Our Ofsted/CQC Facebook chat: What you asked and they answered

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Our Facebook chat last week had a pretty overwhelming response, thank you to everyone who participated. We had a bit of a glitch in that replies from Matthew Barnes, Ofsted's HMI Specialist SEND Adviser would appear and then vanish; I think we may have temporarily broken Facebook!

However, we got the answers through and I've undertaken the pretty mammoth task of tidying them all up, removing the Facebook formatting and adding them into a downloadable document. It's not possible to just paste them into a post as there are over 7,000 words - and that's after I removed questions that didn't have answers and additional comments that were would have complicated the layout. If you want to see the entire post on Facebook, you can find it here.  The document has removed surnames for privacy reasons, though of course, it's all there on Facebook.

You may also want to read our post on Ofsted/CQC's report of One Year of local area SEND inspections in England.

Ofsted are keen to signpost you to their handbook for the LA SEND inspections, which explains how the inspections work and what they are looking for. Ofsted says, "The LA SEND inspections are all about how the implementation of the reforms are improving identification, improving how children’s needs are assessed and met and improving outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs."

Watch out for the webinars

Local Area SEND inspections always have webinars for local parents to join in and discuss the results. We always share these dates and where to register on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Of course, Ofsted does the same on their Twitter feed too.

Thanks

Thanks to Lea Pickerill from the Care Quality Commission for helping with answers, to Cait from the Ofsted team for getting the answers to you, to my co-director, Renata, for teaming up with me to live-tweet the replies -  and of course to Ofsted's Matthew Barnes for bravely taking part.

The transcript is below:

Take a look and let me know in the comments on this post if you thought this was a useful thing to do - and who you'd like to speak to in another chat, if we could persuade them.

Matt's view

SNJ columnist, Matt Keer, is our accountability expert and has written a number of posts about the SEND inspections. He's offered his view on the responses in the chat:

The FB chat was very welcome – it’s not often that a wide range of parents get to ask senior inspectors about SEND issues, and hopefully it’ll have helped mutual understanding a bit.

After going through the hundreds of posts, a few things leapt out at me:

There’s a big mismatch between what parents want from local area SEND inspections, and what local area SEND inspectors have as their mission. From the FB chat questions, parents want genuine accountability that makes a difference to how local areas act in individual cases. On the other hand, inspectors are primarily there to work out if the things that local area leaders are doing at a strategic level to implement the SEND reforms are working effectively.

We want regulators – but that’s not what’s happening here, because regulation is not what the inspectors are there to do. So if Ofsted / CQC aren’t regulating SEND services, who is?

Parents aren’t the primary customer for these inspections – the Department for Education and local areas are. The LASEND inspections aren’t like Ofsted school inspections where the content of the reports is written in part to help families make decisions. Parents are welcome to provide evidence to inform these inspections, but they’re not aimed at us - and that came across in the back-and-forth in the FB chat.

Inspectors aren’t as concerned about the letter of the law as parents are – Every year, thousands of parents depend on the law to get their children & young people the SEND provision they need. The Ofsted / CQC inspection remit requires inspectors to assess “how well a local area carries out its statutory duties in relation to children & young people with SEND” – but Ofsted were pretty clear in this FB chat that they won’t be “ticking that every element of law has been fulfilled.” Ultimately, Ofsted / CQC see their role as being “to shine a light on where [local area practice] works and where it does not” - and that does not include things like (for example) checking the consistency of EHCPs. That approach would be fine if local area SEND practice was routinely and dependably lawful. But it isn’t – which takes us to...

If inspectors identify ‘illegal’ practice, will this trigger a Written Statement of Action? This was one of the most perplexing aspects of this chat. Inspectors stressed a number of times that if they identified ‘illegal’ practice, then the local area would have to submit a Written Statement of Action (WSOA), the most serious signal of inspectors’ displeasure.

That sounds wonderful. Except it hasn’t worked like that in practice so far, at all. Ask parents in places like Gateshead, Hertfordshire & Trafford, who submitted detailed evidence of local area practice that breached statutory duty. No WSOA for those local areas.

