Consultation on SEND Accountability launched. We look at the big picture

So finally, what we have been waiting for – the public consultation for setting up a system of accountability for the new(ish) Special Educational Needs and Disability system.

Of course this should have been firmly in place over a year ago and could have played an important role in helping LAs and schools get implementation right. The question remains, why it is only now, a year and half a term into implementation, that we are just looking at figuring out what a framework for accountability should look like. Ho hum.

We reported back in March on the announcement that there would be an Ofsted (education) and Care Quality Commission (health & social care)-led Accountability Framework. Since then, while it may seem to have gone quiet, the two bodies have held discussions with young people, their parents and carers, SEND support groups, LAs and health groups to create the key proposals for the consultation.

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For the first time from next May 2016, inspectors will evaluate how local authorities, nurseries, schools, further education establishments and health services such as clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and NHS England (for specialist services), identify children and young people with special educational needs. This need for proper identification was a common theme during the discussions.

During these five-day in-depth inspections, Ofsted and the CQC will assess how effectively local areas are fulfilling their SEND obligations and say they want these inspections to act as a ‘catalyst for improvement.’ They aim to make the services consistent across areas, presumably in an attempt to end the ‘postcode lottery’ of provision. Other services provided such as speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and mental health services will also be under the spotlight.

Essentially, this means there will be nowhere for poor practice to hide.

Coincidentally, the announcement came on the same day that news of a Freedom of Information Act request by the NSPCC revealed that one in five children who are referred to CAMHS, the child and adolescent mental health service, are refused any help because they "didn’t meet" the high criteria bar set to access services. Of course this isn’t just down to poor practice – it’s also because of spending cuts. While it’s great for the government to announce reforms and accountability, it does help if they also allow sufficient funding for high quality services to be provided. You can’t demand more for less and then thrash them when they fail. Or apparently, you can.

Highlighting good practice

What is sorely needed are more examples of good practice so that the system has a real shot at getting better. (If you have any, we'll be happy for you to share them in a post on SNJ.) 

It may not be a popular view, but I don’t believe staff in SEND departments or education, health and social care professionals are evilly plotting away to prevent families getting what they need, even though it can certainly feel like that on the parents' end.

It’s more often a case of forced incompetence through insufficient training and being overwhelmed, as well as some just doing what they’ve always done because that’s what they know. What’s needed is better and more easy-to-access training and examples of how helping families should be done.

So it’s good news that the inspection reports will also highlight particular strengths and good practice in local areas, to encourage other areas to model similar practices. These evaluations will also include children’s and young people’s progress towards their next stage of education or employment.

Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Education, said, "Ofsted will highlight good practice, so that we can celebrate success. I hope that other areas will be inspired by this good practice, which will lead to improvements elsewhere. I also hope the result will be better support for some of the most vulnerable young people in society, helping to give them the best possible start in life."

What will the inspections look at?

Inspectors will take into account a range of other statistics such as:

  • recent inspection outcomes for the local area carried out by Ofsted and CQC
  • the outcomes for children and young people in national assessments and their destinations after leaving school
  • performance towards meeting expected timescales for statutory assessment
  • any information about the use of disagreement resolution services, mediation and appeals to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability)
  • data about the delivery of the healthy child programme and other commissioned health services, such as national screening programmes
  • complaints made to Ofsted or CQC relating to special educational needs and/or disability

This, presumably will catch those LAs who just turn down initial assessment requests in the hope that half of them will just go away, but are then surprised when they have a lot of appeals against refusal to assess.

Inspectors will look at a wide range of groups of children and young people with SEN and disabilities, from different ages and those attending different settings, for example those in youth justice provision and those not attending school. They will include those with and without EHCPs and I hope it also scrutinises social care assessments for EHCPs because very few parents have managed to get a social care assessment for their child unless they are “already known” to the department. This includes me.

As far as health goes, anyone who worked, as we did, on the pathfinders will remember the low level of engagement from health. This wasn’t through lack of desire but as one doctor told me, if they attended, then a clinic would have to be cancelled as there was no one to cover. But health is a vital component of these changes – it’s what makes them different from a bog-standard old statement. Each CCG is supposed to have a Designated Medical Officer to help this coordination process and we'd love to know how this is going in our area.

The Care Quality Commission Chief Inspector of General Practice, Professor Steve Field is quoted as saying, "Young people and children with special educational needs or disabilities can face a complex system comprising many different health and educational agencies. It can be a bewildering experience for families having to coordinate different types of support. That’s why it’s important that we examine how well these different partners work together to meet the care needs of this often vulnerable group.

“It is absolutely right that in the twenty-first century, all children and young people receive the support they need and deserve. We need your views on how to best inspect in this area and urge you to help us define this critical programme.”

So now’s your chance to make sure that they get accountability right because it’s no good complaining afterwards if you don’t speak up. (If you contribute and it still doesn’t go right, then you’re allowed to complain! 😉 )

On SNJ next week, we’re going to have a separate in-depth post on the consultation questions to help you contribute to the consultation yourself, but below is a précis of what is being asked:

The consultation asks for responses to the following proposals:

  • inspectors will evaluate how effectively the local area identifies disabled children and young people and those who have special educational needs
  • inspectors will evaluate how effectively the local area meets the needs and improves the outcomes of disabled children and young people and those with special educational needs
  • a wide range of information will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of local area arrangements. This will include the views of children and young people, parents and carers, recent inspection reports and visits to a number of local education and health service providers
  • a wide range of approaches will be used during the inspection to obtain the views of disabled children and young people, and their parents and carers, including meetings, online questionnaires and social media

The consultation and questionnaire documents

The consultation documents are available in 2 formats:

The consultation also wants to hear from young people themselves and there is a separate form for responses for them.

Young people’s consultation

The views of young people are very much welcomed. Young people can:

Key Dates

  • The closing date for this consultation is 4 January 2016
  • Consultation outcomes published: early 2016
  • Dissemination workshops for local areas by Ofsted and CQC: autumn 2015 – spring 2016
  • Launch of inspection programme: May 2016
Tania Tirraoro


  1. Romany

    Thank you – will share this article locally (along with the consultation docs), highlighting your precis. Will credit SNJ accordingly. Hoping to get lots of people to complete these. As you say… our contributions will help get the accountability right. And I agree with your view that staff are not evilly plotting anything! Most of the time, they’re just people trying to do their best in a flawed system.

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