Every Child Matters Modified Papers

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This essay investigates an aspect the government initiative Every Child Matters (ECM). In particular it looks at the "enjoy and achieve" strand of ECM, and alongside that, the notion of inclusion. Also, the investigation compares the SEN identification procedures in two different schools, a single sex girl's independent school, and a rural state comprehensive. The aspect of inclusion investigated is the modification of examination papers to meet the specific needs of pupils, in this case pupils with Aspergers syndrome. The investigation attempts to prove the hypothesis: Modified examination papers give qualifying pupils an unfair advantage.

In conclusion, this research suggests that modified papers give and unfair advantage. This is due to the 5% increase in marks for "typical" pupils taking modified questions. However this cannot be proven by using this investigation as evidence, because of the small sample size used. This investigation has also suggested that modified questions give a more accurate representation of a qualifying pupil's subject knowledge. This should narrow the gap between the perceived ability of a pupil, ascertained by formative assessment in the classroom, and summative assessment grades provided by examination.

To fully understand the concept of inclusion, I feel it necessary to explore the stages in terms of the political, sociological and philosophical thinking regarding special educational needs over the years.

Segregation: (Ellis 2007) says that at the turn of the 20th century, the emphasis was placed on a student's handicap when determining the schooling they would receive. And that educational placement was in the hands of the medical profession, following the medical model of diagnosis and treatment. Early special schools were set up to cater for those with sensory handicaps, such as deafness and blindness. (Saracen and Doris 1979) highlight that special schools were thought of as "repositories" for children who did not "fit in", or created problems for the system. This is a projection of the prevailing attitude of the time, with terms such as 'deaf and dumb', and 'cripple' in common usage.

Integration: The 1981 education act, according to (Ellis 2007) provided a landmark in special education, and introduced a new style of thinking. It was concerned with bringing the special education ethos into the main stream setting. In effect what happened was a move to physically adapt schools to allow access for the physically disabled and to "differentiate the mainstream curriculum to account for a continuum of needs" (Warnock Report 1978). This was a positive move, but in (Gross 2002)'s opinion it was still on the schools terms. (Ellis 2007) articulates this with the phrase "integration is a within child model, and implies that the difficulties lie within the student, and not within the schools inability to include them.

The third and current trend or model is inclusion. This goes beyond integration, but still holds some off the same key aspects and ideas.

"Inclusion implies a radical reform of the school in terms of curriculum, assessment, pedagogy and grouping of pupils. It is based on the value system that celebrates diversity arising from gender, nationality, race, language or origin, social background, level of educational achievement or disability." (Mittler 2000)

So the emphasis has shifted from the idea that students should be able to fit into schools, to schools should strive to accommodate every child's needs. Thinking has moved from a "within child" model, to a "within school" model.

The ideals of inclusion are encompassed in the government initiative ECM, or every child matters. ECM is a new approach to the well-being of children and young people from birth until they reach 19. The ECM initiative is broken down into 5 strands, which outline the entitlements of each child.

  • be healthy
  • stay safe
  • enjoy and achieve
  • make a positive contribution
  • Achieve economic well-being.

The focus here is on the "enjoy and achieve" strand. It demands that students enjoy education, and through this enjoyment have a sense of achievement, and the opportunity to succeed. The focus of this assignment leans towards the achieve aspect, as I am investigating the impact of modifications to examination questions, which could impact on achievement.

Through discussions with the SENCO at my 1st placement school, I found out that there were a few pupils with Aspergers at the school, and that there were inclusion strategies in place for these individuals, and those on the SEN register. One of these inclusion strategies was the use of modified examination papers for pupils who were identified as having a need for them. This fitted the "within-school" model of inclusion where school adapt to students needs, and ECM's enjoy and achieve.

Since autism and Aspergers is such a large and wide spreading topic, I decided to focus my research on the way Aspergers manifests itself in girls, due to my first placement being a single sex girl's independent school. Statistically there are more boys than girls diagnosed with Aspergers, the theory of why this is, is unclear. Wing (1981) found that among people with high-functioning autism or Aspergers syndrome, there were as many as fifteen times as many males as females. Having said this (Attwood 2000), (Ehlers and Gillberg 1993) and (Wing 1981) have all suggested that many girls are not referred for diagnosis, because diagnostic criteria are created for the characteristics of boys. Girls are often better at masking their difficulties, and often have a more typical set of social skills. (Attwood 2000) notes that boys are often more noticeably different, or behaviourally disruptive, which can increase the likelihood of diagnosis. These factors contribute to the high ratio of boys to girls with autistic spectrum disorders.

