#Teaching&Learning, Early Career Framework, Learning, Purpose, Uncategorized

New, newness and learning

by Anita Devi

This month, instead a text-based blog, we’ve put together an 8 minute podcastThis is ‘new’ for us … we hope you enjoy!

Same old thinking.jpg

Break the cycle … and do something NEW today, this term, this year!

Comfort zone

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com

#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning, Early Career Framework, Parenting, SEND

Meeting Jonathan!

By Anita Devi

Last month, I had the absolute privilege of meeting Jonathan Bryan !!! I’d been following Jonathan’s story for awhile on Twitter @eyecantalk and in the press.  I’d read his book, which I highly recommend, so I wanted to meet him and his mum, Chantal.  I had so many questions.

This blog is my attempt at summarising an incredible three hours spent with Jonathan, at his home.

Dual Multiple Exceptionality (DME)

My interest in children and young people, who had special educational needs and were more able started around 2007.  Working with different agencies including the National Association of Gifted Children (now Potential Plus), I was keen to find out how we identify and encourage the ‘ability’ in ‘disability.  I researched case studies from America (where DME is referred to as Twice Exceptional or 2E), I delivered a few presentations/ workshops and more importantly, I incorporated it into my practice as a SEN Advisory Teacher, undertaking statutory assessment. Around the same time, The National Strategies also launched their thinking around DME.  The discussion was beginning to develop momentum. We were starting to distinguish between identification and support strategies for those born with a disability, who had DME and those who had acquired a disability, after the more able aspect of their talent had been discovered e.g. Professor Stephen Hawking or Jean-Dominique Bauby (Diving Bell and the Butterfly).  Three years on and post-election, the signs in Whitehall had changed, as had the government agenda for education.  DME was put on the back burner.

Despite this setback, I continued to research the subject.  My interest homed in particularly on assessment, especially since ‘Life without Levels’ and the Engagement Profile / Scale research by Barry Carpenter and his team, was a great opportunity to further this discussion in special schools with head teachers.

Almost 10 years after I first started looking into DME, Pearson published a two-part blog by me on the subject.  The article was entitled, “What can’t my child excel and have a difficulty / disability at the same time?” Part 1 | Part 2.  Eighteen months later, nasen published their Current State of Play Report on DME.  Professor Stephen Hawking became a Patron of nasen, however as mentioned earlier, his was an acquired disability.  There is still much to discover about children born with a disability, who are cognitively able, but not always endowed with the ability to express it.

I do not want to give away too much about Jonathan’s story, as I really would encourage you to read his book.  Through ‘Eye Can Write‘, I met Chantal his mother, understood the circumstances leading up to his birth and the many difficulties they faced after he was born, including times when the hospital gave Jonathan hours to live.

Eyes Can Write

Jonathan is now 13 years old.  He has no voluntary control over his body or speech, and he is on an oxygen tank.  He has two younger sisters and a very busy schedule.  Jonathan was attending a school for children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD), when one of his teachers noticed active cognitive processing, behind his disability.  Long story short, Jonathan moved into mainstream, learnt to read, communicate in his own way and thrived.

Here is a reverse poem, he wrote recently for Poetry Day (21st March 2019).  Using the structure of an existing poem, Jonathan created his own, giving a voice to his thoughts and ideas.

Poem v2

So, what happened when I met Jonathan?

My first question was to Chantal.  Given all that has happened and the challenges, how is it you remain so calm?   Smilingly Chantal replied,

There are days, when the oxygen masks haven’t arrived or something else isn’t in place … and it can be overwhelming.  But I have a choice and I intentionally choose not to be angry.  It isn’t always easy, but the anger doesn’t solve anything.  If anything, it creates more problems.

Chantal, his home-teacher (Sarah) and I continued talking about many things … at which point Jonathan interrupted us.  Using his eyes, he spelt out the following message to me,

I just want an education system where we are all considered worthy to be taught and learn.  How can I make a difference, Anita?

Yes, he knew my name!  Part of my curiosity about Jonathan also stemmed from his phenomenal working memory.  Imagine using your eyes to point to a letter in a word, a word in a sentence, a sentence in a paragraph and a paragraph in a context/ chapter.  That’s what Jonathan had just done!

