Parents warn Ofsted it’s missing chances to boost inclusion

Parents warn Ofsted it's missing chances to boost inclusion

A few weeks ago, we ran an open letter from a SEND parent, Claire Ryan, to Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman about how the new draft inspection framework was letting down vulnerable learners. As a result, Claire led a small group of parents to a meeting with Jonathan Jones, HMI Specialist Adviser, SEND, to discuss their concerns. The consultation for the draft framework closed last Friday.

Claire also gathered relevant views, opinions and ideas from parents across the country within the working group, Parents Alliance for Inclusion to discuss at the meeting. To bring you a follow-up, Claire’s back again today on SNJ with an overview of the general discussion, although some more significant concerns are being addressed via other, more appropriate methods. 

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Our meeting with Ofsted HMI, Jonathan Jones by Claire Ryan

The meeting began with a quote from Lesley Cox, former National Lead for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, “Inspection is primarily about evaluating how well individual pupils benefit from their school. Inspectors will test the school’s response to individual needs by observing how well it helps all pupils to make progress and fulfil their potential.” from a 2017 presentation, "How Ofsted evaluates SEND provision in schools 2016".

But our group of parents thought this was a contradiction to the quote below, from Ofsted’s new draft inspection framework.

"Inspectors will seek to evaluate the intent and quality of what a provider offers, but will not attempt to measure the impact of the provider’s work on the lives of individual learners.”

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector, Education inspection framework 2019: inspecting the substance of education

We asked Jonathan Jones why this decision to change had been made. He said there’s a lot that schools can do that can’t be measured, because it may take time to have an impact. The example given was work schools might do around obesity and that personal development is around the school’s provision, not around the impact of that provision.

The parental feedback suggested that additional topics, which also come under that heading, including social development, equality and diversity, all have a direct impact and we believe they require both measuring and inspecting. Parents are concerned that preventative measures around mental health difficulties are absent from the framework. Jonathan discussed a few points in relation to this and said ‘relationships’ were looked at during inspections. One of the important aspects of inspections, he said, is to both observe and to speak to the children directly about whether they feel safe at school.

Claire Ryan
Claire Ryan

We raised concerns about that current methods used to gain parental and pupil views within inspections are often insufficient, and suggested ways inspectors could ensure the information gathered is more accurate, and Jonathan agreed to take the concerns and ideas back to Ofsted.

Reducing data isn’t good for children with SEND

Next, there was discussion around reducing the need for schools to produce data. The examples given were around the amount of time it takes to go through the data, rather than inspectors seeing the results for themselves. Parents said that they want more assessment, more outcomes and more data, especially for children and young people with SEND, not less. We feel that the framework may look more inclusive, but without the accountability, will it work in reality and will it be consistent? Children with SEND are often working in small steps and those steps need to be visible to Ofsted. The concern is that if Ofsted don’t look at these small steps, they will go unrecorded.

Jonathan Jones said that one of the biggest reasons for this decision, was that because so much time was spent in inspections trying to validate internal data, accuracy can’t be easily measured. Therefore, Ofsted is proposing that instead of looking at data, inspectors look at progress in other ways. Ofsted don’t want to look at numbers on a board, but unique individual progress. However, Jonathan also said that just because Ofsted aren't looking at internal data, that doesn’t mean it’s not important.  

Personal development is important for disabled children

We asked why Ofsted separates out personal development, when it is always individual, particularly for children with SEND? Jonathan replied that Ofsted is aiming to make the system more simple and that parents generally want to know what the behaviour like in school. He said inspectors use hard data for this, and that schools say they cannot separate out personal development from other aspects of school performance. Ofsted will ask schools what they are actually doing around personal development, what provision are they making? 

Regarding ‘outcomes', Jonathan said that the word refers to a narrower view than, for example, within the SEND Code of Practice. When Ofsted speak about outcomes, they are referring to the end of KS1, KS2 etc. But to parents, this doesn't seem a sufficient signpost for schools. Why can’t outcomes be the same for everyone? Why are the outcomes different in the draft framework than they are in the SEND Code of Practice?

We were told that Ofsted's interested in seeing if teachers have provided a sequence and structure that enables all learners to understand the curriculum. Jonathan said some research is due soon around lesson observations and work sampling, where more of this will be teased out. He then went on to give an example of an inclusive curriculum and task. But our group of parents feel that the framework ought to include what each point does and doesn’t mean, by providing practical examples in give greater clarity.   

Experiences of inclusion

We then moved on to talking about we learn about inclusion at school from what our children tell us about their experiences when they’re there. One of us then read out a child’s view of inclusion that began with, “My children’s experience of inclusion is that it doesn’t exist.” We explained how it’s unlikely vulnerable children will ever tell an inspector how they really feel, when they already don’t feel safe in school, in spite of being “prepped” as many schools do, to speak a stranger.

We suggested that one way inspectors could gain a real understanding of how children feel, how they are supported and if they are included, is to talk to their peers instead. Peers are very insightful about the experiences of other children and young people. Asking children how they perceive their peers with SEND would be very insightful, although inspectors would need to listen carefully to responses to identify any patterns. For example, around any negative impressions of what their disabled peers can and can’t do and whether these in fact stem from a lack of inclusion.    

Many children with SEND absolutely have a voice with some of the health professionals they see. These professionals can often have a very good understanding of how inclusive a school is, so why doesn’t Ofsted talk to them, or include them within inspections? 

Training to spot inclusivity

Jonathan Jones said one of the things Ofsted is hearing from consultation responses, is around confidence that there is consistency between inspectors. It’s something that it’s apparently trying to address through training.  

