Autism and the Ofsted CQC Joint Local Area SEND Inspections

Last week saw the first two local area inspection letters released by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission since the publication of the joint inspection framework during the latter part of April 2016. Brighton and Hove and Bolton were the first areas to be inspected in May 2016 under the newly devised inspection which seeks to explore the effectiveness of provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and the impact of the Children and Families Act following its enactment in March 2014.

Having navigated through an extremely challenging and highly pressurised first year within the landscape of the new SEND reforms, professionals continue to grapple with expectations and statutory timelines whilst trying to maintain focus on the real reason for all of this – the young person. Not least of all, local authorities have battled with a continued decline in funding in real-terms whilst the Department for Education (DfE) have continued to support with SEND reform implementation funds. To an extent these funds have served only to patch up a flawed system in which local authorities are almost crippled by the strains of untenable workloads with various essential deadlines all pressing within the priority pecking order. Transfers of SEN statements and Learning Difficulties Assessments (LDAs) to EHCPs, new requests for EHCP assessments, tribunals, placement consults and annual reviews present an ever increasing expectation and workload with ever diminishing resources and the reality that much of the human resource capacity will soon start to drop away as the funding pots those authorities who have used the reform implementation grants to add workforce capacity to help achieve these demands start to run dry. Inevitable the joint local area SEND inspections have added yet another layer of pressure and work for professionals both within local authorities and educational settings.

The first joint inspection outcome letters were released on 14th July 2016. It is disappointing to learn that both outcome letters published highlight that capacity and timeliness of services and support of diagnosis of autism are not meeting demands. In Brighton and Hove concerns around successful transition for young people was also highlighted as a result of lack of identification and diagnosis. This supports stark research from Ambitious about Autism and the National Autistic Society who found that just 1 in 4 young people make a successful transition from school to college and just 15% of adults with autism are currently working.

The Finished at School project which ran from 2013-2016 and funded by the DfE, sought to improve transition for young people with autism, working with four FE colleges in England to explore provision and work with young people and their families to improve services and support. This month the DfE released a report in response to the Carter review which outlined their commitment to include training on autism as part of Initial Teacher Training requirements from September 2018, but is the problem deeper?

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