Reflecting on the discussion, I realised, we had been talking about provision in special schools and sensorial experiences.  Whilst these are necessary and helpful, Jonathan was trying to communicate to me … there is SO much more to us that just ‘experiencing’ a sensory stimulation or curriculum.

So, let me share some more golden nuggets, Jonathan spelt out to me, with his eyes:

I would love that if people see what is possible, maybe they will want to try and unlock others.

My story is not unique, and it should be shared.  I don’t have long here, so what should I spend my time doing?  I am a thirteen-year-old … and I’m always hungry!

I dream of every teacher finding ways to teach every child.

… and finally,

  • Trainee teachers need the why
  • Teachers need the how
  • Parents need the what
  • Leaders need to believe

What an incredible blueprint for teacher – leader development and the Early Career Framework.  I have no idea how the time passed … we covered so much.  But it was noon and Jonathan had to get ready for school.  As I drove away from their home … I was in awe.  This young thirteen-year-old had taught me SO much!  He had understood what we had discussed and responded in a way, that stretched our perceptions to a new level of thinking and believing.  What an absolute privilege! I was inspired and humbled.

JR Photo Medley v2

Jonathan and his family have set up a charity to focus exactly on what we spoke about, unlocking potential.  The charity is called ‘Teach us too’ and the remit is simply ‘to change the experiences of others in a similar position’.  There are some great plans for the charity to develop over the next year and #TeamADL very much look forward to walking alongside Jonathan and the charity in advocating the message “Teach us Too”.

Call to action:

Think about the children and young people you teach:

  • Are there any who have a special educational need and/or disability AND are more able?
  • What further research do you need to undertake about DME?
  • Does you setting have a policy and more importantly provision in place to ‘unlock’ and support DME?


About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com

Employment, Preparing for Adulthood, SEND

‘She can’t get a job’, they said!

By Anita Devi

In this blog, I aim to introduce you to three young people, who have disabilities and have much to offer the world as adults, if we just look at things a bit differently!

NB: Whilst, the names of individuals involved have been changed, their stories remain true.

#1 Meet Sonia (pseudonym):

Sonia can type, Sonia has qualifications, Sonia is bright and has an agile mind.

‘She can’t get a job,’ they said.

Sonia types with her feet, she has cerebral palsy.  Sonia is digitally literate. She has a Level 2 qualification and is about to leave college. She able to undertake a desk job; if only someone would give her an opportunity and the encouragement to try.

I spoke to some employers and entrepreneurs about Sonia as a hypothetical case study. My questions were:

  • What would you want to see on Sonia’s application / CV?
  • What reasonable adjustments would you implement at recruitment, interview & induction stage to include her?

Responses included:

  • If someone has that sort of drive to overcome an adapt in such a big way makes me want them on my team right away.
  • Wow! I personally would think what a wonderful addition to the team.
  • Being adaptive to the needs of disability isn’t always straight forward but once you have a workflow that fits in place it works just fine.
  • I would like to see all the good stuff they can do to add value to the team first and foremost. Then something honest about any issues they might have/special requirements. And then perhaps something about how they’ve dealt with the challenges life has thrown at them and it’s made them extra valuable (something positive, but not too long and drawn out).
  • I personally would be in awe and would want to interview them ASAP, but I know not everyone would think like that.

There were also some concerns raised too:

  • The part that makes me nervous is, what if they were given an interview and were unsuccessful. Would this be perceived as discrimination?
  • We would need to think about how we broach the subject of time off for medical appointments etc. Of course, they need to go, and we would do our best to adapt. However, it is something we would need to consider.
  • We would need to research how we could access on-going specialist input to train our other team members, to support them too?

A final point made the employers / entrepreneurs in this dialogue:

“Great questions, really got us thinking …”

#2 Meet Sam (pseudonym):

Sam can’t speak, he can’t read either.  Sam needs routine.

“Let’s see what you can do”, they said.

