Ofsted has published is annual report on a year like no other. If you’re interested you can read the full report on the gov.co.uk website.

To cut down the 90 plus pages of the full report, I’ve compiled my own thoughts on what Her Majesty’s Inspector said about literacy and pupils with SEND:


As in the past, Ofsted have again focused on reading (well, actually decoding) but publishing research and analysis on the importance of phonics and not on how schools can make sure they get this right is an oversight. For example, the report says that the best schools ensure that books closely match pupils’ phonics knowledge- quite right too, although as I noted back in a blog back in October OECD analysis claims that England spends relatively little on educational resources compared to other countries.

The report goes on to say that phonics should be delivered by a structured programme. This of course makes sense but programmes can cost thousands of pounds with initial fees and annual subscriptions. I think they are well worth the investment but strapped for cash schools will struggle to prioritise this over everyday essentials.

Ofsted also make the point that there are too many ‘lost readers’ in KS2, brought about because of poor phonics teaching. Sure, securing phonics is fundamental to future reading performance but it doesn’t explain outcomes in writing or the huge disparities in language and vocabulary, which in my experience are key issues in KS3. To be fair the report does mention the impact on the wider curriculum but as ever it would help to see literacy framed more broadly to include all aspects not just decoding.

Crucially Ofsted have continued to note the appalling outcomes for pupils with SEND when it comes to literacy. The report claims that leaving children to a ‘guessing game’ of decoding can put them off reading altogether, which sounds right but I’m not sure where the evidence is for this. I get that this might seem niche, but as a group pupil with SEND continue to have the lowest performance in literacy across the entire system.  


The report does not provide many insights into the experiences of pupils with SEND in mainstream, although I’m grateful that special schools are highlighted more clearly – maybe next year we’ll get to PRUs.

Ofsted once again made a commitment to making SEND a major focus area which has to be applauded. The continued raising of these issues is something Spielman and her team should be applauded for.

As expected the bulk of the report which addresses the education of pupils with SEND refers to local area inspections. Once again Ofsted highlights the lack of coordination between local authorities, education and health services and other players in the sector. This is not news.

What is promising and depressing in equal measure is that the report says categorically that “accountability is unclear: there is generally a lack of understanding about who is responsible for what between organisations, resulting in fractures in the way professionals in services work together.” It goes on to call out that the “arrangements for identifying, assessing and meeting children and young people’s education, health and care needs are frequently slow. Too often, families are left feeling dissatisfied with their experience of area SEND arrangements because the quality of services and support fall short of what was envisaged in their children’s EHCPs.”

We know! Everyone knows! And this has been reported on more times than I’ve sanitized my hands in the last six months. I very much hope the DfE’s SEND Review takes some of these key messages on board and provides us with a roadmap of how to get out of this mess.

If you are a teacher or school leader and would like to know more about how DYT can support you to enhance your literacy provision for pupils with SEND, visit our programmes page.

If you are a school Governor or Trustee why not sign up for one of our webinars where you can find out more about Ofsted’s research and what you can do to support and challenge your leaders on the quality and effectiveness of your provision.

Chris Rossiter

Chief Executive, DYT

Chris originally trained as an applied psychologist and has worked across the private, public and charitable sector for over 15 years. Has has particular expertise in special educational needs and disability, and organisational psychology. He is a primary Chair of Governors, Trustee of the Astrea Academy Trust, member of the literacy sub-committee of the Hastings Opportunity Area and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.