Before action is taken to adapt and modify the teaching and learning of a pupil with SEN, they must be identified, and their individual needs assessed. In secondary schools, it is often the case that pupils have already been assessed in their primary schools, and will arrive with support strategies already in place. However, in some cases, the move from primary to secondary education can unearth difficulties or problems that had previously gone unnoticed. According to (E-Homework 2000) transition difficulties include, going from being the oldest and biggest in a school to the youngest and smallest, having multiple teachers instead of one, having to move from classroom to classroom for lessons, having more textbooks to carry around which increases the demand on organisation, greater competition and emphasis achievement and the need to make new friends. These are demanding times for young people, especially if they are on the autistic spectrum. It is not uncommon for pupils Aspergic tendencies to go unnoticed, especially with females, so it is important that identification is a continuous process and that strategies for inclusion are constantly reviewed.

In order to compare my PS and SP1 schools, I decided to focus on the process by which pupils are identified as having a special educational need. To gather evidence, I arranged meetings with the SENCO's of each school, and read through the documentation available to staff, and these were the findings.

School A, although a girl's school, has a mixed sixth form. During my placement, I spent time working with a year 12 ICT class, and giving extra help to individuals who needed it during lunch times, and free periods. During my placement, a particular pupil was being assessed to see if they had any learning difficulties, or if they needed extra help during lessons. The pupil had recently joined the school, and issues had been raised by subject teachers regarding their ability to concentrate during lessons, and grasp the concepts required at A Level. During departmental meetings, the progress of pupil A was discussed, and this information passed on to SENCO who then took a closer look. Before the pupil could be assessed, the parents were contacted to see if they were happy with their child being assessed for learning disabilities. The SENCO then had a private session with pupil A, and put them through various tests designed to obtain evidence used to make a diagnosis. This evidence was collated into a report that outlined any possible learning difficulties and plans of action to assist the pupil during lessons. This was a general individual education plan (IEP), which could be used to derive differentiation and inclusion techniques. This IEP was then distributed on the ICT system for teachers to view, and hopefully incorporate into their teaching.

Future progress, or lack of, was monitored by teachers in the time period after assessment. If significant progress was made, the level of monitoring would decrease. If progress was not made, the pupil could be recommended for further assessment.

In conversation with the SENCO, I found out that this was the standard identification process for the school. This was detailed in the SEN policy document, also available to all staff. When talking to subject teachers, I found that they thought this was a very efficient and effective process, and that departmental meetings were very useful in sharing information that might uncover trends across subject areas. Another positive aspect of the system was the monitoring of students progress after assessment, which helped to ensure the action taken was having a positive effect.

School B is a mixed comprehensive. The first part of the identification process follows that of school A. Subject teachers raise concerns over particular pupils, and these concerns are discussed in departmental meetings. These concerns are then forwarded to the tutor who attempts to gather further information regarding the concerns. At this point, the tutor decides if further action is required, and contacts the head of house and parents of the pupil concerned. After consultation will all parties two outcomes could be possible: Continued monitoring with an agreed review date or a move to School Action, and possibly after that, school action plus. (A detailed description of school action and school action plus can be found in appendix A).

Given that the school has a larger population of pupils (1500, as opposed to 750 in school A), the process of identification has a much more formal and structured feel. However, underneath the formal structure the staff that spends most time with the pupils concerned, the tutors, have the opportunity to make informed judgements about plans of action. Conversations with tutors and subject teachers say that the process works very well, and that school action and school action plus provide a good framework to the continuous monitoring of pupils progress, and that IEPs provided an effective starting point to help create classroom strategies that best fit the individual pupils.

Common themes run throughout these two processes. Identification of possible concerns carried out by teachers with first hand contact with the pupil. Then these concerns are raised within departmental meetings, and if deemed serious enough, the concerns are forwarded to a higher level. A SENCO is then used to assess the pupil, and after this, the pupil is placed on a program of learning adaptation and monitoring to ensure progress.

