SEND parents tell Ofsted its new draft inspection framework lets vulnerable learners down

SEND parents say Ofsted's draft inspection framework lets vulnerable learners down

Parents of disabled children have voiced their anger over Ofsted's new draft education Inspection Framework for England, that's under consultation until April 5th 2019. The framework covers early years, maintained schools and academies, non-association independent schools and further education and skills.

We'll be soon running a post from SEND leader, Malcolm Reeve, about the ins and outs of the draft framework. However, I also want to bring to your attention a group of parents of children with SEND, "Parents Alliance for Inclusion", who have voiced their unhappiness with the draft in the form of an open letter to Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman.

One of the parents, Claire Ryan, has written for us about why they’re upset with the draft and we’ll publish the letter they’ve written after she's explained their group's thinking. If you'd like to start a discussion, please leave your comments on the blog here.

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Why the new draft Inspection Framework lets vulnerable learners down, by SEND parent, Claire Ryan

In January 2019, Ofsted began consultations around their new inspection framework. I am a mother to three children and young people with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities). I felt compelled to act in order to address the lack of consideration being given to our most vulnerable learners. 

You may be aware of the current call for investigation into strict behaviour policies, one titled ‘flattening the grass’, which Emma Hardy MP, a member of the education select committee, is currently aiming to have investigated. However, the concerns do not end there. Large academies with harsh behaviour policies have triggered Ofsted inspections due to their high rates of exclusion. As a result of the inspections, some of these schools were rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted which is in direct conflict with their 2018 annual report, where Ofsted outline how they are determined to address issues such as off-rolling, exclusions and poor outcomes. All of which disproportionately impact those with SEND. 

"The data around exclusions and SEND tells a shocking story. Ofsted's own research into the process called 'off-rolling' has shown that children with SEND are far more likely to leave school between Years 10 and 11 (30% against 13% of all pupils). The destination for half of these pupils is unclear, which may be a sign that they are being home-schooled. As a parent and as an educator, I find these statistics deeply troubling. We need to see something being done about this issue with a sense of urgency." 

Sue Cowley, author, teacher, parent

Ofsted used 321 pieces of research to inform the new framework, however they will not confirm or deny the accusations that none of them had SEND as the focus. We know that pupils with SEND are seven times more likely to be excluded. We know that mental health difficulties are rising. We know that school funding is reducing. Therefore, surely inclusion is the only way we can protect our most vulnerable? And if so, how can that happen if Ofsted do not research, understand or value differences in accessing education?  

“It doesn’t matter whether a child does or doesn’t have a diagnosis. What matters is that they are ALL supported to achieve. After all, that is what the SEND Code of Practice says. It is not based on diagnostic categories, it is based on needs.”

Katherine Runswick-Cole, mother and professor of education.

In November 2018, Ofsted spcialist inspector for SEND, Jonathan Jones HMI agreed to a Q&A focusing on inclusion and the new framework. It was encouraging that he said Ofsted wanted to hear from parents to help inform the new framework. It was equally encouraging when Ofsted's National Director for Education, Sean Harford HMI, publicly confirmed he was being sincere when he asked to meet with parents who could present cost free/effective ideas around inclusion. Unfortunately, despite gathering together a group of eager and knowledgeable parents, I’ve heard nothing from Ofsted about this since. 

I envisioned parents working in partnership with Ofsted could be a way of demonstrating one of the key aims of the SEND reforms. It could show schools, Ofsted and other agencies how to engage parents in an inclusive way in order to achieve real coproduction. Unfortunately, I can only conclude that the result is exclusion and I'm left concerned that if Ofsted cannot demonstrate it at this stage of the process, how can parents feel confident that inclusion will be encouraged or accurately inspected in schools?

Real change is needed

I wrote this open letter with the intention of seeking real change. Parents want to be included and heard, but most of all valued, so we can be part of the solution. Parents are often overlooked, possibly feared or misunderstood, yet we are a very valuable resource. Inclusion is about everyone; it involves, includes and benefits everyone. Real parent partnership can be a powerful driver for change as well as producing the best outcomes for all involved, especially the children. 

“Changes in schools approaches to SEND are beginning to affect more than just a handful of children. Often families who have learners with SEND have had to battle against a system which does not adjust sufficiently but not, I believe at the same rate as we are currently seeing. Many are now voting with their feet by choosing to home educate, others are being forced into this situation as there is no other choice. Their children are being isolated and excluded at alarming levels and others are disappearing off the radar altogether.  In my view, OFSTED are missing a trick with this new framework by ignoring parents of children with SEND. Families in need will be the the ones to lead the changes required in schools to become more inclusive and they must be part of the conversation.  I applaud Claire Ryan is writing this letter and I hope OFSTED will listen. Education must be of high quality and equitable for all children.”

