National Association of Special Educational Needs Written evidence (EDU0038)


nasen (The National Association for Special Educational Needs) is pleased to be able to submit evidence to the Lords Select Committee’s inquiry into ‘Education for 11-16 year olds’. Whilst some of the topics set by the Committee are of out of scope of nasen’s remit, we answer those that are relevant and in addition highlight the fundamental importance of ensuring that children aged 1116 who have Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) are fully considered, including being able to develop the skills necessary for the digital and green economy.


  1. Background on Special Educational Needs (SEN)

A child or young person has Special Educational Needs (SEN) if they have a learning difficulty or disability which requires special educational provision to be made, which, according to the SEND Code of Practice (2015), is educational or training provision that is additional to or different from that made generally for other children or young people of the same age by mainstream schools or settings.

1.1 The quality of support that children and young people with SEND receive affects their well-being, educational attainment, likelihood of subsequent employment, and long-term life prospects. Currently, the educational experience for and outcomes of children and young people with SEND is not as good as it is for those without SEND. For example:

  1. Schools are facing a double challenge around SEND: prevalence and complexity[5]. The number of children and young people identified with SEN continues to rise. In 2021/22 almost 1.5 million children and young people in England were identified with SEN[6].
  2. The increasingly complex characterisation of SEND is driving an increase in support needs in the classroom. Teaching staff are increasingly expected to have specific theoretical, and increasingly, neuropsychological knowledge about a growing set of categories in order to support their students with more complex needs. Schools are bound by the SEND code of practice to ensure high quality teaching and teachers are bound by their professional standards to appropriately adapt their teaching to respond to the needs of all pupils. To respond to some of these challenges, nasen advocates for career-long teacher training to be set into a context of inclusion by design and be learner-led rather than label-led.


  1. The range and breadth of subjects covered in the 11-16 curriculum.

4.1 Young people with SEND can sometimes find that they are on a reduced curriculum while schools endeavour to improve their English and maths. The assessment measures such as Progress 8, have unintentionally narrowed the curriculum, minimising time for other subjects which can be vital to  holistic development and the route to wider opportunities for some young people such as those seen as less ‘academic’ or vocational. The current teacher recruitment and retention issues are also having a detrimental effect on the number of subject specialist teachers available to deliver subjects in the best way for young people to engage with them. The NFER statistics showed that only 55% of maths lessons in Autumn 2021 were staffed by specialist teachers. Studies have shown that subject-specific training of teachers is responsible for more effective teaching resulting in higher student proficiency (Porsch and Whannell, 2019). This is especially necessary for those who may need additional support to access the curriculum, such as those young people with SEND.

4.2 The focus on the English Baccalaureate and Progress 8 ‘buckets’ has restricted young people’s choices at age 14 with a focus on many ‘academic’ subjects which may not fit with a young person’s aspirations. The curriculum should provide continuity of progression for every learner from early years to adulthood with qualifications available to demonstrate and recognise the strengths of every learner. There is also an opportunity here for learners to have depth within subjects should they wish. Consideration should be given to the number of GCSEs required and the rationale for this; seeking to enable more choice for learners and the opportunity to ensure key skills and areas are fully mastered. The measurement of successful attainment requires examination success that can disadvantage some learners with SEND. The last reforms of the examination system at GCSE and A level resulted in withdrawal of continuous assessment. The consequence of this is a system that is insufficiently inclusive. While many schools are striving to provide an inclusive classroom, the inflexibility of the examination system fails the young people and the schools by limiting the measurement of progress and attainment.

4.3 Although the DfE gives academies the freedom to design and implement their own curriculum, as Ofsted uses the National Curriculum as a benchmark for the breadth of curriculum, GCSEs can limit the curriculum in KS4. Educators, parents, employers can all take their lead from Ofsted and view core 'academic' subjects as being more valuable than others. Significant work needs to be done to change perception so that schools and students feel able to pursue alternatives.

  1. The effectiveness of the 11-16 curriculum in equipping young people with the skills they need to progress into post-16 education and employment in a future digital and green economy.

Alongside the need to review the fitness of the curriculum to equip all learners well for the future they will experience, there needs to be significant work done with employers to understand the strengths of learners with SEND and their ability to move into the digital economy. Creating a system of aptitude rather than ability to pass assessments would support this.