To understand some of the theory behind the link between the characteristics of the brain and examination, I decided to look into what intelligence is. I wanted to understand the different types of intelligence, and the science behind the relationship between intelligence and examination results. I chose a particular focus on Aspergers syndrome, and the way that people with Aspergers interpret and answer examination questions.

(Gardener 1993) suggests that there are 7 kinds, or types of intelligence. They are linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily- kinaesthetic, musical, spatial interpersonal and intrapersonal. Gardener then mentions that these intelligences rarely operate independently, that they complement each other as people develop. This observation was of particular interest to me, as having studied autism and Aspergers closely, I knew that generally speaking, people with autism and Aspergers have a below average ability in interpersonal, and intrapersonal skills. According to Gardener, this would inhibit the development of the other types of intelligence throughout intellectual development. This goes some way to explaining the relatively low achievement levels of autistic children.

Interpersonal skills, according to (Gardener 1993) are "concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. They allow people to work effectively with others." A lack of interpersonal skills would reflect some of the symptoms exhibited by people with Aspergers, for example reluctance to work or eat around others. Intrapersonal skills "entail the capacity to understand ones self, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations." (Gardener 1993)

To judge intelligence, pupils are tested and assessed throughout their education. As (East 2000) explains this assessment takes two forms, formative and summative. He then explains that formative assessment is in itself part of the learning experience. He goes on to say that it enhances substantive knowledge, and other important skills like communication and organisation. (East 2000) then compares this with summative assessment, which attempts to generate a grade based on a student's performance. This is usually undertaken at the end of a scheme of work, or unit. Summative assessment in the form of examination is what ultimately separates pupils once they leave school. A student who gains 3 A's at A level is deemed to be more intelligent than somebody who gains 3 C's, which is generally true, but there are exceptions.

"Exam technique" is a phrase used by many teachers, and refers to the ability of a student to interpret exam questions, and construct an answer that will gain the best marks. It is often the case that pupils will not interpret the question properly, or not do the right number of questions, which can affect grades. This opens the debate about the fairness of an examination system that relies heavily on performance on one day; however the focus here is on a different aspect of examination. Students can be recommended for having modified exam papers, where questions are re-written in order to make them less ambiguous, easier to comprehend, and therefore focus on testing subject knowledge rather than exam technique. (East 2000) outlines the guidelines of an effective assessment, these are:

  • Alignment. Is the examination content aligned with the course content? Are there clear and realistic learning outcomes?
  • Validity, does the assessment measure what it sets out to measure? E.g. an exam on database theory should not assess how proficient a candidate is at using Microsoft Access, it should ask questions about general database theory.
  • Reliability, are the results fair and consistent? Double marking and moderation techniques should be used.
  • Transparency, there should not be any "hidden agendas" in the assessment. Students should not have to guess what is in the assessor's mind, and assessment should be geared to ascertain the knowledge of the subject in question.

This investigation focuses on the transparency aspect of East's guidelines, whereby questions are modified to clearly, and explicitly outline what they require of the candidate. I will use examples to explain this shortly, but the fact that exam papers are not standardised throws up the debate I focussed on during this study. Do modified papers give some students an unfair advantage?

To conduct this study, I gave examination style questions to students in a year 10 ICT GCSE class to complete during lessons, and for homework. These questions would be in 3 categories (1,2 and 3). 1 being "easier" to understand, 3 being "harder" to understand. I use the terms harder and easier loosely, as they imply that the questions become easier or harder, when actually, they are just structured differently. I will examples of each category of question and explain the steps involved in the question modification process.

To explain the different possible scenarios I will use three examples of general students. Student A has strong subject knowledge, and also has strong exam technique. Student B has strong subject knowledge, but finds it difficult to answer certain examination style questions. Student C has weak subject knowledge, but has strong exam technique. (Descriptions of how these students may get on with these questions can be found in appendix B).

I worked closely with the SENCO in the creation of questions. I wrote the questions to fit within a particular category, and the SENCO placed them in the category they thought they should be in. When we came to an agreement, the questions were then free to be used in class.