Why? Well, it’s possible that some inspectors simply don’t recognise unlawful practice when they see it – one parent who commented in the FB chat simply & effectively said, “how could you miss it?” It would be interesting to know more about their training - and also how full & frank the advice is from the inspectors Ofsted uses from LA SEN services, some of whom have a less than stellar record in their home LAs.

Also, what the inspectors said here is hard to square with their own inspection framework. Para 17 says that if inspectors identify “significant concerns” around illegal practice, then a WSOA “is likely to be required” - but it’s an issue of professional judgement, not cast-iron certainty.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t provide inspectors with evidence that local areas are not meeting their statutory duties, if you have it. But it’s not safe to assume that a WSOA will automatically happen because of it.

Inspectors want to hear from parents – It’s a real challenge for inspectors to hear from a broad range of parents of children with SEND, particularly if your local Parent Carer Forum doesn’t reach out or consult widely. Ofsted & CQC reportedly have a communications project underway to address this. See above for ways to hear about inspections on social media.

Parents’ concerns about SEND go way, way beyond local area inspections – This FB chat focused on the local area SEND inspections, but there were plenty of wider questions that parents had for inspectors: SEND provision in schools, illegal exclusions, the link between school SEND problems & LA SEND problems, monitoring of services for SEND children unable to attend school, quality of ASD provision, and many more.

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Tania Tirraoro
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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
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  • Lisa P Thomas: SEND Essentials

    Thanks for all this.
    Great write up Matthew Keer.

    Another question:
    Should there be a SEND Regulator?

  • Planet Autism

    All these bodies are way too hands off. Most inspections are announced unless there have been sufficient complaints or concerns to conduct an unannounced visit for starters. Parents are simply not contacted for feedback in many cases. When parents proactively contact these bodies with their own individual experience, it seems to count for nothing. As you have highlighted there is no redress for parents regarding LAs that are failing children and their families. To basically leave parents no option other than to sue an LA for breach of law, is totally unacceptable. It’s precisely because there is no accountability no monitoring of the right aspects, that LAs continue to behave this way. Because they can. Also, I would likewise question the training of inspectors. There have been many concerns about Ofsted and CQC failings cover-ups and the fitness of their inspections in the media. A quick Google will show you that.

  • Nicola Covington

    Thank you SNJ for your hard work in securing the FB chat in the first place and then preparing it in a reader-friendly way.
    I am understanding that there is no real legal redress for failure to implement SEND CoP.

    Schools often disregard it, knowing they’re untouchable. What happens to children with SEND on a daily basis at school is often extremely detrimental to their health and wellbeing.

    Tribunals are a joke – they can only “recommend” correction and sometimes an apology. Schools pay lip service and the parents have to jump through ever-harder hoops, all the while being forced to stand by and watch as SEND children come to harm and detriment at school. By this time the young person will often have failed their GCSEs when often very basic measures would have facilitated them to fly as well they should.

    Some SEND children are harassed, bullied and put under unbearable pressure by some teachers and even SENDcos who fail to understand their individual basic needs and ways of working. Parents are bullied also. Teaching, it would seem, is the only profession where adherence to law, ethics and code of conduct is optional.

    Too often parents have to “re-teach” subjects before homework and study can even begin.

    All this destroys parents’ careers, financial security and often their own health and wellbeing. SEND parents have to be the toughest souls on earth.

    There is – in my view – little or no point following school complaints processes becuase a) it harms already fragile relationships between SEND parents and schools and b) schools can and often will do as they like anyway.

    The Compliance inspections sound tepid, to say the least, the inspectors no statutory qualification requirements. SEND Cop Introduced in 2014, with plenty of notice for the SENDcos and Leadership teams to learn it, it’s a disgrace compliance monitoring (with no power) was only started two years later and given an ridiculously generous time period of five years to completed. Too late for those vulnerable children the laws were put in place to protect who are in the school system right now. 2014 to 2021 just to check how it’s working at a statistical level and “shine torches”. Really?

    What does it say about our society if our most vulnerable children have no enforceable rights?

    SEND parents are protectors and champions of our children – would we willingly send them into any other harmful scenarios? No. But this one is compulsory.

    And why on earth are SEND funds not legally ring-fenced?

    Thank you so much SNJ for all you do to help and to represent our children.
    Rant over. Thank you for listening