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SEND no longer the poor relation during an Ofsted inspection

SSAT senior education lead Colin Logan explains the changes under the new regime, and what they will mean for schools being inspected

There was a feeling in some schools, and particularly among special educational needs co-ordinators within them, that SEND was in some ways the poor relation of other key areas during an Ofsted inspection. If that was the case, it certainly isn’t any more.

A quick scan of the old framework shows that the main focus of attention on special needs was on the progress these pupils were making (no bad thing in itself) and the effective and efficient use of funding. The problem with making a judgement on progress, of course, was what the benchmarks for measuring progress for SEND pupils were. Inspectors were told not to compare a school’s SEND end of key stage data with the national figures for SEND because of the range of needs and disabilities that grouping included. The framework said “the expectation is that the identification of special educational needs leads to additional or different arrangements being made and a consequent improvement in progress.” However, the reality is that any judgement on progress often lacked rigour, partly because of the different ways that schools were measuring progress and partly through the lack of time during an inspection for an in-depth judgement to be made. Judgements about general in-year progress were similarly affected.

What have you done with your data?

Under the new framework, inspectors will not look at a school’s internal attainment and progress data at all, even if it’s offered to them. What will be discussed will be what leaders at all levels in the school have done as a result of the data they have collected.

The key judgement in the new framework is on the quality of education a school provides, with a focus on the intent, implementation and impact of the curriculum. It’s clear that this judgement is intended to apply to all pupils. In a mainstream school inspection, it’s no longer a case of “let’s take a look at SEND” and a meeting with the Senco; the quality of provision for SEND pupils is an integral part of the whole process.

The new framework has a separate section dealing with its application in special and mainstream schools with SEND pupils (paragraphs 308-312). It emphasises that all parts of the framework apply to SEND but inspectors should also evaluate: “whether leaders are ambitious for all pupils with SEND”; how they “develop and adapt the curriculum so that it is coherently sequenced to all pupils’ needs, starting points and aspirations for the future”; how well they “include pupils with SEND in all aspects of school life”; and whether pupil outcomes are improving as a result of the provision being made for them, including in terms of their communication and interaction, cognition and learning, physical health and development and social, emotional and mental health, as well as in their preparedness for the next stage of their lives.

To further illustrate this, under ‘curriculum intent’ inspectors will be looking at whether SEN pupils are being offered a reduced curriculum and whether they acquire the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life. Are pupils having extra support with reading, for example, when others are studying another subject? What impact is this having on the breadth of SEN pupils’ curricular experience? Are there alternative ways that support could be provided – perhaps within those other subjects – that wouldn’t result in a limited diet? To be outstanding, SEND pupils need to be achieving “exceptionally well” – to be good, they must have the “best possible outcomes”. In contrast, the judgement will be inadequate if “pupils with SEND do not benefit from a good-quality education. Expectations of them are low, and their needs are not accurately identified, assessed or met.”

Do SEN pupils get the knowledge and cultural capital they need, and not a limited diet?

The bar has clearly been raised. But how will inspection practice change to reflect the new focus? The answer lies in the ’deep dives’. These will be how inspectors will try to get under the skin of what a school is all about. They are made up of six inter-related activities: discussions with senior leaders, curriculum leaders, teachers and pupils; lesson visits; and work scrutiny. There will be between four and six deep dives on day one of an inspection, each focusing on a specific curriculum area. In a mainstream school, SEND itself won’t be the subject of a deep dive but will feature in all of them and will have a specific focus in at least two.

During the meeting with senior leaders, inspectors will be exploring their ambition for SEND and the context of SEND within the school. They will also identify a sample of pupils with SEND within the lessons selected for the two deep dives and arrange for their EHC and support plans to be made available. Those pupils will feature in the lesson visits, pupil discussions and work scrutinies in order to explore how the curriculum is being implemented with them, what they are learning and how well they are involved in school life. As with non-SEND pupils, the work scrutinies won’t attempt to identify what progress pupils are making but will be undertaken with the curriculum leader so that they can show how the curriculum they have described in an earlier meeting and their ambition for pupils with SEND are evidenced in the work they are examining (which needn’t be written – depending on the subject it could be an artefact or a performance).

Individual SEND pupils will feature in the lesson visits, pupil discussions and work scrutinies; inspectors will explore how the curriculum is being implemented with them, what they are learning and how well they are involved in school life.

Day two will see a follow-up meeting with the Senco and a discussion with a group of pupils with SEND before an evaluation of the quality of education for SEND is made – which in turn will contribute to the final judgement on overall effectiveness.

To reflect the different role of data in the new inspection regime, the inspection data summary report (IDSR) is also changing. Among other changes to the school context section, information on SEND will now include a breakdown by year group and type of need so that inspectors will come in with a more informed view of SEND in the school.

So SEND is most definitely no longer the poor relation during an inspection, nor is it just the responsibility of the Senco and their team. Not only is the focus on the quality of education for all pupils, it is now the responsibility of all leaders and teachers to ensure that the needs of SEND pupils are being fully met.

At SSAT we’re keen to hear of schools’ experiences with the new Ofsted framework – please do let us know how it went for you, particularly where SEND is concerned.

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