Category 1 Question

Social networking has had a strong influence on society. Define social networking and discuss the statement. (15 Marks)

This question is implicitly asking for a description of social networking, and then a discussion about the positive and negative influences that it has had on society. My argument is why can't it just say that?

Category 2 Question

Define the term "social networking". Discuss the positive and negative impacts of its emergence on society. (15 Marks)

This question, in my opinion is much easier to interpret than a category 1 question. It is much more explicit, and has 3 clear points that the candidate must talk about to gain the marks. However, words like "positive", "negative" and "emergence" could be construed as unnecessarily difficult.

Category 3 Question

What is social networking? What are the good things social networking has given to society? What are the bad things social networking has given to society? (15 Marks)

This question has the highest level of modification. Each aspect of the question has its own discrete sentence, which clearly and explicitly outlines what knowledge the candidate has to demonstrate.

From the pre study into question modification, I ascertained a hypothesis for the investigation. People with modified exam papers gain an unfair advantage. To test this is hypothesis, I created the following plan.

I used exam questions from the 3 categories during lessons, and analysed the results. The class was of mixed ability, and contained a girl with Aspergers syndrome. I then collated the results and compared the difference in marks between each category of question, and highlighted the important findings. The students themselves were unaware of the category system, and just answered the questions as they received them.

Pupil A has been identified as having Aspergers syndrome, and is on the SEN register at the school. All the other pupils do not have a diagnosed special educational need.

The important figures in the table are the ones in the category 1 to category 3 difference column. As expected, pupil A gained better marks when confronted with category 3 questions. Having taught pupil A, I have a sound understanding of their knowledge in ICT, and the marks gained in category 3 questions are a much more accurate representation of ability. According to (Pollitt 2008) "In a good question the evidence we see will accurately indicate how well students have learned the relevant knowledge and skills". Drawing on this observation, I consider category 3 questions to be of a higher standard than category 1.

Pupil G provided the outstanding anomaly in this investigation. They gained 17% more marks when attempting category 3 questions, compared to category 1. This brings back the question, is there an unfair advantage? Pupil G had no diagnosed special educational need, and therefore did not qualify for modified papers. Through discussions with pupil G, I found out that she did find them easier to understand, and she spent less time thinking about what to write down. Due to the questions being of varied subject, it is impossible to prove in this example if an advantage is gained, as a difference in marks may be due to a sounder knowledge in a particular aspect of ICT.

To attempt to prove if modified questions give an advantage, I worked out the average difference of marks, excluding pupil A as their papers have been altered for a specific reason. The average difference among "typical" students is 5%, which I deem to be significant as this could be the difference between grades in a GCSE. However there are limitations of this investigation. The main limitation is the size of the sample. To comprehensively prove or disprove the hypothesis, a much larger sample is needed. The law of large numbers, proven by (Jakob Bernoulli 1713) states that findings will become closer to the expected result, the more times the experiment is done. This larger sample could be achieved my writing mock exams for an entire year group using the category system. Also to compensate for differing subject knowledge which is another factor that affects the reliability of the experiment, questions categories could be randomised for each individual paper. This should eradicate subject knowledge anomalies, and increase the reliability of the resulting findings. To compensate for the short time frame, the experiment could be conducted over a number of years, and therefore a number of year groups.

In conclusion, this research suggests that modified papers give and unfair advantage. This is due to the 5% increase in marks for "typical" pupils taking modified questions. However this cannot be proven by using this investigation as evidence, because of the small sample size. This research has also suggested that modified questions give a more accurate representation of a qualifying pupil's subject knowledge. This should narrow the gap between the perceived ability of a pupil, ascertained by formative assessment in the classroom, and summative assessment grade provided by examination. According to research, this demonstrates signs of an effective assessment.

Further work

To further, and improve this investigation, I would firstly apply it to a larger sample. This would increase validity and reliability of the findings. I would then study in more depth, the construction of questions, and apply a more scientific approach to the writing of them. This would include studies into the use and interpretation of words, reading ages and sentence structure. To ascertain the perceived difficulty of questions, I would construct a survey to go at the end of exam papers, to ascertain how easy the candidates found the questions to interpret. However, it would be difficult to separate from how easy the questions were to answer, which is a different investigation altogether.


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