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Ready to get engaged?

A summary of the DfE Engagement Model guidance


If you work with SLD or PMLD children you’ll have heard about the new Engagement Model, but you’re probably dreading having to trudge through all 30 pages of the DfE guidance.  Well you’ve come to the right place.  Here is your executive summary of what you need to know …


What is it?

The engagement model replaces P scales 1 to 4 as a way of measuring progress with pupils not engaged in subject-specific learning. It is a revised version of the ‘7 Aspects of Engagement’ assessment scheme created by Professor Barry Carpenter et al.  The scheme now creates five ‘Areas of Engagement’.  These are

  1. Exploration
  2. Realisation
  3. Anticipation
  4. Persistence
  5. Initiation


It enables teachers to assess how well the pupil is ‘engaged in developing new skills, knowledge and concepts in the school’s curriculum‘, the pupil’s progress in the 4 areas of need of the SEND code of practice and the efficacy of the SEND provision against the outcomes in the child’s EHCP.


Who is it for?

Pupils who are working below the standard of the national curriculum assessments and not engaged in subject-specific study. Effectively, any child for whom the SEN Pre-Key Stage Standards do not apply.

Schools can use the engagement model across all key stages (including for pupils attending secondary schools, but for them, there is no statutory requirement to do so).

The model can also be used for assessing why pupils who are currently working below the level of the national curriculum but are engaged in subject specific study, may have begun to plateau or regress in their anticipated development outcomes.


Is it optional?

No. The engagement model must be used for pupils at KS1 and KS2 who are working below the standard of the national curriculum assessments and not engaged in subject-specific study.


Who makes the assessments?

Effective use of the engagement model is based on regular observational assessment and reflective pedagogy. Assessments should be conducted by someone who knows the pupil well so that schools are able to identify existing educational barriers.


Why have they decided to add yet more assessment requirements?

The DfE says that engagement identifies and celebrates all pupils’ progress, including linear and lateral progress, the consolidation and maintenance of knowledge, skills and concepts and the prevention or slowing of a decline in pupils’ performance, whilst recognising that a minority of pupils may have a regressive condition.

Engagement can help schools reflect on how well the bespoke curriculum they offer to their pupils is helping them progress. It will not necessarily replace a school’s existing plans, assessments and reporting systems, but adds value to them by helping schools assess pupils’ progress from a different angle


When do we need to implement this?

Measuring the Areas of Engagement will become statutory from the 2020/21 academic year.  So… September.


How to do it?

As with other frameworks, it’s up to you. As long as you assess regularly, save the evidence and utilise the data to aid the child’s progress.

Progress through each of the 5 areas of engagement should be measured by identifying how established the pupil is against each of the areas of engagement. This will differ for each pupil according to their profile of needs as set out in their Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.

How are These ‘Areas’ Defined? For each target activity created for the child, the Areas measure…

  1. Exploration: motivation, curiosity and investigation
  2. Realisation: reaction to the stimulus, eg: ‘surprise’, ‘excitement’, ‘delight’, ‘amazement’ or ‘fear’.
  3. Anticipation: predicting the start, finish or pattern in the activity to measure their comprehension of cause and effect.
  4. Persistence: sustained attention and determination
  5. Initiation: spontaneous and independent action

It is important that you plan and structure your assessments and know the child well. Set realistic but appropriate success criteria relevant to the outcomes in the EHCP so that the assessments will chart the success of the special education provision and any alterations to it.

Include subtle, nuanced reactions such as eye movements or pupil dilation, ‘stilling’ (a momentary ‘freeze’), a small change in breathing pattern, tensing or relaxing, a small change in posture, a change in facial expression, vocalisation or a movement of the mouth, hands or feet.

Schools are asked to ‘Encourage therapists, parents and carers to contribute to the observations of the child.

What does this replace?

Well, it replaces P-Levels, but you should have already replaced that with something else – usually based on the child’s EHCP desired Outcomes. So, it is an expansion of the assessment process.

The Areas of Engagement should not replace your existing planning, assessment and reporting system, but should be in addition to it.’

Using technology (such as Earwig) ‘can assist schools with time management and the effectiveness of assessments … Use photographs and video as evidence.’


How often to assess?

The model uses a formative and summative assessment approach which should be used to assess pupils’ progress and development regularly throughout the year. This enables a continuous cycle of ‘assess, plan, do and review’ to take place, which enables the pupils’ achievements and progress to be measured over time.


What to do with the assessment data?

You must tell the DfE which of your pupils are being assessed against Areas of Engagement but you don’t need to send them the assessment evidence data, this does however, need to be included in the school’s end of year academic report, which, as according to the code of practice, must be shared with parents and governors.


What else should I know?

You don’t have to send your assessment data to the DfE but you do have to send it (annually, at least) to parents and governors. You are also encouraged to ask parents to contribute to the evidence available for each child. If you don’t have a package that does this automatically (like Earwig), this will add another layer of work.

As well as sharing with parents, schools are encouraged to share with therapists and other professionals from outside the school. This is another facility that can provide.


What did the standards and testing agency learn from their pilot study last year?

The answer is not much! The clear feedback from the pilot schools was that this created a considerable extra workload.

Many schools found the workload associated with implementing the 7 aspects approach to be challenging and reported that the accumulated number of staff hours spent implementing the approach was very high. Some schools adapted their involvement in the pilot as a result, for example by reducing the frequency of the assessments that they planned to conduct. Many pilot schools had concerns about how they would manage’.

In spite of this, the Rochford Review Panel has recommended, and the DfE has accepted that this additional assessment load should be enforced from next year. The task for special schools dealing with SLD AND MLD children is now to get organised to ensure that this means the minimum additional load on staff.  That is where Earwig comes in.

In the report on the Pilot Study, the DfE paper went so far as to recommend that schools consider Earwig as a mechanism to enable them to fulfil this requirement with maximum effectiveness and minimal staff stress.



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