Measuring progress for children with SEND

What is progress monitoring and why is it important?

Progress monitoring is focused on children knowing more and remembering more of the curriculum. Progress monitoring is important because it:

  • tells the teacher what a child has learned and what still needs to be taught,
  • evaluates the effectiveness of the learning environment,
  • helps parents and teachers understand what is and isn’t working,
  • ensures any individual plans that may be in place for a child can be adapted to their specific learning needs with a view to improving their educational outcomes, and
  • ensures schools are accountable for proactively improving service provision and outcomes for children with SEND.

Showing progress is particularly challenging for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) because they tend to make progress in very individual ways, and sometimes in very small increments. The challenge is therefore how to demonstrate both how and why progress is taking place.

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What educational outcomes are expected?

The national curriculum uses something called ‘age related expectations’ for educational benchmarks. Age-related expectations are based on what the average child of that age and stage should have learned, or be able to do, at the end of each school year.

All schools strive to enable pupils to reach age related expectations and to show what they know and can do by taking SATS and by gaining GCSEs, entry level or functional skills qualifications.

Often children and young people with SEND will be working at a level which is below the age-related expectations for their year group. Schools should aim for the best possible outcomes for pupils with SEND from their different starting points. The SEN Code of Practice and Ofsted’s revised School Inspection Framework, which includes a SEND-specific focus, set the standards for how pupils with SEND should be supported.

Schools therefore need to be clear about how they are going to monitor and report progress of children with SEND, such as:

  • What outcomes are we aiming for?
  • What will be measured?
  • How will the data be captured and analysed?
  • Who will the data be reported to?

Parents, Governors, Local Authority, and Inspectors will need to be updated on progress.

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What is the role of the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Co-ordinator (SENDCo)?

The role of the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Co-ordinators (SENDCo) is critical to improving the educational outcomes of children with SEND. The SENDCo:

  • advises and supports teachers to understand and meet the specific educational needs for children and young people with SEND,
  • ensure that all teachers have high aspirations for children and young people with SEND,
  • monitors the individual progress of pupils with SEND as well as the progress of all children and young people with SEND in the school to see if this tells a story about progress within the SEND population, and
  • advocates on behalf of children and young people with SEND to enhance service provision.

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What does progress look like for pupils with SEND?

Each child with SEND has a different starting point and the goals for each child and young person will be different. Schools should have a clear picture of the pupil’s individual starting point (or baseline) across these domains:

  • Cognition and learning,
  • Speech, language, and communication,
  • Social communication and interaction,
  • Specific learning difficulties,
  • Social emotional and mental health needs, and
  • Physical and medical needs, including vision and hearing.

Once this baseline is understood, the school can track the progress of each child or young person and tailor a support and intervention plan to their individual needs. The personalised plan should have clear goals and clarify what success will look like by setting out the small steps that will help achieve these goals. The child’s progress and impact of interventions should be tracked against these goals.
High Quality Teaching (HQT) is the vital first step in meeting the needs and improving outcomes for all children and young people with SEND in any given educational setting. Where schools are aspirational, with good planning, assessment, and support, SEND pupils can achieve challenging targets and make the best possible progress.

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How should the progress of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) be measured?

Supporting and measuring progress for children with special education needs and disabilities should be guided by the following frameworks:

Schools should use a range of strategies to capture and analyse information about each child’s and young person’s progress, including:

Measuring progress with reading, writing and numeracy

Most pupils identified with SEND have difficulties with literacy, and often have reading and spelling abilities well below age related expectations. The tracking systems that schools use should show where pupils are making solid progress with their literacy and numeracy skills along with the positive impact that any interventions are having on pupil literacy and numeracy progress, even if the pupil has not yet transferred the new skills fully into independent learning in the classroom. The engagement model can help schools to better capture such horizontal rather than linear progress.

Measuring qualitative progress

Not all progress is easily quantifiable. Progress measurement should also include qualitative data. Most schools have established ways to measure progress that pupils with SEND are making, for example, by recording engagement, and understanding and mastery of skills. The SENDCo can advise on more specialised interventions for children and young people requiring sensory programmes that measure progress in cognitive development, working memory, speech and language, and occupational therapy.

Measuring personal and social progress

Progress in learning may be inhibited by social, emotional, and mental health needs (SEMH) and personal development needs. Using checklists, such as the Boxall profile or similar, is a helpful way to obtain a baseline understanding of these needs and track progress over time.

For pupils who have shown limited academic progress in subjects such as English and Maths, the evidence of improved social and personal development is a positive feature. Schools may also analyse progress in behaviour by using the school’s existing behaviour policy, for example, tallying the points and rewards awarded within a week or a term.

Personalised planning, target setting and pupil progress meetings

Children and young people with SEND should have a ‘personalised plan’ that set individual goals targets for each term. Every term the SENDCO, class teacher, and parents have a Pupil Progress Meeting to review progress and set new targets. These meetings are an opportunity to discuss:

  • What progress has been made in the past term in each of the identified areas of need? (This might cover areas such as communication and interaction, cognition and learning, including reading, writing and numeracy, social, emotional, and mental health needs, physical & sensory needs and personal development including skills for independence)
  • What is the evidence of this progress? (Qualitative and quantitative data)
  • What support and interventions had the most impact?
  • What, if any, are our new targets?
  • Areas where less than expected progress has been made, the reasons for this and what will be done to help improve progress going forward

Qualitative data

Qualitative data may take the form of anecdotal evidence. This is a way of gathering data that is often used in early years setting and in special schools to capture the progress of pupils with more complex levels of need. It can also be useful in mainstream settings.
Teachers and support staff make a brief comment (no more than a few sentences) when they noticed a new piece of learning or skill that the pupil has achieved.
All they are required to write is the learning objective, the activity and the outcome for the pupil e.g. a learning or skill acquired. This can be jotted down on a ‘post it’ note or in a small notebook so that there is an on going record of a pupil’s achievements.


One of the most effective ways of encouraging and motivating pupils with SEND to persevere and achieve, is to involve them in monitoring their own progress. Self-monitoring supports children and young people to reflect upon what they have achieved and where they would like to develop. Most schools have a variety of schemes for pupils to self-assess and record progress.
Ofsted are also keen to talk to pupils about their learning, so it is good practice that pupils should be used to thinking and talking about what they have learnt, what they know and can do.

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Education Health Care Plans (EHCP)

See theEducation, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) page for information about EHCPs, eligibility and annual reviews.

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Page last updated:

September 11, 2023