SEND Bitesize Issue 3.1 

April 2020

The Engagement Model – Replacing P scales 1-4


On the 27th January the government released draft guidance for ‘The Engagement Model’ stating that this will be reviewed before spring 2020, when a final version will then be published.

The Engagement Model follows on from the Rochford Review and was adapted from the seven aspects of engagement devised by Professor Barry Carpenter in the DfE-funded Complex Learning Difficulties and Difficulties project in 2011. It is a new form of assessment designed for pupils working below the standard of the national curriculum tests and not engaged in subject-specific study. It replaces P scales 1-4 and, subject to consultation and final ministerial decision, is set to become statutory from the academic year 2020/21.

The model recognises that engagement is multi-dimensional and breaks it down into 5 areas that allows teachers to assess:

  • How well pupils are being engaged in developing new skills, knowledge and concepts in the school’s curriculum.
  • How effective the special educational provision is in empowering pupils to progress against the agreed outcomes in their EHC plans and how effectively pupils are engaging with and making progress against these plans.
  • Pupils’ achievements and progress across the four areas of need of the SEND code of practice (communication and interaction, cognition and learning, social, emotional and mental health difficulties, and sensory and/or physical needs).

There are five areas:

  • Exploration;
  • Realisation;
  • Anticipation;
  • Persistence;

Each one of the five areas are interrelated and should be used when assessing pupils who are not engaged in subject-specific study. Each area can provide a focus on how well pupils are achieving a specific outcome or individual development target as set out in their EHC plans or high-needs funding agreements. 

The five areas are not hierarchical, so there is no expectation that pupils need to demonstrate progress in all five areas. Instead, each of the areas represent what is necessary for pupils to fully engage in their development and reach their full potential. The areas also provide the scaffolding to enable pupils to become independent in developing a new skill or concept.

The engagement model assessment arrangements apply to maintained schools, maintained special schools, academies (including free schools), pupil referral units, hospital schools and Ministry of Defence schools. They are not mandatory for non-maintained or independent schools.

The model is an assessment tool that helps schools meet their duties in supporting pupils who are working below the level of the national curriculum and who are not engaged in subject-specific study.

The model is designed to identify and celebrate 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. 

The guidance suggests that effective use of the engagement model is centered upon regular observational assessment and reflective pedagogy carried out regularly throughout the year. Pupil progress through each of the five areas of engagement should be measured by identifying how established the pupil is against each of the areas of engagement and combines a formative and summative assessment approach. 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.

Schools are not required to submit data to the Department for Education (DfE) about the achievements and progress of each pupil. However, schools must report which primary-aged pupils are being assessed using the engagement model.

Schools may use the engagement model across all key stages, including pupils attending secondary schools, as the principles of engagement are equally relevant to pupils of all ages. There is no statutory requirement to do so, and in key stages 3 and 4 and in post-16 education, schools and colleges should ensure there is an emphasis on how their pupils’ acquired skills are preparing them for adulthood.

The model can be used as a tool for exploring 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.

The engagement model should not replace a school’s existing planning, assessment and reporting system. It should be used in conjunction with the assessment systems that a school is already using. It is a flexible and holistic assessment model and should be used as one of the tools in a school’s assessment toolkit. 

The draft guidance is available from: