Is Ofsted a “force for good” in improving the education of SEND learners?

Is Ofsted a force for good for improving the education of SEND learners?

Ofsted’s draft Education Inspection Framework and School Inspection Handbook are currently out for consultation. An Ofsted inspection is a critical moment in the life of any school and the framework and handbook themselves act as drivers both for school improvement and prioritising development. Under the previous framework it was possible for schools to receive a good inspection outcome and yet not be doing particularly well for their pupils with SEND. 

The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2017/18 had more mentions of SEND than any previous report, which was to be warmly welcomed, but some serious concerns were expressed:

"At the end of our second year of Local Area SEND inspections, we have inspected 68 local areas. Thirty of these have been required to provide a written statement of action."
"Many EHC plans have not been successfully implemented." p.13
"Identification of SEND is weak and those who do not quite meet the threshold for an EHC plan have poor outcomes." p.13
"Outcomes for young people with SEND are often poor by age 16." p.52
"...pupils with SEN support are five times more likely to have a permanent exclusion than pupils with no SEND" p.53
"27% of pupils with SEN support had a fixed-term exclusion last year – 93,800 pupils"
"...nearly 5,800 pupils with SEND left their school between Years 10 and 11 and some of them may have been ‘off-rolled’" p.53

Ofsted Annual report 2018

So it is interesting to see how this has all ‘played out’ in the recent draft documents out for consultation now until April 5th 2019. For the purposes of this article I have considered three of them:

  • Education Inspection Framework 2019: inspecting the substance of education
  • Education Inspection Framework 2019: Equality, diversity and inclusion statement
  • School Inspection Handbook
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How did these concerns play out in the draft EIF?

The EIF applies to all education institutions and particular attention has been paid to its impact on SEND. The EIF consultation document is pretty limited in terms of specific mentions of SEND; the document is 35 pages long and contains only two references to SEND (pages 15 and 24).

There are 11 proposals that are being consulted upon. It is possible to comment on SEND in some of the proposals and on page 20 there is an opportunity to comment on the draft school inspection handbook which we shall come to shortly (and upon which there is much to say about SEND).

An important aspiration is expressed on page.10: ‘We want inspection to contribute to an inclusive education system that can accommodate, and cater for, the needs of all learners of all ages.’ If it is going to do that, then we can reasonably expect some pretty clear statements in the body of the inspection handbook.

Let’s turn first however to the important ‘EIF 2019 Equality, diversity and inclusion statement’, which we should expect to be very strong in the area of SEND – and it is! There are some strong comments around mainstream schools that have a high proportion of learners, the curriculum for learners with SEND being amended to meet their needs in accordance with requirements of the Equality Act 2010 to make ‘reasonable adjustments’. There is a very significant statement repeated twice (in slightly different ways) in short space in the section on SEND (pp.6-7);  ‘Ofsted intends to be a force for improving the education available for all learners with SEND’. Wow! What a powerful statement of intent that is!

So now let's take a look at how the statement of intent is implemented in the inspection handbook so that it can have real impact on schools. There are five sections to the handbook regarding how Ofsted will judge schools:

  • Overall Effectiveness
  • The Quality of Education
  • Behaviour and Attitudes
  • Personal Development
  • Leadership and Management

For each of these five areas there are four Grade Descriptors:

  • Outstanding
  • Good
  • Requires Improvement
  • Inadequate

The only way we can judge whether the intent in the Equality, diversity and inclusion statement is being implemented in the actual inspection handbook is to look for references in these five sections and the grade descriptors for them. I’ll give advance warning now that the implementation is patchy.

Overall Effectiveness

This section has one powerful statement on SEND but nothing in the grade descriptors. The statement occurs in para. 153; ‘Before making the final judgement on overall effectiveness, inspectors must consider the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school, and evaluate the extent to which the school’s education provision meets different pupils’ needs, including pupils with SEND.’ If this statement is carried through in the inspection process then it could have real impact. It would have been nice to see something on inclusion in the grade descriptors. In a recent article my colleague Adam Boddison of Nasen, called for a strengthening of this section in this way.