Sam now works one day a week, in a company as a Secure Information Officer.  What he does is shred highly sensitive papers.  The work is routine, and highly valuable to the employer.  Sam feels part of the team.  He enjoys going into work. It is the highlight of his week and he has found ways to communicate with colleagues.  Annually, he attends a work social.  Being there, with other matters to Sam.

#3 Meet Alpha (pseudonym):

Alpha is at college.  He has dyspraxia.  He almost didn’t make it to college!

This is what his mother had to say,

When Alpha was in primary and secondary school, I put so much pressure on him to do his mobility exercises.  I gave up work, just to make sure I could be with him.  I also wanted the school to provide a lot of different support interventions and resources in place.  This just made Alpha switch off.  He resented school.  I thought it was because they weren’t helping him, or he found it hard.  It wasn’t – he wanted me to give him space to find his own answers.  When I stepped back, which wasn’t easy.  When I stepped back, and let Alpha say more about what he wanted or what helped him, he improved.  Our relationship and the stress at home also got better.  To be honest, I felt a bit redundant.  Every mum just wants to protect their child.  More so, when they have special needs or a disability.  But sometimes, you have to let go and like the saying goes, less is more!  He didn’t need every intervention, just the things that supported him most.  I had to learn to listen and not always put forward what I thought he needed.  He was hard.

I didn’t think Alpha would ever go to work, but I do now.  He can solve problems.  It takes him time … but he finds his way, if I give him space.”

Three very different scenarios.  Preparing for Adulthood is a major part of the SEND Reforms in England (2011-2018).   However, we have a long way to making this a reality.  We all have a part to play in changing perceptions, asking the right questions, creating opportunities and giving young people the space to flourish, for themselves and by themselves.

#TeamADL are keen for young people and adults with disabilities to thrive. This is why we are working with a range of stakeholders to change and improve opportunities.  It is not an easy journey and the #SENDcareers project, together with our Wiki Succeed digital advocacy access tool and multi-agency response team are still in the early stages of development.  We, however, have BiG dreams!  Our drive is to create and build sustainable inclusion.  So, this is our question to you: How will you journey with us?

Do get in touch to find out how you can get involved … there is scope for everyone to contribute and make a difference.

Further reading: SEND Gatsby Benchmark Toolkit (2018)

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com

Employment, Purpose, SEND

What’s your story?

By Anita Devi

This week (4th – 8 March 2019) brings together four main events:

It is therefore, not by chance six months ago when we started planning our first #SENDcareers event, we chose this week.  The World Health Organisation with The World Bank published the first ‘World Disability Report’ in 2011.  At the time, it stated about 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, of whom 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning.  It is important to remember, these are only the cases that are known.  A colleague working in assistive technology, recently shared with me, given a rise in the retirement age, this number is much higher.

In the Foreword of the World Disability Report (2011), Professsor Stephen W. Hawking, shared the following:

Disability need not be an obstacle to success. I have had motor neurone disease for practically all my adult life. Yet it has not prevented me from having a prominent career in astrophysics and a happy family life. Reading the World report on disability, I find much of relevance to my own experience. I have benefited from access to first class medical care. I rely on a team of personal assistants who make it possible for me to live and work in comfort and dignity. My house and my workplace have been made accessible for me. Computer experts have supported me with an assisted communication system and a speech synthesizer which allow me to compose lectures and papers, and to communicate with different audiences.

So why does the #SENDcareers project matter to #TeamADL?

Our overall mission is about:

Strengthening Localities

Within this, though we recognise a wide range of vulnerabilities that need addressing.  Supporting people with learning difficulties and disabilities into the workplace and sustaining them in such dynamic environments is vital for individuals, families, employers and communities.

Different companies like Microsoft and Apple are developing a number of ‘lifestyle, open access tools to help. We have also come across various organisations working to develop vocational opportunities for those with disabilities.  We commend all these efforts.  However, we believe, there is a need to do more.

We want young people and adults with special educational needs and disabilities:

  • to have a voice
  • to tell their story and define their story going forward
  • to ‘own’ their abilities and future
  • to advocate for themselves, so they can experience independence and choice
  • to be connected and part of a community

To do that, we need to give people a platform to tell their story that is safe, empowering and forward thinking.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with The RIX Media Centre at The University of East London to utilise researched technology to give people with disabilities a voice to tell their story.  We will be sharing more information about this in due course.