We also raised the issue of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, which contained questions about the training of inspectors that had been blocked by Ofsted. We thought this undermined transparency between schools and parents.

As part of their training, some inspectors have what’s called, ‘enhanced training’. We asked what this was and it was explained that inspectors have a SEND aspect to all areas of their training, but that Ofsted provides enhanced training to those who are inspecting specialist settings. So is ‘enhanced training’ and expertise the same thing? Does 1.5 hours of enhanced training mean that the inspector has SEND expertise? Shouldn’t all inspectors have this training?

We had a bit of discussion about why there were no speech and language therapists as part of the inspection teams, considering the diverse needs of disabled children's communication, interaction, and the impact this has on accessing the curriculum. Jonathan raised concerns about cost effectiveness and how a speech and language therapist could speak to the quality of education. But we responded by saying how this relates to quality of education, as many children with SEND are taught by teaching assistants, not teachers. When EHCPs state provision must be ‘embedded into the curriculum or lessons’, the responsibility of education to meet these needs. Without expertise around communication at all stages of planning and inspecting, inspectors can’t confidently determine that the curriculum or the delivery of it, is appropriate for all learners and inclusive. Jonathan agreed to take this back to Ofsted to discuss further.

Further on this, we ask why the new framework has removed the duty to provide BSL interpreters for inspections? The teachers of the deaf cannot interpret for them, so how will inspectors gain the children’s views? Again, Jonathan said he'd take it back to Ofsted.

Where’s the SEND research?

This developed into a discussion on the research used to inform the new framework. One of the parents noted that of the more than 321 pieces of research cited in the framework, none focused on SEND and none related specifically to learners in specialist provision. There is reference to mental health and literacy difficulties within the research, but nothing specifically focusing on SEND. 

How can the framework claim to be ‘evidence-based’ and ‘inclusive’ (both words used frequently in the framework documentation) if no research related to learners with SEND had been used to support the framework? Our group suggested this oversight implies that learners with SEND are so insignificant to Ofsted that they don’t even warrant inclusion at the level of basic research. In addition, the relationship between the framework and the research could be interpreted as if the decisions were made first and then research was found to support it. As if it was retro-researched rather than being research-led. 

We explained our concerns that many teachers will view the framework as ‘gospel’. They won’t have the time or the skills to be able to critically review its contents in terms of the quality of the supporting evidence. They're likely to feel that it must be adhered to and may not have the skills or experience to confidently adapt it to be inclusive or appropriate. We believe some school staff would benefit from explicit examples of expectations in relation to children with SEND.

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Working with parents

There was a parents' group set up within the consultation period and of course, all parents should have had an opportunity to be involved and feel their voice is valued. However, many do not feel this is the case. Many don’t have a voice at all, but if Ofsted works with parents and value their voice, it could be a positive demonstration to schools on inclusion of all.  

Parents have many cost-free and simple ideas on ways inspectors can look at inclusion in school. This could be a positive and helpful way for both parents and Ofsted to work on lines of communication- and to help schools improve their communication too.

One idea was to develop a leaflet or a list for inspectors to use during inspections containing ideas such as:

  1. Inspectors asking children for their views on their disabled peers.
  2. Involving and seeking views of health professionals.
  3. Checking inclusion via attendance on school trips and if parents had to attend or not. School events such as performances, visitors etc. This could be done by checking home/school contact books for key dates. 
  4. Looking at complaints to governors.
  5. Asking for evidence that all reasonable adjustments have been considered and checking on how many have been put into practice effectively and appropriately. 
  6. Are schools offering appropriate opportunities, individual support or reasonable adjustments for parents to ensure equality of opportunity to participate

This could encourage schools to think deeper about how they include vulnerable children and children with SEND. There is good practice in some schools and there needs to be many more opportunities to share what works. School-to-school support could work, but Ofsted needs to demonstrate they're serious about inclusion. Jonathan agreed to take all these points back.

SEND isn’t separate!

In the draft framework, reference to SEND is within an appendix, separate to the main document. But the points within this section should apply to ALL learners and ALL families; it shouldn’t be a separate ‘SEND thing’. It’s also unclear that it relates to mainstream SEND provision rather than only to specialist provision, units attached to mainstream, etc. Jonathan agreed this could have been worded better and said he’d take it back to Ofsted.

Amanda Spielman referred to “being whole and undivided”; we need to talk about all schools, all children, all inspectors.  We need to ensure that all inspectors have deep knowledge of SEND. We discussed discriminatory school policies such as 100% attendance for children with chronic health and mental health needs. It’s especially concerning how some schools are rewarding attendance with for example, passes to jump the queue at lunchtime. This can only division rather than an inclusive community. Will Ofsted look at 100% attendance reward schemes, and other potentially discriminatory policies, such as zero tolerance behaviour, we asked? Jonathan Jones, agreed to take it back for discussion, although he said while Ofsted do look at attendance, the pressure schools feel around this hasn’t come from Ofsted themselves. He pointed to an issue with ‘consultants' offering help to implement the new framework, which is often how myths are perpetuated. 

But this is precisely why Ofsted needs to employ experts within its inspection teams, to ensure that all learners have appropriate, equal access to the curriculum, within an inclusive environment. We also suggested that as well as SLT and BSL experts, educational or developmental psychologists could be involved when inspecting behaviour policies and their impact on children, one further point Jonathan agreed to report back on.

Our group of parents would like to thank Jonathan Jones, HMI SEND Specialist Adviser, for meeting with us, for engaging in an open and honest discussion and for agreeing to take these concerns back to Ofsted in order to discuss them further.

Claire Ryan

You can read a longer version of this article on Claire’s own blog tomorrow

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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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