Ofsted and the CQC reveal plans for new Area SEND Inspections 

**Watch a webinar on the consultation from Ofsted**

Every local authority and health body in England has now had its SEND provision inspected by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. A very few have been good, many have been bad, and some have been downright ugly.

We’ve covered the progress of these over the years and a sorry, often disturbing, picture of failure has emerged. The results are illustrated in the interactive graphic below, showing the latest picture created by SNJ's Matt Keer, (we’re just waiting for one final outcome).

LOcal area inspections 2022
Courtesy, Matt Keer via Tableau. Ask for reuse

You can view the interactive version here

What happens next?

In 2020, it was confirmed that the inspections would be part of an ongoing cycle. However, this means a new framework is needed, based on what Ofsted and CQC learned from the first round. To support this, a joint consultation has been launched by Ofsted and CQC to help develop the new inspection provision framework for children and young people with SEND. Running until September 11, it’s part of a range of engagement activities Ofsted and CQC will be doing with the sector, children and young people, parents, and carers. So now you know what you’ll be doing over the summer… 

SNJ is a long-time member of the stakeholder advisory group working for Area SEND Inspections, and remains involved. We've also offered to host a webinar as part of the consultation, so stay tuned.

I know we are already up to our eyes in consultations, not to mention the general business of the summer term. But if you’ve responded to an area inspection in the past, or felt excluded from contributing for whatever reason, you might want to take a look. 

How does this play with the SEND Green Paper consultation?

It may seem strange to launch a consultation at the same time as the consultation for the SEND Green Paper, as it won’t be possible to finalise a new framework until it’s clear what changes are going to happen in SEND. However, creating new frameworks take time, and as there will be no new area inspections until it’s done, time is of the essence. As it is, the new inspections won’t be launched until early 2023.

The inspectorate most certainly doesn’t want a repeat of the two years it took before the first Area SEND Inspections took place. Those LAs that were inspected early in the process have had little accountability or scrutiny since—and this is deeply troubling, especially in those LAs that scraped through--much to the shock of parents. Those that failed have been forced to at least attempt to clean up their acts before a revisit (even though many have failed the revisit too)

What will happen in the new inspections?

Over the years, Ofsted/CQC have learned more about what works well, including how to engage better with families, especially with young people themselves. Inspectors say the new framework will, “broaden the focus of inspection to look not only at whether local area partnerships are identifying and meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND, but also to assess the impact on their lives and outcomes.”  

The new framework aims to strengthen SEND accountability by: 

  • Introducing an ongoing cycle of inspections with three inspection outcomes. 
  • Annual "engagement meetings" in all areas.
  • Boosting the response where Ofsted has concerns via monitoring inspections and/or early re-inspections. 
  • More transparency and improving services by asking local areas to update and publish "visible strategic SEND plans" after full inspections, regardless of the inspection outcome. 

"We propose that, from early 2023, inspections will focus more on the impact that the local area partnership is having on the lives of children and young people with SEND. The current area SEND inspection framework, introduced in 2016, places a significant focus on assessing whether local areas are meeting their statutory responsibilities, which were introduced in the 2014 reforms, towards children and young people with SEND.

"Eight years on from those reforms, we believe that we should now place more emphasis on how effective the local area partnership’s SEND arrangements are in improving the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND. In other words, we want to focus more on the impact that SEND arrangements are having on the lives of children and young people with SEND. Statutory responsibilities will continue to have an important role in the new framework, and inspectors will continue to take into account how they are being met. However, it will not be enough to simply meet statutory responsibilities."

Consultation information


 Including social care inspectors & Alternative Provision

At present, only health and education are inspected, but the new inspection framework will also include inspectors from social care. This is aimed at better understanding how well joint working is happening in a specific area. 

And, in line with the SEND Green Paper’s increased focus on Alternative Provision, the new framework will similarly focus on children in AP, as most also have identified SEND. It aims to evaluate how LAs commission, use and oversee alternative provision. 

Some aspects of the draft new framework have already been tested through a series of pilot inspections.

How will local areas be assessed?

The local area’s SEND arrangements will be evaluated by how well:

  • needs are identified accurately and assessed in a timely and effective way
  • children, young people and their families participate in decision-making about their individual plans and support
  • SEND pupils receive the right help at the right time
  • children and young people are well prepared for their next steps, and achieve strong outcomes
  • children and young people with SEND are valued, visible and included in their communities

“We believe that these criteria are fundamental when judging whether the local SEND system is having a positive impact on the lives of children and young people with SEND.”

Ofsted Consultaion

Three levels of inspections

The new framework plans will have three levels of inspections:

  1. Full inspections— Evaluate impact

Evaluate and report on the impact of the local area partnership's strategy and commissioning on the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND. Frequency will be determined by the previous inspection outcome.

  1. Monitoring inspections - Evaluate progress

Evaluate progress in areas where widespread and/or systemic weaknesses have been identified, 18 months after their full inspection, making a judgement about whether they are making effective progress.

  1. Engagement meetings—Ongoing Engagement

Engagement meetings between inspectors and area leaders to provide an understanding of areas' ongoing strategy, system design and arising concerns, usually annually.