For now, here is a statement about the partnership:

TeamADL RIX Partnership

… and pictures of us working with Ajay Choksi, Wiki Master at RIX.  One of Ajay’s goals this year is to travel by himself to an unknown place, using public transport.  He has used the wiki to communicate his goal, his plan, what it would look like and celebrate success.  This is part of his story.  Regardless of what profession we are in, isn’t this what we do every year?  As part of his wider travel plan, Ajay wanted to learn to drive.  He plots his full journey of taking both the theory and practical test, through his wiki.  Another story part to his life.  By weaving all these sub-stories together, we develop an understanding of Ajay’s life … and his story.

Ajay at RIX

Stories are powerful.  They embrace a beginning, middle and end. This short video I made for UKEd Chat Conference highlights the need for stories to be at the heart of person-centred approaches.  Stories aren’t just about, what has happened, but also what could happen.  They bring to the forefront possibilities.

Recently, I was privileged to visit The Book Trust to review a range of books for secondary special schools.  One genre particularly fascinated me.  In this book, the pupil reads a page and then makes a choice.  The choice determines which page is read next.  Then there is another choice and so the journey continues.  It was great to hear from librarians in special schools how much pupils enjoy these types of books.  The book brings together not just alternative endings, but also different scenarios, journeys and new possibilities each time.  To me, it is such a reflection of life and the choices we need to give young people.

At #TeamADL we do not claim to have all the answers, but we are keen to ask the right questions and explore possibilities and different solutions in partnership with young people, adults, families and employers.

The #SENDcareers Project is relatively young, but we have BIG plans.  So, if you are interested in keeping up to date with developments, do sign up for our termly newsletter.  We will be sharing new solutions and good practice case studies, as part of the editorial.  We will also provide readers with updates on the use of wikis in employment.

Further reading

Can Sam have special educational needs and be more able?

Change my story: ’Facing the abyss’

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com


#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning

Curriculum under the magnifying glass

By Jeremy (Jez) Bennett

What knowledge, skills, attitudes and values will your pupils develop in order to share and thrive in their world in 2030?

(The Future We Want, OECD)

This is a crucial question for all school leaders, and its answer will shape our curriculum decisions.  Is our current system fit for purpose?  Are current curriculum and assessment structures effective in meeting the needs of our children?

The school curriculum and the National Curriculum are different.  The National Curriculum is compulsory for maintained schools but not for academies.  It is detailed for some subjects, and cursory in others and in both cases should only form part of the full school curriculum.  Leaders have the opportunity to design their school curriculum around their priorities and in response to their local context.

Ofsted’s recent draft Education Inspection Framework (EIF) places the curriculum under the microscope, and provides an opportunity for schools to conduct a curriculum review.  Schools must consider how their ethos and philosophy drive the curriculum (the intent), how well this curriculum intent is designed and shared across the school (the implementation), and the evidence that the implementation is effective (the impact).

Many of our curriculum decisions are driven by high-stakes accountability, which has increasingly become through examinations.  Everyone has an opinion about exams.  We have all experienced them, and often feel strongly about them, either positively or negatively.

“Scrap ‘pointless’ GCSEs” (Robert Halfon MP, BBC website, 11/02/19)

“Overhaul ‘narrow’ A levels” (Prof Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, BBC website, 12/02/19)

Exams are the culmination of a programme of learning, and are only one way of assessing this learning.  Why are exams so prevalent?  Possibly because they are relatively simple to administer, efficient and reliable in a low-trust system.

There are alternatives.  Coursework, formative assessment, skills matrices, national reference tests – these could all be used collaboratively to build the picture of a system’s performance.

We know that, in any system, “What gets measured gets done.”  So what do we want to measure?  Organisations like the National Baccalaureate Trust have been working to develop frameworks to recognise and reward the spectrum of students’ achievements and development, whatever their background or starting point.  Does such a framework led itself to greater social mobility? In reality, such a framework probably needs to start from where we are, using GCSEs and the rest of our current suite of qualifications.  However, there is then scope to add in additional elements for the gaps or consider alternatives with equity.