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The Quality of Education

This section is relatively strong; containing three statements on SEND (paras. 154,157,177) and a further five within the grade descriptors.
Within the outstanding grade descriptor is a requirement that ‘Pupils with SEND achieve the best possible outcomes.’ Within the good grade descriptors leaders must, ‘construct a curriculum to give all pupils…including pupils with SEND the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life’.

The curriculum must be ‘...successfully adapted, designed or developed to be ambitious and meet the needs of pupils with SEND, developing their knowledge, skills and abilities to apply what they know and can do with increasing fluency and independence’. ‘Pupils with SEND achieve the best possible outcomes.’

Within the inadequate grade descriptors, ‘pupils do not benefit from a good quality education. Staff expectations of them are low, and their needs are not accurately identified and/or being met.’ This last statement emphasises accurate identification that is proving such a hot area of debate in all my discussions with schools.

Behaviour and Attitudes

In my view, this section is relatively weak. There is one comment (para 193) stating that ‘Inspectors will evaluate the experience of particular individuals and groups, such as pupils for whom referrals have been made to the local authority (and check how the referral was made and the thoroughness of the follow-up), pupils with SEND, children looked after, those with medical needs and those with mental health needs. In order to do this, inspectors will look at the experience of a small sample of these pupils.’

I think there are issues nationally in terms of how reasonable adjustments are made regarding the implementation of school behaviour policies (particularly in secondary schools) for children with SEND and where leaders do not have sufficient regard for paras 6.21-6.22 of the SEN Code of Practice. It is this that is contributing to higher exclusions for children with SEND. I would therefore have liked to have seen a much stronger statement about this in the handbook and certainly something in the grade descriptors.

Personal Development

This section is also relatively weak. There is one comment on disability (para. 202) which requires the promotion of 'an inclusive environment that meets the needs of all pupils, irrespective of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.'

I believe both Behaviour and Attitudes and Personal Development require strengthening in the grade descriptors by referencing the needs of learners with SEND.

Leadership and Management

There are two comments on SEND (paras. 229 and 234) but nothing in the grade descriptors. It is particularly disappointing that there is nothing on the leadership of SEND in schools as this is such a key area. By strengthening this section of the handbook the requirements to lead SEND provision more effectively and achieve Ofsted’s intention of ‘being a force for good’ for SEND would have more impact.

If we turn to paras. 293 to 295* we see some very strong comments about how all leaders (not just SENCOs) should lead for learners with SEND. I would like to see these comments moved to the leadership and management section of the handbook and reflected in the grade descriptors.

*SEMH is missing from para 294 – I am hoping that this is just an oversight, but coupled with the weaker Behaviour and Attitudes and Personal Development sections, it’s a worrying omission.

So, is Ofsted a force for good in SEND?

Let’s come back to the original statement by Ofsted that it intends to be ‘a force for good for improving the education available for learners with SEND’. My view is that there is much to commend in the consultation documents but there is still much to improve.

The Education, diversity and inclusion statement is very strong and the sections in the inspection handbook for ‘overall effectiveness’ and ‘quality of education’ are generally positive. After that it is somewhat weaker in the ways I have described.

The consultation is open until 5th April. I shall be giving my feedback and I hope this article will give others interested in improving the education of children with SEND some further ideas about how they might also feed back their views. I do believe Ofsted are listening, so let’s take the chance to respond.

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Malcolm Reeve

SEND & Inclusion expert at Whole School SEND
Malcolm is a National Leader of Education and Chair of Programme Board for Whole School SEND. He's former Executive Director for SEND & Inclusion at Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) - the UK’s largest academy chain and now runs his own education consultancy, Firmament Education. He's worked in the field of SEND for over 30 years and in that time has worked in adult provision, mainstream schools and special schools. He has worked in with children throughout the age range and with learning difficulties ranging from moderate to profound.
Malcolm has been a Headteacher of three schools and one federation. He is a Member of the National SEND Forum and Patron of the Centre Algarve holiday centre for people with special needs.
Malcolm Reeve

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