Accountability for the quality of provision in England's reformed Special Educational Needs and Disability system has long been on parents' minds.
Now, further details about the joint inspection framework for have been published so here’s an update of what you need to know. Any questions? Leave them in the comments for me and I'll do my best to answer from what I know so far.
Inspection teams will include Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMIs) who have impressive experience in improvement and inspection, as well as Ofsted Inspectors who have come from local authority backgrounds. Some of those LAs have been rated as 'Good' for Children’s Services, but others have set controversial targets for reducing the number of Statements,. One has the highest rate of Tribunal appeals in England and another, rated 'Inadequate', has been barred from 14 Tribunal appeal hearings already this year.
The teams should also include inspectors from the Care Quality Commission, who have expertise in health and social care, but no information about this has been published as yet. The CQC's Business Plan promises they will be involved with 34 SEND inspections in the coming year but we may find that their resources only allow them to respond on a case-by-case basis according to evidence of risk in the locality.
You can read our review of the results of the recent consultation on SEND inspections here.
Who will be inspected?
Local areas will be inspected at least once every five years, but Ofsted’s Framework explains that they may prioritise areas where outcomes for children and young people are causing concern or where LAs are failing to complete assessments or EHCPs within statutory timescales. So high on Ofsted’s list might be:
- the London Borough that completed fewer than 1 in 6 EHCPs in time for transition to college;
- the Midlands council that transferred only 7 out of 425 children with Statements to EHCPs in the first year, and
- another LA in the Midlands, which claimed that students with SEND did not need an EHCP to go to college, so they had not issued any.
One London Borough is advertising now for a temporary Project Officer (£500 a day) to get them ready for inspection. Ofsted and CQC may believe they’re galvanising LAs and CCGs into action, but bringing in a ‘stage manager’ to create the right sound effects is an abuse of the system and Ofsted should caution councillors against it; at least their new rules prevent inspectors acting as paid consultants on the side.
LA performance on assessment timescales will be published by the DfE on 26th May 2016 and we’ll have all the analysis. But we can already see from new research led by Amy Skipp, published last week, that delays in the process have left families disappointed with SEND reform. Services may say they’re onboard with the joined-up thinking of the reforms but in practice they’re often unable to deliver. Families told Amy that decision-making panels get in the way of a team-around-the-child approach; services are pulled in too many directions (especially Educational Psychologists) and key providers such as nurseries and schools appear to be outside the new system. Parents told Amy that the structures are often to blame, such as:
- lack of agreement between agencies on the processes they should use;
- lack of guidance on the duties of the EHC process for non-education based providers, especially in health and social care where deadlines and thresholds are regarded as unrealistic;
- lack of alignment with other organisational structures such as schools’ annual cycle of applications for placement;
- lack of engagement from commissioners whose decisions do not allow for the additional time and expertise needed to produce sufficient outcomes.
Although the research covered only four local authority areas, its evidence provides many important lessons that the local area inspection teams should take forward.
Who will be heard?
In my own locality, Ofsted found it hard to reach and interview young people when they inspected the Safeguarding Children Board last year. That kind of problem usually tells its own story: if communication with young people is working well, you can get their opinions; but don’t try fixing it just before the inspector calls. If young people can’t or don’t engage, inspectors need to investigate why. A shrug of the shoulders won’t do.
Some of the arrangements look doomed already: inspectors will, “request that the local authority informs parents and carers… of the inspection and how they can contribute their views…” I have a parent who missed her son’s Transfer Review because the LA sent the letter to the wrong address. They held the meeting again and this time they lost their minutes right after the meeting. Rearranging it yet again, they changed the date three times. She’s been waiting since December for one meeting.
Ofsted will also use social and local media to gather views; the inspection team will ask to meet representatives of the local Parent Carer Forum (PCF) and the Information, Advice and Support Service (IASS).
What will they look for?
A central theme is how children’s needs are identified across the services and how effectively they are assessed and met: Mary Rayner, HMI, explains the process in this video.
Social care may be the hardest aspect to measure, including childcare, assistance in the home, transport and travel assistance, holidays and short-breaks, transition to adult services, support with accommodation and opportunities for community participation. Inspectors will look at how clearly and consistently thresholds and criteria are used in each service. One interesting focus will be: “whether destinations match aspirations and achievements…”
What will they find?
Inspectors will sample records held by the local authority, service providers and educational settings. However, much of the evidence and opinion whirling around their heads will relate to children and young people with EHCPs or Statements; much less of it will tell the stories of those whose needs have not been formally assessed but who are registered on school-based ‘SEN Support’.
These are the majority of children with SEND and yet the chances of obtaining meaningful information about them from providers in education, health and care are virtually nil. Try asking your school governors what factors are most likely to promote your child’s success on school-based support rather than EHCP: “Er – can I get back to you on that?”
For example, the Speech & Language Therapy team may operate a Named Pupil list for some children by agreement with the education authority, but the children on that list are most likely to have an EHCP. SALT teams have far less contact with children on school-based support.
Keep in mind, too, that education and health boundaries are poor bed-fellows. Kent is a large education authority served by seven different local health providers (known as Clinical Commissioning Groups). Dorset CCG covers three education authorities. Trying to “track the needs and support for children” in these areas will be like trying to trace the movements of a vole in water. Still, they’ve got five days.
What is the Care Quality Commission’s role?
The CQC inspector will contribute to the judgement and the final report. I think it’s great that senior health service managers are “likely to attend” the feedback meeting. Or maybe it will be someone less senior: I’m not sure how concerned the CCGs are about all this. My local CCG is pretty good: they couldn’t have been more open with me when I complained that paediatric services for autism only got a tiny mention in their five-year strategic plan. But the way they see it, that’s appropriate: it’s only a tiny part of what they do.
Face it, one SEND inspection finding against a CCG would be the proverbial drop in the ocean, given the current state of Health. Will the Care Quality Commission really make any impression in this process? I mean, what would it take for them to persuade a health executive to resign?
Prior to the 14 years he has spent as a SENCo, his career has included being a Deputy Head of a PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) and also some time spent working as an LA SEN manager.
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