Jules Daulby, mother, inclusion campaigner and against exclusionary practice, literacy specialist
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Open letter to Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector

Dear Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector of Education,

I am writing to you about OFSTED’s new inspection framework and theongoing consultations, which began in January 2019. In order to achieve, “an approach that leaves plenty of space for diversity, butnevertheless makes it possible to recognise and discourage thingsthat just aren’t good enough.” (A.Speilman 2018), careful consideration must be given to the improvements required in respect ofchildren and young people with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities).

Ofsted's 2018 annual report set out how our most vulnerable childrenand young people with SEND are being failed at disproportionate levels. Indeed, when discussing your 2018 annual report, you warned that provision for these pupils is disjointed and inconsistent with thousands missing out on vital support to which they are entitled.

Pupils with SEND are seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than those without SEND and pupils with an EHCP (education health and care plan) are six times more likely. Your report rightly echoed these concerns along with others.

Mental health needs are not being supported sufficiently. The quality of education, health and care (EHC) plans is far too variable. Critically, the gap in performance and outcomes for children with SEND is widening between the bestand the worst local areas.” 

(Ofsted 2018)

The National Deaf Children’s Society found nine in 10 parents feared for the future of their children’s education. Only 30.6% achieve a GCSE strong pass - Grade 5 or above - in both English and maths, and 57% fail to reach expected levels in reading, writing and maths in Sats tests at the end of primary.

More than 70% of autistic children attend mainstream schools. Ambitious about Autism found that 60% of teachers in England do not feel they have had adequate training to teach autistic children and 35% of teachers think it has become harder to access specialist support.

However, Nick Whitaker HMI, specialist advisor for SEND, says:

Children who have SEN and/or disabilities are part of the big picture that makes up a school; there is no division here. Academic excellence, and effective SEND provision, are all part of the samepicture and a school cannot be truly outstanding if it’s letting someof its pupils down.

(High Standards and Highly Inclusive 2018)

It is therefore deeply disappointing that of the 321 pieces of researchused to inform Ofsted’s new inspection framework, none had SEND as the main focus. Also of concern, is that the only information around inclusion within the draft school inspection handbook is:

“Schools should have an inclusive culture that facilitates arrangements to:
- identify early those pupils who may be disadvantaged or have additional needs or barriers to learning
- meet the needs of those pupils, drawing, where necessary, on more specialist support, and help those pupils to engage positively with the curriculum
- ensure pupils have a positive experience of learning, andachieve positive outcomes.” 

(S234 draft handbook, OFSTED)

OFSTED seek to inspect how leaders and staff create “a safe, calm, orderly and positive environment in the school and the impact this has on the behaviour and attitudes of pupils" (S278 draft handbook,OFSTED). However, this cannot possibly be realised until the rise in potentially unlawful behaviour policies, which go against the meaning of inclusion are still in force. 

Placing inclusion at the heart of Ofsted's new framework could potentially be the start of real change for our most vulnerable learners. Inclusion benefits the whole community and will reduce pupils experiencing avoidable mental health difficulties, high rates of exclusion and unacceptably low attainments of SEND pupils.

As a result, inclusion would raise academic achievements and outcomes. Ofsted seek to“ensure pupils have a positive experience of learning, and achieve positive outcomes.” Pupils who are suffering emotionally, those who do not have the vital provision necessary, and those who are regularly or permanently excluded from accessing education, cannot possibly achieve this aim.

There are highly inclusive schools rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, who describe their approach as, “battering with kindness” and “unconditional positive regard”. A head teacher of one of these school wrote:

"It is my drive to see every child who walks through my doors here at Parklands succeed. I am not talking about exam results; I am talking about contributing to society. Prior to my appointment at Parklands, there had been 150 exclusions in 2014 alone. In four years, this was cut to one. After gaining 'outstanding' we now take on children from excluded settings, offering a second (and in one case a third) opportunity to succeed. There is another way! As schools we can't be allowed to off-roll or to exclude just to get behaviour 'good.' Where do these children go? What expectations of contributing to society are we making? Follow positivity and understand the needs of the children so we can make society better for everyone." 

Chris Dyson

Inclusion and education in mainstream schools is a right for all, however implemented with the correctly and with the right intent, it benefits, involves and includes everyone within the school community. There are numerous ways inspectors can encourage and ensure schools are constantly reviewing, adapting, improving their inclusive practice. Many of these are cost free, they simply need the will to listen and adapt. Parents from all regions are eager for this to become a reality. Will Ofsted meet with a group of us? Will you work with us as partners and give us the opportunity to help shape how the new framework is put into practice in a highly inclusive way?

Open letter to Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector from member of SEND parent group, "Parents Alliance for Inclusion"

You can download the letter as a PDF here

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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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