Ofsted has published an evaluation of the framework for inspecting local areas’ SEND services, alongside an announcement that the reviews themselves (currently suspended due to the COVID-19 lockdown) will not resume in the autumn term.
Instead, they will be making visits to a sample of local areas to help improve their SEND systems following the COVID-19 disruption, working collaboratively with local areas to understand the experiences of children and young people with SEND and their families during the pandemic, and supporting local areas to prioritise and meet their needs. These visits will not be inspections and will not replace the current area SEND inspection cycle – there will be no formal judgement and no published reports. National reports will instead reflect the findings using case studies and examples of good practice. The date for the re-start of the current cycle of area SEND inspections has not yet been decided.
The evaluation of the current framework has indicated that changes need to be made, and the framework is going to be re-written. It is acknowledged that many of the problems experienced during the pandemic precede it, including: flaws, inconsistencies and delays in the identification of children and young people’s needs, not enough of a system-wide focus on high-quality universal education, health and care services, and a lack of clarity about who is responsible for what between organisations, resulting in fractures in the way professionals in these services work together. Amanda Spielman (Ofsted’s Chief Inspector) states that “too often, families were left feeling dissatisfied with their experience of area SEND arrangements because the quality of services and support failed to live up to what was envisaged in their children’s EHC plans.”
The positive aspects of area SEND inspections are detailed, including that they raised the profile of SEND locally, that the quality and coordination of EHC plans improved, that there was clearer direction from leaders, and that the joint nature of inspections reinforced collective responsibilities.
In terms of the framework itself, it is noted that the one-off nature of the inspections can encourage a short-term approach, that they focus too much on the implementation of statutory requirements rather than the impact on children and young people, and that there has been a lack of focus on social care. Interestingly, the evaluation comments that visits to children and young people, parents and frontline staff were often the richest source of evidence, rather than meeting with senior leaders in the local area. There was also a danger that inspectors focus too much on a specific measure because of the greater availability of data in that area, for example, educational attainment. This is not helped by the lack of meaningful national data on outcomes for children and young people with SEND. Areas expressed concern about being held to account for some practices (such as off-rolling) over which they have no means of practical influence.
This evaluation, the continued suspension of inspections, and the development of a new and improved framework are all to be welcomed, and we look forward to finding out more details in due course.
There is also information on local area SEND arrangements in the ‘Education plans from September 2020’ document from Ofsted.