Who isn’t confused by the Engagement Model?


The Engagement Model final guidance was released with minimal fanfare in early 2020. I could almost say snuck out, there was no announcement, minimal media interest, it was published by the STA and arrived on the gov.uk website. In January 2020 it was in draft and, the final version released in March with minimal changes. 

The Engagement Model launch and training schedule has been interesting to follow. At the beginning most schools hadn’t heard of it. It was only those schools with lots of complex pupils who had been following the progress towards the release of the Engagement Model in its various forms since the Rochford Review: Final Report. Fast Forward 18 months later and suddenly every school is being told to use it for their pupils with SEND.  

I am now having lots of conversations with senior leaders who are trying to find out about this new guidance they have to follow. This new guidance for pupils with SEND they need to follow, yet they aren’t sure what it means or what they need to do. The biggest issue is they are unsure on who the guidance applies to. Some have been told it replaces P Levels, others have been told it replaces the pre-key stage standards and some simply have no idea what it is and are just looking for a simple way to implement it. 


What does the guidance say? 

The Engagement model starts with this introduction in section 1.1… 

“This guidance sets out the statutory requirements for using the engagement model to assess pupils who are working below the standard of the national curriculum assessments and not engaged in subject-specific study at key stage 1 (KS1) and key stage 2 (KS2). It describes best practice on how to use the engagement model, to support teachers and staff involved in assessing the progress of these pupils, and can be used by schools from September 2020. Schools will be required to use the engagement model from the 2021/22 academic year” 

Page 4, The Engagement Model 


I have highlighted the key information which tells you who it applies to, this is clarified in section 2.1… 

“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. Subject-specific study occurs where a pupil can demonstrate recognisable and specific skills, knowledge and understanding in English language comprehension and reading, English writing and mathematics. The pre-key stage standards must be used for statutory assessment at the end of KS1 and KS2 for pupils who are working below the standard of the national curriculum assessments and engaged in subject-specific study” 

Page 7, The Engagement Model 


I always love the Governments approach, “why say something in 10 words when you can say it in 100!” 

Here is a simple way of looking at it…. 

  • For children working at the level of the national curriculum assessments, use the national curriculum assessments. 
  • For children working below the level of the assessments, use the pre-key stage standards. 
  • For children working below the level of the pre-key stage standards, use the Engagement Model. 


“The engagement model can be used in the 2020/21 academic year. From September 2021 when it becomes statutory, schools will be required to: 

  • use the engagement model to assess pupils who are working below the standard of national curriculum assessments and not engaged in subject-specific study at the end of KS1 and KS2 
  • report to DfE which pupils are assessed using the engagement model for KS1 and KS2 — schools are not required to submit any other data to DfE about the progress of these pupils 
  • ensure that evidence relating to pupils’ achievements and progress is reported as part of the end of year academic report, which schools must provide to parents, as outlined in The Education (Pupil Information) Regulations 20054 and paragraph 6.64 of the SEND code of practice” 

Page 8, The Engagement Model 


So, to summarise..

Bullet point 1 says “Use the Engagement Model to assess pupils”, but there is no assessment criteria, just 5 areas. 

Bullet point 2 says there is a legal requirement to report which pupils are working below pre-key stage standard 1 and therefore using the Engagement Model. Bullet point 2 is the only bullet point that has any meaning.

Bullet point 3 just reinforces the SEND Code of Practice 

“Schools must provide an annual report for parents on their child’s progress” 

6.64, Page 104, The SEND Code of Practice 


The most interesting part of the document for me is on page 8… 

“Schools will have autonomy over how they implement the engagement model, and have the freedom to decide: 

  • how to use the engagement model to reflect on the success of the curriculum that they provide to their pupils 
  • how to use the engagement model alongside their existing planning, assessment and recording systems

Page 8, The Engagement Model 

Schools can use the Engagement Model how they want, it does not replace their existing planning, assessment and recording system. 

The Engagement model promotes thinking around engagement, it suggests 5 areas to think about how pupils engage. If you are already looking at engagement, and it works for you, you don’t really need to do anything. 

At B Squared, we have looked at pupils’ engagement in our assessment software, Connecting Steps for over 20 years, with our levels of achievement. Schools can show pupils aren’t engaging and then show later on that they are now engaging. This isn’t just for pupils with complex needs, but for all pupils. 

When you are looking at engagement, you can look at engagement with any framework. You can look at how they are engaging with the EYFS or the Primary curriculum. The criteria the pupil is working towards need to be relevant and at an appropriate level for the pupil. If skills aren’t relevant, are too hard or too easy, it will have a big impact on engagement.  


Want an easy way to show pupil progress?

Click on the button to arrange a FREE online meeting to find out how we can help make assessment easier for your school

Book a FREE Online Meeting


Moving on from the Engagement Model 

Subject specific starts when they can demonstrate recognisable and specific skills, knowledge and understanding in English language comprehension and reading, English writing and mathematics.  

This is around P4 using the old P levels or around 18 months developmentally. The pre-key stage standards use secure fit judgements (with limited teacher discretion around disability). To achieve all the statements within pre-key stage standard 1, a child needs to be working around P6 using the old P levels or around 2 and a half years developmentally. This creates a bit of hole, the child is engaged in subject specific learning, but not able to achieve pre-key stage standard 1. Perhaps the following statement intends to mean when the pupil achieves pre-key stage standard 1, they are now engaged in subject specific learning? 

“Subject specific starts when they can demonstrate recognisable and specific skills, knowledge and understanding in English language comprehension and reading, English writing and mathematics.” 