In my opinion, there are reasons to be cautions about the draft EIF. For example, it states one of the factors that research and evidence indicates makes for effective education is that “the curriculum remains as broad as possible for as long as possible“. The English exam system leads to curriculum narrowing sooner than most countries. So a tension exists between what we aspire to and what we are doing.  This raises some interesting questions:

  • Is a child’s experience at KS2 particularly balanced?
  • Moving forward will the majority of schools revert to a 3-year KS3?
  • What does a broad curriculum at KS4 look like in your context?
  • Should schools encourage breadth at KS5, as happens in many other systems internationally? We could call it a Baccalaureate !?

The future is bright, the future is #curriculum

I am confident that school leaders in the system will balance the nuances of the EIF with the principles of their curriculum intent.  Having reviewed the curriculum in several schools, I have noticed that most school leaders understand these tensions well, and are fully supportive of holistic curricula.  Areas for development I have raised have included, for example:

  • How well leaders and teachers understand and build on prior learning at the start of a key stage, particularly following a change of school.
  • How effectively learning is planned through a key stage to embed and consolidate knowledge and skills.
  • The extent to which the curriculum intent and language for learning is disseminated and shared across the organisation.

This is an opportunity for school leaders to become creative curriculum designers.  If we are bold, perhaps by 2030 we will have schools confidently tailoring their curriculum to their local context, with carefully designed programmes of learning ensuring strong progression with assessment informing the process rather than driving it.  This would, no doubt help to ensure children develop the attitudes, skills, knowledge and values they need in order to share and thrive in their world in 2030!

This remains an on-going discussion and I welcome your views …

About Jez Bennett

As a member of #TeamADL, Jez focuses on #Curriculum review and development using theory of change models such as ‘Appreciative Inquiry’.  As a music specialist, Jez contributes to curriculum development in this area for trainees and he utilises his leadership and headteacher experience to coach other leaders. To find out more visit: www.AnitaDevi.com



SEND: We need to learn to synthesise information better!

By Anita Devi

Over the last two months, I have doing more in-depth work on the ‘Four Broad Areas of Need’.  This has included training, talking to parents, writing, working with leaders in a variety of roles and I’ve been looking at the quality of Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs).  In this blog, I seek to raise some of the unanswered questions, that I think is hindering the effectiveness of the SEND Reforms being realised.  This is not a fait accompli piece, just a few current thoughts.

I have already contributed some of my thoughts to the current #SENDInquiry Here I specifically wish to focus on how needs are synthesised to form a holistic picture of the child or young person.

The construct ‘Areas of Need’ (a legacy of the SEN Code of Practice 2001), I believe evolved from the shift in thinking from a medical model to a social model of disability in the 1970s.  However, it probably become more relevant when considering data analysis of need.  The SEND Reforms (2011-2018) saw a shift in emphasis in one area of need; from behaviour, emotional and social development (BESD) to social, emotional mental health (SEMH). These ‘areas of need’ are not directly referenced in the primary statutory legislation (The SEND Regulations / Children & Families Act 2014). However, they are discussed in the secondary statutory instrument, known as The 0-25 years SEND Code of Practice (2015), SENDCoP hereafter.

My own interest in the ‘Four Areas of Need’ and working with settings on this, since the SENDCoP was originally published in 2014, was triggered by 6.25, which states,

When reviewing and managing special educational provision the broad areas of need and support outlined from 6.28 below may be helpful, and schools should review how well equipped they are to provide support across these areas.”

At this point, I’m sure many colleagues may possibly think, ‘Oh she’s talking about Provision Mapping, Provision Management or SEND Reviews’.  I’m not, though there is some overlap.  For me, 6.25 goes further than just a review.  It’s about strategic leadership that is supported by a depth of knowledge and resources in all four areas.  It’s an understanding of holistic educational provision.