  1. The availability and attractiveness of technical and vocational options in the 11-16 phase.


With the introduction of T-levels as an alternative to A-levels, it seems that now is a time to consider the vocational options available pre-16. The Woolf report in 2011 recommended vocational courses being run with support from business and colleges. Functional skills qualifications for numeracy and literacy to demonstrate application standards may remain useful for some learners as a viable alternative to GCSE maths and English, whilst also guarding against this then artificially narrowing the curriculum.


  1. The impact of the 11-16 system on the motivation and confidence of pupils of all abilities.


7.1 The high-stakes, accountability measures of the school system can have a detrimental effect on some young people, especially those with SEND. Instead of valuing strengths and equipping them with the opportunities to use those strengths to improve areas of basic numeracy and literacy, they have to do GCSE maths and English, which can be quite inappropriate for them. The curriculum offer could potentially be driving some of the persistent absence within schools and the high numbers of exclusions for pupils with SEND.
7.2 The hidden curriculum and the extra-curricular offer is also a major influence on the confidence, motivation, self-reliance, resilience and independence of young people. Where school budgets are increasingly squeezed and staffing is an issue, many of these activities can be withdrawn. This impacts students with SEND and those disadvantaged students disproportionately as they often are not able to access these opportunities outside of school.


7.3 Research indicates that transition points may heighten personal challenges, particularly for those with SEND, learning differences or other vulnerabilities (eg. transition points at age 11, 16 and 18/19), This is an area for further work which could increase the confidence of young people with SEND. In Wales the education policy has been to reduce the transition points between settings, introducing all-age through schools.


  1. The effectiveness of GCSEs as a means of assessing the achievements of all pupils at the end of the 11-16 phase.


8.1 The assessment system is not fit for the modern era and while GCSE grades are appropriate, classifying grade 4 as a ‘standard’ pass and grade 5 as ‘strong’ pass means that grades 1 to 3 are automatically considered a ‘fail’. The way the GCSE grades are assigned is always going to assign one third of the passes below a grade 4 – this ‘forgotten third’ is not an accident but the product of the system of comparable outcomes whereby the spread of GCSE grades is pegged to what cohorts of similar ability achieved in the past. For young people with SEND this unnecessary line in the sand means that they are barred from certain courses, opportunities and employment which they could otherwise achieve in. For example, a young person with an aptitude in the arts has to continue to devote some time to continuing to try to achieve this ‘standard’ pass until they are 18 regardless of its application to their future aspirations and/or career.

8.2 It is worth considering the numerous education systems that do not use high-stakes external exams at the age of 16 but rather rely on teacher-led internal assessments and progress checks. This is an alternative worth considering given that young people now have to stay in education until 18 (see section 10).

8.3 The focus on academic success being the only success that is valued creates a system that favours winners and reinforces the validity of meritocracy. This can have a detrimental effect on many students, including many with SEND. This can contribute to a lack of psychological safety within the culture and ethos of schools, and may be contributing to the increase in poor mental health seen amongst staff and students within our secondary schools. We have forgotten to ensure that Maslow’s hierarchy is in place before young people can learn. As stated in the EDSK report on ‘Re-assessing the future’, “the EBacc and Progress 8 has resulted in academic GCSE subjects being explicitly prioritised over other subjects such as art, music and D&T.” The costs of this to schools is currently over £200million that could be better spent within schools to support students to have a wider curriculum offer to 18..


  1. Alternative methods of assessment for measuring progress that could be considered either alongside or instead of GCSEs.

9.1 As Bill Lucas states in his paper Rethinking Assessment in Education: The Case for Change “To solely use standardised achievement tests is like casting a net into the sea – a net that is intentionally designed to let the most interesting fish get away.” And as Michael Fullan, a world-renowned education expert, writes: “The pervasive obsession with academic grades and degrees, and corresponding elite rewards at the expense of other people ... results in narrow learning that severely distorts what people learn and need in the 21st century.”  Lucas also goes on to say “recalling decontextualised information in a pencil and paper examination is a skill, but not one that adults need to use much in a digital age.” Schools need to first be equipped to enter the digital age and then to harness that to develop skills and knowledge to interrogate, interpret and analyse. One commentary on assessment from Milligan (2020) states that “The risk is that schools create students dependent on direct instruction, cramming, drilling and coaching, reliant on expert instruction by teachers who are expected to guide learners through a carefully prescribed body of knowledge, assessed in predictable ways.”