Page 7, The Engagement Model 


Confusion around who the Engagement Model is for 

The guidance on who the Engagement Model applies to is based on attainment at the end of key stage 1 and 2. It doesn’t give schools guidance for pupils starting in Year 1, working below age related expectations. 

For schools who use our Progression Steps or Primary Steps, we have Progression Step 1, which covers the same developmental range as pre-key stage standard 1, but with smaller steps so schools can show progress and identify next steps. Progression Step 1 starts around 18 months developmentally, so any pupils working around 18 months or above can transition straight into Primary Steps or Progression Steps. 

How should schools assess progress for pupils who are developmentally below 18 months when they finish reception? The Government gives no guidance around ongoing assessment for pupils, this means schools can choose what works for them. You can generally split pupils working below 18 months into 2 groups, those who will be below this level for up to a year and those who are significantly below 18 months and will be below 18 months for a much longer period.  

Most pupils in mainstream primary settings below 18 months developmentally at the end of reception will only be below this level between a term and a year. If you are a school who use our Primary Steps and Progression Steps, I would not recommend using our Engagement Steps for these pupils. The reasons are it is only a short period of time you will be using the Engagement Steps for, it is a different way to assess which adds additional complexity at multiple levels around assessment and data. I would recommend continuing to use our Early Steps 2021 assessment content until they transition on to Progression Step 1 

There is a small number of pupils who will be below 18 months for a longer period of time, these children typically move on to specialist settings. I would recommend using our Engagement Steps for these pupils. These pupils will be working at these developmental levels for a longer period of time, you will need to profile the pupils’ abilities and identify where they need support. The Engagement Steps supports schools to be able to show small steps of progress in relevant areas. 


What Does Assessment with the Engagement Model Look Like? 

The answer is whatever you want it to look like, as long as it supports your pupils. The guidance is clear it does not replace your existing planning, assessment or recording system. If you are looking for the guidance to help you develop this, you need to look somewhere else. 

The Engagement Model is not revolutionary and doesn’t really do much at all. The feedback to the pilot study that was completed in 2018 was nothing but negative, read more here. It didn’t do anything they didn’t already do, it just added to teacher workload without a benefit. 

The main premise of the Engagement Model is more engagement will improve educational outcomes. This is not a new concept, it has been around for years. This concept doesn’t just apply to pupils with complex needs, it applies to every pupil and every person. It applies to me writing this blog. I could write a short blog piece with no real information that would not engage you, or I could write a much longer blog that is really in depth and will take 2 hours to read and require re-reading to fully understand. Instead I have tried to sit in the middle, something not too complex or too long, with clear information and sub-headings to help you find relevant information. It is important to make sure you are pitching things at the correct level to ensure people are engaged. The majority of people will adapt what they say based on their audience and how they respond. 

Your school’s curriculum is based on what you feel will help your pupils engage and learn. There is the Primary National Curriculum which tells you the skills and outcomes children should achieve, but not how to teach. This is where you develop your curriculum to meet those requirements in a way that engages your pupils. I am a big fan of forestry and outdoor learning, where children get to experience new things and use their imagination which they can use later on in the classroom in lots of different ways. You may use a creative curriculum or something else, it is what works for your school and your pupils. 


Using Early Steps to Assess Pupil Progress in Year 1 

There is no guidance how to assess ongoing pupil progress, you can use what works for you and your pupils that will support pupil progress. 

There have been lots of changes to assessment in primary and early years over the last few years. In September 2021, the new Early Years Foundation Stage came into effect with a new Development Matters. The new Development Matters does not support pupils with SEND effectively. The lowest level band is birth to 3 years. With the old Development Matters, several schools we talked to struggled to show progress for pupils working within Birth to 11 months. Increasing this to 36 months makes no sense for pupils with SEND. Our new Early Steps splits the birth to 3 years into more levels so schools can show progress for pupils working at the lowest ability levels. 

Our new Early Steps overlaps is a big improvement over our old Early Steps for pupils with complex needs. Early Steps 2021 overlaps with our Engagement Steps, they have a large number of shared skills. The main difference is the breadth and how the content is organised. Engagement Steps is much broader, covering all 4 broad areas of need. Engagement Steps is aimed at pupils who will be working at low developmental levels for a longer period of time. Early Steps covers the Cognition and Learning content across the 7 areas of the EYFS. Using Early Steps in Year 1 means you are using a system the school is already familiar with, you are not introducing something new for a short period of time that causes additional teacher workload, cost and complexity. Early Steps 2021 and Engagement Steps overlap with the Primary Steps and Progression Steps, supporting transition between frameworks. 

For pupils who will only be working below Progression Steps 1 for up to a year, it really does make sense to continue with the Early Steps instead of introducing a new assessment system for a short period of time. We are just delaying the transition between assessment systems until the pupil is ready. If the pupil is still working at low EYFS levels, it is still appropriate even though their chronological age is higher. The skills within the Early Steps are the steppingstones towards Progression Step 1. Skills in Early Steps that are also in Primary Steps or Progression Steps are linked, if they achieve the skill in the Early Steps, it is also achieved in the other framework. 

If you don’t use B Squared assessment products, you will have decisions to make around what will support you to show progress for pupils working below the pre-key stage standards. Does your EYFS assessment system show progress for pupils working at lower levels? Can you continue to use it into Year 1? 

We have developed our Early Steps and Primary Steps frameworks to show progress for pupils in primary settings. Only the most complex pupils will need to be assess using Engagement Steps. Our Connecting Steps software reduces teacher workload, makes showing progress in lots of different ways easy and identifies next steps. 


Want an easy way to show pupil progress?

Click on the button to arrange a FREE online meeting to find out how we can help make assessment easier for your school

Book a FREE Online Meeting