The second nudge for me came from The Rochford Review 2016 (Recommendation 3):

“Schools assess pupils’ development in all 4 areas of need outlined in the SEND Code of Practice, but statutory assessment for pupils who are not engaged in subject-specific learning should be limited to the area of cognition and learning.”

Hence began my work with a wide range of stakeholders on:

  • How well do settings / local areas assess in the four areas of need?
  • How well resourced are they to support the four areas of need?

The conversations have been varying and some dovetailed into work I undertook with local authorities on developing a ‘Written Statement of Action’, enhancing consistency of decision making for Educational Health Care Assessment (EHCAs) and EHCPs, as well looking at the quality of Assessment Advices that contribute to an EHCP.  Since 2011, working with Pathfinders and others, I’ve been in involved in numerous quality assurance (QA) activities on EHCPs; with a vision to see how this can be included as part of the 20-week cycle, not after the plan has been issued and agreed.  Other #TeamADL members are also looking at the QA process of EHCPs.  Sadly, I have yet to see a gold standard EHCP or see a system that embraces a QA process, as part of the 20-week cycle.  This has made me question several things.

Under the previous system, Statements were assessed and issued in a 26-week cycle.   We struggled to QA fully then, often taking just a random sample of cases.  What made us think, we could improve the quality of plans in a shorter time?  In pursuing speed, have we compromised further on quality?  The 20-week cycle is enshrined in law, but it is certainly something we need to consider.  Would families be happier with a slightly longer timeline, knowing that at the end of it, they would get a better quality plan that has been quality assured?

Back to ‘Areas of Need’. As a previous SEND Advisory Teacher, who use to undertake statutory assessment and sit on Panel, I recall how much time and thought I had to put into evaluating the diverse and what sometimes appeared contradictory evidence to truly narrow in on need and identify what was required in terms of support.  In reflecting on support, I also had to consider, whether the proposed intervention was long-term or short-term.  Was it to develop an adaptation independence skill (e.g. social stories on safety) or move a child or young person on to the next point, or indeed, was it something needed long-term (e.g. visualiser)? Since the SEND Reforms, these are not questions, I see colleagues asking and I genuinely feel we should.  Implementing short-term support, does not take away from the need of the child.  Instead, if accurate and appropriate, it provides a way of managing and supporting needs through inclusive practice.

Four Areas of Need

Prior to this role as an Advisory Teacher, I led SEN in a school, as a SENCO.  I was never keen on discussions about primary need or secondary need.  I insisted my team saw the four areas of need as a Venn Diagram.  So, we discussed overlaps, consequential needs etc.  The conversations amongst us as a team and with families were far more constructive.  Our approach rippled out to any external specialists commissioned for their input.  What this meant was we started see coherent and strategic multi-agency working.  On many occasions, in my SEND Advisory role, I recall undertaking joint observations assessments with members of other teams.  When we saw OT waiting lists were not being met, across local authority teams we worked on up-skilling setting staff on universal & targeted provision for co-ordination difficulties.  The impact – waiting lists went down and children’s needs were met in a timely manner.  Imagine that change model with mental health and CAMHS!  This is one of the many visions behind #TeamADL and the work we do in #MentalHealth

A carer recently said to me,

“When we were struggling with two boys with severe attachment issues, we had conflicting advice from social workers, psychologists, and others.   We worked a lot out for ourselves which meant sourcing and reviewing a lot of information ourselves.  We are a lot more therapeutic with our practice now, but even now there are those who don’t understand or agree with how we approach things. Many different voices, plus of course every child is a total individual, so therapies may or may not work with them. I love the multi-agency approach, but I suppose a lot of ongoing cooperation and flexibility is required.”

So, what next?

I think national changes in assessment and curriculum do give schools more autonomy and flexibility to be inclusive.  However, settings and practitioners need to give more thought to synthesising information and seeing the ‘whole’ child, as they progress into being ‘whole’ adults too.  I have always encouraged settings to align their vision / mission statement to the principles of the SENDCoP (p19, Section 19 CfA).  However, we now have a mandate to align these principles (which are universal and apply to all children/families) to the ‘intent’ and ‘implementation’ of any curriculum we deliver.

