Are schools letting down children with SEND

If we’re still deciding if Ofsted is fit for purpose, what does that mean for children with SEND?

It was back in 2016 when Amanda Spielman was appointed as Sir Michael Wilshaw’s successor as Ofsted’s Chief Inspector.

Back then, she wasn’t impressed by the inspection model on offer. She thought it was too narrow, overly focused on test and exam results, and as a result, it intensified the workload of schools leaders and classroom teachers. Instead, her vision was to shift the focus from performance data to the substance of education in schools.

Spielman was also keen to raise the profile of SEND provision to reflect the 2014 Children and Families Act. The Act secured the presumption of the availability of mainstream education for children and young people with SEND – schools are legally obliged to ensure that education is inclusive.

Fast forward to 2023, and the launch of a new SEND inspection framework,  which aims to ensure that local services are supporting children and young people with SEND to learn and grow.

Early signs are rather less than encouraging. Inspections have highlighted “Inconsistent” outcomes, and long waits for services for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

It’s still not necessarily straightforward to access assessments and services, which means that plans do not fully reflect children’s changing needs. Some leaders are focusing on this area, but are not moving quickly enough, according to inspectors.

Ofsted has stated that it’s going to be focusing on SEND provision, and the Government has made some moves to show its support of children with SEND. The national funding formula for 2023 – 2024 is designed to increase high needs funding by 9.8%.

For school leaders, perhaps it all feels a little academic. Frameworks come and go, and some people felt that SEND has been neglected, but inspections still loom large. The recent ‘Beyond Ofsted’ inquiry shows that death of headteacher Ruth Perry is still extremely raw. Her family maintain that her suicide was a direct result of an Ofsted report which downgraded her school. The inquiry, carried out by University College London, found that the inspectorate is “not fit for purpose” and concludes that schools should move to a process which would allow them to “self-evaluate their progress” and work long-term with an external “school improvement partner”.

In response, a spokesperson for Ofsted said “nine out of 10” schools say inspections help them improve.

“We always want inspections to be a constructive experience for school staff,” they said.

“Our inspectors are all former or current school leaders and well understand the nature and pressures of the work.”

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