How do Ofsted inspectors ensure schools are supporting SEND learners?

Following her panel at the Festival of Education, Karen Wespieser responds to an audience question from Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, on how her inspectors ensure schools are supporting SEND learners?

Last week, at the 10th Festival of Education at Wellington I was delighted to chair a panel discussion on the topic of how to prevent children with special educational need or disability (SEND) failing at school.

My panel represented three key stakeholders in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND): a headteacher of a special school (Simon Knight), an academic specialising in SEND (Rob Webster), and a parent of a SEND child (Bethlyn Killey). Between them, they made a convincing argument that it is imperative on society to prevent children with SEND failing.

I was delighted that in the audience of our panel discussion was Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman. We know that SEND is an important area to Ofsted – last year their annual report covered SEND issues more than any other report in recent history – and Amanda’s presence at this discussion is further proof of this.  

During the Q&A section, Amanda asked what her inspectors should look for to ensure schools are supporting SEND learners. This is a key question as Ofsted launches its new framework in September.

As the chair of the panel, I didn’t get to answer the question myself, so I am taking the opportunity now to share my thoughts…

Failure in education doesn’t stop with poor academic grades

Everybody knows that educational failure has long-term damaging effects on individuals and society, and the situation gets even more serious when we talk about those with a special educational need or disability.

Evidence shows that compared to their peers, those with SEND are:

• Six times more likely to receive a school exclusion

• Seven times less likely to find paid employment

• Twice as likely to live in poverty

• Four times more likely to have mental health problems

• Three times more likely to end up in prison

• Likely to die at least 15 years younger.

Therefore, for young people with SEND (arguably more so than many other group) the costs of failure at school can be measured far greater, and further than their peers.

Quality quality quality

As with any other child in any other school inspected under the new framework, Ofsted should ensure there is a high quality of education for learners with SEND.

During the consultation on the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF), DYT argued that the new Framework needed to set out in more detail how they will inspect SEN support, using the requirements set out in the SEND Code of Practice (2015) to judge provision.

We were delighted that the final version of the EIF included new, specific references to the Code of Practice. Ofsted now need to ensure that their inspectorate workforce know the Code of Practice and have the understanding that is needed to judge schools on the quality of their SEND provision on this basis.

Not all SEND learners have an EHCP

Learners on SEN support are omitted from the new EIF. We know that eight in ten SEN learners are in mainstream schools, therefore judging effective support for these learners needs to be at the heart of Ofsted’s inspection.

One way to address this is the widely called for measure that no school can be awarded an “outstanding” grade without proving it is inclusive.

 Measures for this could include:

·        how the school’s practice aligns with what is set out in their SEN Information Report,

·        ensuring there is a dedicated SENCo on staff,

·        considering what training staff have had on supporting those with SEN (in particular in relation to literacy) and,

·        how effectively they are deploying the SEN Notional Budget to support individual learners and what the impact is.

The new EIF does state that that ‘pupils with SEND in an outstanding school should achieve exceptionally well’, my question back to Amanda is, having heard the panel, what does she think ‘exceptionally well’ means?