The second item on my wish list: I’d like to see those who write Assessment Advices and those who use them to write EHCPs become more intentional in how they synthesise information.  Demonstrating joint-up thinking in practice and provision. Considering the child, as a whole.  This takes skill and I do feel more training is required in this area.

Finally, I would like to see a more robust approach, at local authority level regarding how quality assurance can be brought into the system.  Not as an after-thought, but as part of the process.  This may involve changes in the law and extending the timeline.

To conclude the SEND CoP (6.27) is clear: (underline added)

These four broad areas give an overview of the range of needs that should be planned for. The purpose of identification is to work out what action the school needs to take, not to fit a pupil into a category. In practice, individual children or young people often have needs that cut across all these areas and their needs may change over time. For instance, speech, language and communication needs can also be a feature of a number of other areas of SEN, and children and young people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may have needs across all areas, including particular sensory requirements. A detailed assessment of need should ensure that the full range of an individual’s needs is identified, not simply the primary need. The support provided to an individual should always be based on a full understanding of their particular strengths and needs and seek to address them all using well-evidenced interventions targeted at their areas of difficulty and where necessary specialist equipment or software.”

We, therefore, have the responsibility to make this a reality.

Postscript:  It is my intention to share further thoughts on ‘well-evidence’ interventions at a later date.  For now, if you are interested in finding out on what we are doing around the ‘Four Areas of Need’ – do get in touch.  As I shared, we have other members of #TeamADL also involved in the QA of EHCPs.

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘Joy of Learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst her many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com


Why Cuisenaire® Rods are my Number-One ‘Go-to’ Resource

By Zena Martin

“The use of words for expression does not necessarily imply their useful communication… Because of this we can safely say that in verbal relationships ‘communication is almost a miracle.’”  – Dr Caleb Gattegno

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the use of concrete apparatus and manipulatives in primary mathematics teaching and learning. We have the pedagogy of the Far East to thank for this. Yet for many specialist teachers, the use of manipulatives has been part of their everyday repertoire of teaching strategies for the most struggling learners of maths for decades.

For me, and many others, there is one manipulative that rises ‘head and shoulders’ above all others. This is the mathematical rod, originally invented by Georges Cuisenaire. Cuisenaire® rods have been in existence since the 1930s and are the number one go-to resource for many specialist teachers who recognise the uniqueness and visual power of these materials.

However, there are still many teachers who do not yet feel confident in the use of this resource and will often reach for other manipulatives that appear to give a quicker short-term gain of a correct answer for children. Understanding the long-term learning benefits of Cuisenaire® is a vital lesson for every teacher of mathematics, whether new or experienced.

I concur with the view that many children with apparent learning difficulties are actually learning differences. What children with learning differences often find challenging in the mainstream classroom is the significant amount of language and verbal instruction that is employed. They require far more visual and practical input and experiences than are often provided. This statement could be echoed for most children in primary classrooms; it could be argued that they are just better equipped to cope with the absence of such visual stimulus. Here begin the seeds of quality first teaching!

Why rods?

Cuisenaire® rods allow children to see and internalise the relative sizes of numbers; to feel in their hands how six differs from seven, and from 10, and so on. They can see the difference of one white rod between each of the other rods. They internalise that all the blue ones are of the same length, or that it always takes two yellow ones to make an orange one.


Cuisenaire® rods have no numerical indicators. Though sometimes criticised or rejected for this (or even compensated for, with teachers and resource publishers adding markings or pictures to aid counting), the lack of numerical indicators is an essential feature for many children who struggle with number. I am sure you will have encountered children who reach the upper end of Key Stage 2, still insecure with number bonds to 10 and feeling compelled to count everything, still dependent on fingers and number lines for basic number bonds. These children have internalised that their only reliable method of calculating is to count – nothing else works for them because they struggle to ‘see’ magnitude. Of course, we know that counting has its limitations.

