Murray Overton

Each year, NEMP selects a random sample of students at Year 4 and Year 8 to participate in its assessment programme. The list of selected students is sent to each school to consider whether students should be excluded for particular reasons (e.g., severe disability, very limited English). This research looked at how schools decide whether to include or exclude special care/needs students. It also considered the role that NEMP plays in supporting this decision-making.

Data were gathered through phone interviews with seven Canterbury schools, all of which had excluded or included (or both) children with special needs in the 2001 NEMP process.

• Schools used a clearly established consultative process to decide which children would participate in NEMP. Generally, this involved principals discussing the children individually with at least one other (and often more) staff members.

• Schools decided to include/exclude children with special needs on a case by case basis:
School B:
We chose to keep the child as part of the testing process. . . . His needs were physical and not intellectual, and he didn’t need any extra assistance to complete tasks.

  School F:
As a staff we sat down and discussed this decision. We decided, why put a child into a testing situation who would score all zeros and only have an attention span of about two minutes? The main reason was for the sake of the child
• Schools’ decision-making was influenced by their recognition of the importance of maintaining the random sample in the NEMP process:
School C:
We didn’t consider recommending that any of the students be substituted or changed because it had been clearly stated that it was a random sample. Substituting children or asking for them to be replaced is not really an option. If you have special needs children on the list and they are being catered for in a mainstream setting, then why shouldn’t they participate
  School E:
They [NEMP] say that if there are any special reasons for a child to be taken from the list because of special needs, then schools can. Obviously they [NEMP] are aiming to be inclusive and not pre-empt a child’s participation.
• The support that NEMP gave schools was important in ensuring the success of the assessment process in general and the inclusion/exclusion decision-making in particular:
School C:
The whole thing was easy to do . . . and easy to run. . . . There were no problems, and we were absolutely happy with it.
  School D:
We had close contact with NEMP before they came. . . . There was good consultation before, during and after the process. . . . They were in tune with what we needed and what we said. . . . We have been fully supported throughout the process.

All seven schools were making informed, collaborative decisions about including or excluding special needs students in the NEMP assessment process. In each case, ways of ensuring inclusion of these children without compromising them or the assessment process were considered. An awareness of the importance of a ‘random’ sample was also held in common by the seven schools. It is noteworthy that only five schools of the original   27 that participated in NEMP in Canterbury in 2001 excluded special needs children from their original random sample list. Support from NEMP appears to have played a vital role in these situations, with the procedures established by NEMP not only ensuring good communication and negotiation between NEMP and the schools and between staff in the schools, but also standardisation of the assessment process.
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