Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector didn’t like the inspection model she inherited. She thought that 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. Her vision is to shift the focus from performance data to the substance of education in schools. She’d like the rewards to go to those who are ambitious for their students, rather than the ones who are good at jumping through hoops.
In May this year, Spielman announced a new inspection framework which will not only alter the emphasis from data to substance, but also 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. Further, the new framework came to life in a storm of criticism. Earlier this month, the NAO reported that many children with SEND just don’t get the high-quality support they need.
State special schools are bucking this trend, with the vast majority of them being rated as good or outstanding. Nevertheless, most children with SEND attend mainstream schools, and these are just not up to scratch. The SEND area inspection reports carried out by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) show that, in 2019, two thirds of schools inspected were not up to scratch. The problems are serious and recurring and include poor quality of education and sub-standard health care plans. They also demonstrate real alarm about exclusions, inadequate exam outcomes for SEND children and a lack of confidence among parents experiencing the processes involved.
Along with the new significance Ofsted has given SEND provision, the Government has also demonstrated its commitment to supporting children with SEND. In his recent spending review, the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised an extra £700 million for the High Needs block. It is to be hoped that this money will help schools to raise expectations and ensure that genuine inclusion for SEND children in mainstream education becomes routine.
If the public sector is to believe the Treasury, schools and the social care sector can look forward to the end of austerity. Children with SEND were hit hard by the crisis of the schools’ funding emergency and cash-strapped institutions had to reduce the number of teaching assistants and support staff. At the same time, councils are dealing with the largest number of children with the most complex range of needs than at any point since 2014.
It remains to be seen whether the new system is affordable, whether schools have the wherewithal to respond to Ofsted’s requirements, and what impact they will have on those working on the frontline of teaching today. Good luck, everyone!