Times are a-changing at Ofsted. When the 2018 Ofsted Annual Report was launched I wrote two blogs; one highlighting Ofsted’s unwavering focus on literacy and one bemoaning the limited interest in special educational needs and disability (SEND). But how a year can change things! The 2019 report, published today, barely mentions literacy but uses the term ‘SEND’ a whopping 66 and (hold on to your seats) even has a specific chapter on the topic.

But does this mean Ofsted are less interested in literacy, or more interested in SEND? Not necessarily… 

Less interested in literacy 

Last year, literacy was front and centre on the report. In a section headed ‘getting the basics right’ there was extensive discussion of early reading led by the claim ‘ensuring that children master literacy is a central issue of social justice’.  

While literacy is not a focus of this year’s report – indeed there is only one mention of the term in the whole report – this doesn’t mean it’s not a focus for Ofsted. The new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) puts a heavy focus on early literacy, especially as part of key stage 1 and the early years foundation stage curriculum. Reading Ofsted reports over Christmas, it was certainly clear that this is a focus area, and for every primary, junior, infant and lower middle schools, the new EIF includes a reading deep dive

However, outside of Ofsted, reading improvements are slow. For the first time in 2018/19 pupils reaching the expected standard in the phonics screening check (PSC) did not improve and one group where improvements have not been made is for learners with SEND. It is therefore heartening to see Ofsted increase their focus in this area. 

More interested in SEND 

It is fantastic to see Ofsted focusing a chapter of the annual report on SEND, introducing the report HMCI Amanda Spielman said “the strength of a school is not just measured by how well it educates its high achievers, but by how well it educates all children. Schools should be – and many are – just as ambitious for children with SEND or any other kind of disadvantage.”  

The annual report chapter focuses on problems accessing the right education and support, particularly when it comes to those seeking an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and the over representation of SEND amongst those learners being excluded or off-rolled. 

The report also devotes three pages to the area SEND inspections, reporting that two thirds of local areas have now been inspected but highlighting that in 50% of these there have been indications of significant weaknesses in SEND arrangements.   

Joining the dots 

Driver Youth Trust welcome the strong focus on SEND, and the continued work on literacy, but what we believe would truly impact on learning is to join the dots between the two. Of the 16% of pupils not reaching the expected standard in the PSC, over a third (38%) have an identified SEND. At secondary school, whilst a third of students do not achieve at least a standard pass (grade 4) in GCSE English and mathematics, two-thirds (67%) of learners with a specific learning difficulty do not achieve this. The system – and Ofsted – need to be more joined up to ensure that the education system is providing the best education for all learners, especially those with literacy difficulties.