The threat of failing an Ofsted inspection was a powerful and
motivating factor that worked to ensure the rhetoric of the National Curriculum could
be seen to be implemented in full by the majority of SLD schools.
It may be that in the long historical view of curriculum development, the years of the centrality of the National Curriculum will be seen as necessary in bringing some rigour and concept of breadth to a learning difficulties pedagogy.
It's important to remember that those with PMLD have only been officially and legally regarded as being educable in the UK since 1970. We may be appalled nowadays at the terminology used even after the 1970 Education Act (where the phrase 'educationally sub-normal' or ESN was used), but this merely indicated that a specific pedagogy for those with severe and profound learning difficulties was still very much in its infancy.
However, between 1970 and 1988, writers such as Chris Kiernan, Judith Coupe O'Kane,
Beryl Smith and Julie Goldbart, for example, added immeasurably to
While behaviourist approaches have been and are useful in, for example, valuing the importance of a systematic approach and baseline assessment, difficulties have arisen in the way that such approaches tend to cast the child in a rigidly passive role (Marvin, 1998).
Other problems have been noted by Collis and Lacey (1996), particularly in the tendency towards learning without understanding: problems with generalisation; the fact that the teacher can be seen as a technician rather than an educator; being teacher-led; as well as behaviourist approaches leading to learned helplessness in the pupil.
In terms of the curriculum, difficulties have also come from the tendency for special schools to:
- Either individually or in very small and geographically limited clusters, write their own versions of the National Curriculum using the existing subjects as a base for delivery;
- Note attainments and progress in National Curriculum subject terms using variations of the p scales.
Prior to 1988, there existed a strongly 'behaviourist' bias to the teaching of specific and measurable skills through task analysis – the breaking down of tasks into small, definable pieces which might then be chained together to form a whole.
This behaviourist, linear approach to learning has often been driven by the need to show quantifiable progress. For example, a behavioural objective might read: 'By the end of the lesson, the child will be able to do X'.
In many ways, this is entirely understandable, especially after the 1992 Education Act introduced regularised and standardised inspections for all schools through Ofsted.
Consider the following questions:
- Where is the behaviourist approach most evident in your curriculum?
- Where would you consider it to be essential?
- Where is the approach least useful?
The National Curriculum has never been a requirement in Wales. Therefore, under the guidance of Jean Ware and the auspices of the Department of Education's Qualifications and Curriculum Group in Cardiff, Welsh schools had the freedom to look at the whole issue of assessment and attainment afresh.
Their assessment guide, published as Routes for Learning in 2006, broke away from the idea of progress taking place through formal subjects and instead looked at key milestones that children with learning difficulties might go through.
While these milestones are developmental in nature, the writers argued that the
route children take might not be, and suggested that 'Pathways' through the 'Routemap'
would be individual and idiosyncratic depending on the interests, needs and abilities
Aird, R. (2001) The Education and Care of Children with Severe, Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties, London: David Fulton.
Collis, M. and Lacey, P. (1996) Interactive Approaches to Teaching, London: David Fulton.
Marvin, C. (1998) Teaching and Learning for Children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties in Lacey, P. and Ouvry, C. People with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities, London: David Fulton.
Routes for Learning (2006), Qualification and Curriculum Group, Cardiff: DfE