to tailor an educational journey for each student. The decision to move away from the National Curriculum is daunting but enables schools to move away from knowledge based expectations and focus, truly, on what a student needs and allows opportunities to provide this.
There are many curriculums which have been designed, or can be purchased, that allow flexibility in order to respond to the more complex needs we are seeing in Special Needs education. Many of these curriculums are now skills based which allows them to be more adaptable to the holistic, and most fundamental, needs of the students.
Planning that coincides with the curriculum should also be carefully designed to support the use of individual approaches. Promoting individual schedules, flexible timetabling and encouraging staff to utilise naturally occurring learning opportunities will all increase the levels of personalisation.
On 11/10/17 OFSTED published a discussion by the Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, from recent research into the Primary and Secondary Curriculum which concluded that there was “little debate or reflection about” the curriculum. This conclusion may have been a little different if special schools had been included, as those of us within special schools have continued to reflect on the theory that underpins curriculum planning throughout the various lives of the National Curriculum in order to ensure its relevance to our students. Not being driven by league tables has enabled us more freedom and creativity in relation to the curriculum offer than our colleagues in mainstream schools, and therefore enabled true personalisation.
Policies allow a school to share its vision for genuine personalisation with a range of education staff, management and governing bodies, parents and other relevant parties. Although there needs to be a prescriptive nature to some aspects of policies, they allow a school to share their aims and visions in a range of areas. The focus on personalisation can be highlighted through a minimum of the Teaching and Learning; Assessment, Recording and Reporting; Curriculum and Positive Behaviour Policies as well as the SEN Information Report. Another benefit of highlighting this priority, in readily available documents, is the audience of potential applicants for jobs.
The requirement for assessment tools to be standardised in order to produce comparable data and improve ease of use for all staff is of great importance in all schools. The tools used need to be able to show a complete picture of a student. Methods which report on academic progress have value, but should be used as part of a wider group of assessment approaches and should not be seen as of greater importance than other tools when teaching students with complex special educational needs. A number of assessment tools are now available which allow flexibility of use and adaptation to link them to individual curriculums and targets. These assessment tools, are highly beneficial when developing personalised approaches. They allow you to record and measure progress along a set scale whilst relating to individualised targets and expectations.
A key factor in ensuring genuine personalisation is the development of Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) which are focussed on the wide ranging needs of the students, not just academic targets. The four areas of need as set out by the SEN Code of Practice (Communication and Interaction; Social, Emotional and Mental Health; Cognition and Learning; Sensory and Physical) are valuable descriptors to ensure targets encompass the wide ranging complex needs of these students. Working with a multi-disciplinary team and with parent/carers is beneficial in ensuring IEP targets are even more relevant and personalised to the individual. These IEP targets should be linked to a range of planning and assessment strategies in order for the individual needs of the students to have the focus they require.
Including all education staff in target setting and evaluation encourages them to take responsibility for students’ specific needs. By valuing contributions to reports and working documents all staff are required to consider each student as an individual and reflect on the differing needs of each student. Clear and regular opportunities for contributions from all supporting staff ensures this is an ongoing and embedded practice. Regular class and whole school meetings, where students are discussed holistically, are highly valuable, allowing time to reflect on what is being implemented and what further support is needed.
Other Support Tools
The use of personalised multi-disciplinary documents such as sensory-motor profiles, communication profiles and Positive Behaviour Support Plans are all valuable tools in ensuring individualisation. Positive Behaviour Support Plans which highlight students’ individual responses and behaviours at varying levels of arousal are a valuable tool in promoting personalisation. These allow all staff to consider each students’ differing causes of behaviour and relevant strategies for each individual. These should be written with contributions from all staff and evaluated on a regular basis to ensure they remain relevant to the ever changing needs of our complex students.
The approaches discussed are common in special education provisions and schools but only when these are used collectively, and are truly embedded in the ethos of a school, that true personalisation will take place. The outcome of genuine personalisation is students who are able to progress, holistically, at their own pace and will achieve outcomes which benefit them throughout their lives.