“We know from our previous area inspections that the system has significant weaknesses. There are inconsistencies in the identification of needs, weaknesses in joint working across education, health and care partners, and a lack of clarity on local agencies’ accountability within the system. This frequently leads to negative experiences and outcomes for children, young people, and their families.

"These issues have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, as have their effects on children and young people with SEND. There is a clear and urgent need for reform. In this context, it is the right time to refine our approach to area SEND inspections, so that they are a force for improvement in the sector to the greatest extent possible.

"We have sought to align our new area SEND inspection framework with the direction set out in the Department for Education’s SEND and alternative provision green paper to help prepare areas for future reforms. However, it would not be right to wait until reforms are implemented to introduce our new inspection framework. We hope that our proposals will promote improvement at pace within the existing system, while helping areas to prepare for future reform.”

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman

What is proposed to happen after an inspection?

The previous framework had no outcome levels. An area either passed or was required to write a “written statement of action” for how it intended to improve. All inspection outcomes were accompanied by a report of strengths and “areas for development” but if an area didn’t get slapped with A WSOA, there was little incentive for it to pay any attention to what was in the report (other than the good bits)

In contrast, the new framework has three proposed inspection outcomes 

  1. The local area partnership’s SEND arrangements typically lead to positive experiences and outcomes for children and young people.

In this case, the next area SEND inspection will be within approximately five years. The local area partnership (comprising health, education and social care) will be “asked” to publish its strategic planning based on the recommendations set out in the report.

  1. The local area partnership’s SEND arrangements lead to inconsistent experiences and outcomes for children and young people; the local area partners must work jointly to make improvements.

In this instance, the next area SEND inspection will be within approximately three years. Again, it will be asked publish updated strategic planning based on inspectors’ recommendations 

  1. There are widespread and/or systemic failings leading to significant concerns about the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND, which the local area partnership must address urgently.

In this case, the area will be expected to prepare and submit a “priority action plan” to address the identified areas for priority action, in accordance with The Children Act 2004 (Joint Area Reviews) Regulations 2015. A monitoring inspection will be carried out within approximately 18 months with another full inspection within around three years providing: 

  • an independent external evaluation of progress
  • recommendations for further action
  • an up-to-date information for children and young people and their families, as well as for government agenciesuse

Tracking experiences

A new idea as part of the framework is for “tracking meetings” to boost gathering information from children, young people and their families, 

Inspectors say they’re determined to put families' experiences at the centre of their practice. “The views and experiences of children and young people with SEND will be the starting point...before the onsite evidence-gathering activities, inspectors will have in-depth discussions with children and young people, and parents and carers, about their experiences and outcomes."

As well as surveys, there will be visits to providers and services selected via pre-inspection research. Sampling visits will examine and discuss individual children’s records with practitioners, helping inspectors to evidence-gather and investigate specific “lines of enquiry” about a wider range of experiences and outcomes.

Tracking may sound a bit creepy, but it’s a specific methodology used by Ofsted elsewhere. It looks at a child’s journey in a forensic way, including meeting a specific family (and child if appropriate) to hear their experiences. They’ll also meet all the professionals involved to understand why decisions were made and why that child’s experience is as it is. This is intended to give inspectors a first-hand evidence of what it is like to be a child or young person with SEND in the local area. I don’t imagine they’ll have any difficulty finding willing families!

Selecting participants

Inspectors will choose children and young people with a variety of needs, using a range of services, and at different stages in their SEND journey. They’ll take into account their specific areas for investigation, the local area’s demographics (including Equality Act protected characteristics) and any area-specific issues. This will also include one or more pupils from alternative provision, and at least two pupils on SEN support. Young people up to age 25 and those who work with them will be included in the potential pool.

Ofsted is aware of LA “cherry-picking” of participants and says they’re still piloting, including a random selection of 100, some with EHCPs and some without. Then six are chosen, with reserves, for the “deep dives”. The children are from a full range of needs and settings, including primary care in 14-25s to see how they’re accessing health visits. They’ve also given a lot of thought to accessibility of communication, to ensure it’s not left up to chance. This is an area they want to hear more about in consultation responses.

There is more about the selection process and the surveys in the consultation document

How will the order of inspections be chosen?

This ongoing cycle means inspectors have a lot more flexibility in their regional teams for scheduling inspections. They’ll be prioritising areas that have failed inspections since the pandemic, as these areas will not be getting revisits as other failed areas have done. Also prioritised are those areas that haven’t been inspected since 2016. 

And if an area passes, but Ofsted hears troubling information a couple of years later, the new flexibility means they can follow these concerns up without needing to wait for a full inspection. And of course, there will be the annual “engagement meetings” bringing a continual SEND spotlight on areas. All of which is very good news. 

Areas that don’t improve are already subject to intervention packages from the DfE and NHS England and these will remain, as well as the option for commissioners, such as seen in Birmingham

As plans go, there is much to be welcomed here. But Ofsted and the CQC still want more information about many things, such as how to measure value and inclusion, so if you have ideas for this, please ensure you respond to the consultation by September 11th.

Matt will be bringing you a "where we are now" post in the very near future, so look out for that! 

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