Ofsted: New area SEND inspection framework can be a “catalyst for change”

with Kathryn Rudd, Ofsted Senior HMI for SEND

As time has gone on

Ofsted and CQC’s SEND area inspections have provided an important, though flawed, accountability route for the 2014 reforms.

Originally just one round of inspections, it became apparent that practice was so bad that inspections needed to be an ongoing cycle. And so, following a recent consultation today a new inspection framework has been published.

We have closely followed and reported on the Ofsted/CQC Area SEND inspections since they began. SNJ is also part of the Area SEND Advisory Group that provides challenge and feedback (unpaid) into the inspections and new plans. We also responded to the recent consultation about the new framework, and we think that largely, the proposals are the right ones.

Many parents have expressed concern over how some areas seemed to pass their inspections either first time or even on the revisit as their experiences and those of their disabled children had not improved. It’s fair to say Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission have taken feedback on board and their new framework reflects this, including, for the first time, a social care inspector.

Of course, the SEND Review outcome is still an unknown quantity— and now delayed until next year. If and when the DfE decides what further reforms to make to SEND, the framework may have to be updated again to ensure it reflects any changes.

Matt will be analysing the final framework as time allows, but today as it launches, we’re pleased to bring you an editorial from Kathryn Rudd, Ofsted’s Senior HMI for SEND who was appointed earlier this year to explain more about the new Area SEND Inspection Framework.

We’ve listened and we want to help bring change, by Kathryn Rudd, Ofsted’s Senior HMI for SEND

The system for children with special educational needs and disabilities has struggled with persistent and long-standing weaknesses for too long. Poor quality education, health and care plans, poor co-production and poor outcomes for pupils with SEND are rife. To compound these issues even further, the pandemic has had a particularly detrimental impact on the education and support for children and young people with SEND. The need for improvement across the board is clear.

Our new area SEND inspection framework follows a period of consultation alongside the Care Quality Commission (CQC). I hope this will act as a catalyst for much-needed improvement, while helping local areas prepare for future reform. Our inspections will focus on the things that matter most - improving the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND. The new framework will strengthen accountability and clarify where responsibility for improvement lies.

I am really pleased that parents and carers represented over half of all respondents to our consultation on the changes. Their feedback informed many aspects of our new framework, for example around how inspections consider how local area partnerships meet their legal duties.

Alongside our new area SEND inspection framework, we also published a full consultation outcome and commentary by His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, about the changes.

Poor quality education, health and care plans, poor co-production and poor outcomes for pupils with SEND are rife.

Kathryn Rudd

Focusing on outcomes and experiences

When we were developing our new framework, we worked closely with stakeholders, such as sector professionals and parents and carers, to develop criteria for evaluating the impact local areas have on the outcomes and experiences of children and young people with SEND. 

Our framework aims to strengthen accountability across the local area partnership and promote the continuous improvement of SEND services. The introduction of a more frequent and continuous cycle of inspections will support this. This includes reinspecting earlier, where necessary, and monitoring inspections for local areas where a full inspection finds significant failings. We are introducing three distinct inspection outcomes to provide clearer information about how a local area partnership is performing. Our reports will make it clear where responsibility lies for any action that needs to be taken. We will also ask all areas to publish their SEND strategic plans after a full inspection.

Other key changes include:

  • a focus on how local authorities commission and oversee alternative provision.
  • the introduction of a multidisciplinary inspection team comprised of education, health and social care inspectors.

As part of the new inspection arrangements, we will also carry out an annual series of thematic visits. These will look in depth at specific aspects of the SEND system. Our first set of visits will focus on alternative provision to understand how it is used for children with SEND, and to promote improvement by sharing examples of good partnership working.

Kathryn Rudd
Kathryn Rudd

Listening to those who are central to the SEND system

The experiences of children and young people are at the heart of our new framework. Engagement events we held during the consultation provided us with valuable feedback from children and young people with SEND, parents and carers, and sector professionals.

Some parents and carers told us they were concerned that by widening the scope of our inspections, we would focus less on local area partnerships’ compliance with legal duties. We have made it clear in our framework and handbook that legal duties will continue to have an important role to play. However, it will not be enough for local areas to simply meet legal duties. The strategies and plans they have in place must be making a real difference to, and improve the lives of, children and young people with SEND and their families.

We also ran specifically-designed children and young people’s consultation, to listen to their thoughts on our proposed changes. We had over 800 children and young people respond. Based on what they told us they wanted to see, we have improved our surveys by making them available in a range of formats, making the questions easier to understand and introducing multimedia to ensure they are more accessible.

Looking to the future

We are particularly interested in how the DfE plans to clarify the roles and responsibilities of partners across, education, health, care and local government, and how they will be held accountable. Without this clarity, we run the risk of replicating the current system’s weaknesses.

Kathryn Rudd

This framework has been designed to inspect the system as it is now. We are pleased the government is considering wide-reaching reforms and look forward to seeing how they will develop. We are particularly interested in how the DfE plans to clarify the roles and responsibilities of partners across, education, health, care and local government, and how they will be held accountable. Without this clarity, we run the risk of replicating the current system’s weaknesses.

Specialist provision will always have an important role to play in the system, but we must also improve inclusion in mainstream education. The quality of training must be strengthened to better equip teachers to provide a high-quality curriculum and teaching to children and young people with SEND.  

We know that large-scale reform of this kind can take years to implement. But, given the urgent need for change, we felt that it would not be right to wait until these reforms are put into action. So, we have introduced our new framework while they are being developed, to ensure there is no accountability gap. I hope it will act as a catalyst for further change and help foster effective partnership working that places the experiences of children and young people with SEND at its centre.

About Kathryn Rudd

Kathryn Rudd has spent her entire career in the further education sector. Before working for Ofsted, she was a principal of an independent specialist college. She has also worked in general further education colleges leading and developing provision for learners with SEN and adult learning. She has held board roles on national membership organisations and has been a governor of a further education college.

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