9.2 One of the benefits of working in a specialist setting catering for young people up to the age of 19 is that they can undertake assessments when they were ready – be that year 11, 12, 13 or 14. Removing the demand for these assessments to be taken at a prescribed time will support more lifelong learning. Lucas identifies many disadvantages for young people of the high-stakes assessment system. One way forward is to co-produce new options and processes with those who have recently been through the system and some who are in it. We hear that employers find that the skills they think learners will have are not evident through their assessment grades.
10.3 Moving towards performance-based assessment where we are focusing on the learners’ personalised needs, perhaps incorporating AI as part of this, or extended projects, research projects or even some games-based assessments in this new world of the Metaverse and infinite iteration, developing a system of on-demand micro-credentials for students could be explored.


  1. How the school accountability system affects the 11-16 curriculum.
    10.1 League tables driven by Progress 8 and SATs results can be drivers of narrow curricula, student disengagement and barriers to inclusion. As the pressure around external accountability  increases, so that pressure is passed down the line of influence – from senior leadership to teachers to students. We know young people’s mental health is a significant current concern .
    10.2 Assistive technology across the 11-16 curriculum has the potential to increase meaningful access to the curriculum for all learners and is vital to some with SEND. Training in this should be rolled out across all schools.


  1. The role technology can play in education in this phase, including in assessment, the personalisation of learning and reducing teachers’ workload.
    11.1 Assistive technology has a significant role here; enabling students to learn how best to support themselves through tools which are freely accessible and training teachers to make this happen.

11.2 In the current financial climate, it is not a given that all students have access to appropriate technology (eg a laptop) to assist their learning. While some students may be able to bring in their own devices from home, not all are financially able.

11.3 School budgets are such that departments/faculties do not necessarily have a bank of devices available to students. This can mean that devices are kept with the SENCO or Learning Support team for students to collect each day, and this often results in students not wishing to collect a device for fear of stigma.
11.4 There is also the significant issue of school ICT infrastructure not being fit for use by a large number of students at the same time, and with budget difficulties, significant investment in this area is not an option for all schools.
11.5 Teachers and SENDCos are regularly faced with a difficult decision for students who benefit from assistive technology in the classroom, but who- under current JCQ guidelines- would not be granted access to the same adaptive methods in exams.

11.6 For example: should students be allowed to use technology in the classroom, such as use of a word processor to type and edit work; computer 'read aloud' functionality; or dictation software, if they will not be eligible to use it in their exams?
11.7 Are they being set up to fail if teachers enable them to use the technology in the classroom, despite that they may not be eligible for it in exams?
On-demand assessments with longer assessment windows and potential for learners to take exams when they are ready, would be an improvement. Having suitable learning platforms to support flipped learning and funding to ensure all learners have technology and internet connectivity to engage could drive improvement.

  1. How the 11-16 system could be adapted to improve the attractiveness of the teaching profession, and the recruitment, training and retention of teachers.
    12.1 Review the curriculum and the assessment measures with the profession.
    12.2 Address the lack of teacher confidence in SEND through more training opportunities,career-long.

12.3 Train teachers in inclusion by design (including flexibility of engagement, expression, action and representation) to ensure lessons are meaningful and motivational, all of which has the potential to increase accessibility for learners with SEND and decrease behaviour issues. It also has the potential to reduce teacher workload, as it moves away from differentiation towards adaptive teaching.
12.4 Develop use of AI supported lesson interventions that reduce marking and are able to give immediate, individual feedback.


  1. How spending for this phase of education should be prioritised, in the context of the current fiscal climate.


13.1 Allow greater autonomy for schools to truly develop a curriculum for their pupils and review all disincentives to inclusion, including the accountability and assessment regimes and frameworks.
13.2 Provide more high quality professional development opportunities for leaders and teachers in SEND and inclusion; this, in turn, can increase inclusion and success for pupils with SEND and reduce workload, behaviour challenges, exclusion and parental dissatisfaction.


  1. Lessons for improving education for the 11-16 phase from educational policy and practice from overseas, or from the devolved administrations.
    14.1 We could look to places such as Australia, Canada and Finland who are developing skills for their young people and strive for longer term policy stability. Finland places an emphasis on the quality of training for teachers and reduces teaching timetables to ensure access to ongoing professional development. This, in turn, results in better pupil attainment and an expectation that teachers will adapt their teaching to meet the needs of all learners.


28 April 2023



[1] Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools, Education Endowment Foundation (


[2] Permanent exclusions and suspensions in England, Autumn term 2021/22 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (

[3] Do children with SEND experience more bullying? (


[4] Outcomes for pupils eligible for free school meals and identified with special educational needs (


[5] High Needs Funding: An overview of the key issues - Education Policy Institute (

[6] Special educational Needs in England, Academic Year 2021/22