You can’t count rods – you have to become so familiar with them that you begin to see and internalise the ‘seven-ness of seven’ and understand its relationship to 8 and to 6, and later to 70, and so on. It moves children away from the ‘comfort blanket’ of counting and into a more secure internalisation of the magnitude of numbers and the structure of our number system. This cannot be achieved with any other manipulative that I know of as they all contain markings and numerical indicators that invite children back to their status quo of counting[1]. They provide an understanding of the magnitude of number, a fundamental concept that eludes many struggling learners. We can immediately see how small ‘red two’ is compared to ‘orange 10’. We can create ‘staircases’ with our rods, going beyond 10 up to 20, or even to 50. This requires a lot of orange rods but is a worthy exercise in demonstrating to children not only the magnitude of number, but also an introduction to place value. Long before children encounter the traditional ‘tens and units’ grid, they need to explore what these numbers ‘look like’. For example, recognising that the number 26 is made up of two ‘orange 10’ rods and one ‘dark green six’ rod is the beginnings of an understanding of place value.

Another wonderful thing about rods is their versatility and ability to become a familiar ‘first port of call’ for most new mathematical concepts all the way to the end of the Key Stage 2 curriculum. The possibilities are endless! Commutative laws, fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios, time, equivalences, bases, and so on. There are few concepts that cannot be taught at least initially through Cuisenaire® rods. For children who are fully familiar with these rods, they give access to mathematical concepts that many might’ve thought not possible. It is a resource that can ‘open doors’ to maths for children who otherwise would struggle to access its abstract nature. Just for starters, imagine if the ‘orange 10’ rod no longer represented 10. What if it represented 100? What would the others become? What if it represented a million? What do the others become? What if it represented one? What would the others become? What if the dark green one represented one? What would the others become? I can think of no other manipulative that I can effectively do this with.

Ultimately, these mathematical rods, whether used by Reception children in continuous provision or by a child in Year 5 to close gaps in learning and access the curriculum more effectively, are teaching children algebra long before arithmetic. They are ultimately discovering that a brown rod and a red rod together are the same length as an orange rod – that’s algebra!


I am often met with the response from teachers (and occasionally specialists) that they don’t use these rods because the child or children don’t know the number that each one represents. Consequently, they will continue to encourage children to use counting manipulatives (often cubes or counters) to help them complete their work. Whilst this gives a short-term gain in producing a page of sums that stand a fighting chance of being correct, it does nothing to develop the child’s long-term understanding and internalisation of the number system.

What is overlooked here is the need for children to develop full familiarisation with these rods before their potential as a learning tool can be fully realised. This requires huge amounts of structured play involving making pictures, building structures, talking about the rods with an adult or peer, exploring their representation on squared paper, colouring them in, and so on. Sometimes, we follow this with multi-sensory flashcards that the children make so that they can reach a point where they can confidently pick up any rod and say its colour and number. Knowledge of colour plus knowledge of number equals full familiarisation. Once this has been achieved, a world of mathematical concepts can be opened up to children with Cuisenaire’s® ability to represent the number system so visually, to strengthen number sense and to be used with such versatility.

Time to dig them out of the cupboard

In the UK, these rods were used by the teaching profession throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, particularly in primary schools. Many adults who were at primary school then remember these resources fondly and describe how they learnt and consolidated their knowledge of numbers bonds through these delightful coloured rods.

After that, these valuable resources seemed to fall out of favour, and I have heard many sad tales of boxes of Cuisenaire® rods being thrown in skips during ‘clear outs’ or moves to new premises. Many teachers at that time were unaware of what these resources were, let alone what to do with them.

But now they’re making a comeback! If you know you have these wonderful little tools in your school, that give visual access to the world of number to so many children who otherwise find the number system a mystery, then dig them out, dust them down, and explore their learning potential!

About Zena Martin[2]

As a member of #TeamADL, Zena specialises in developing teachers and leaders in the North to be more inclusive for ALL learners.  Zena facilities several SENCO Networks and is a SENCO Coach.

To find out more or book Zena’s services visit www.AnitaDevi.com

[1] Please note that I do not advocate children being ‘forced’ to stop using fingers or other counting aids. They will stop using them when they are confident that another system has replaced the need to rely on them.
[2]Please note that I have no pecuniary interest to declare in sales of Cuisenaire® rods or any other manufacturer.