Ofsted Insights and Disconnects

Last week I wrote about the new joint SEND Local Area inspections, particularly in reference to the commonality that the two outcome letters published to date share – capacity around diagnosis and support for children with autism.

I experienced the third joint local area SEND inspection first-hand in my own local authority at the end of June. Whilst the scope of these inspections seems vast, the reality is less that a proverbial dip of the toe in an ocean of a vast spectrum of services, quality and experiences. We were informed that the inspection team wished to visit our provision and the scope for the visit was outlined in writing. The intention of the visit was to meet with a range of key groups including students, parents/carers, a governor and a group of external stakeholders. I was a little sceptical about the whole process as the premise of the joint inspection seemed to reflect the inspection culture experienced prior to the short-notice Ofsted inspections as we currently know. It felt that there was ample opportunity to manipulate and steer the experience to ensure that the local area could be showcased in the best possible way – this cynicism is notably established when reading the published inspection outcome letters!

I have recently been reflecting on the outcomes of the Ofsted thematic review of high needs provision in FE since the implementation of the SEND reforms in 2014. The ‘Moving Forward?’ report was published by Ofsted in March 2016 and was a somewhat sobering read. There seemed little acknowledgement that whilst the reforms have been in existent since 2014, Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and the statutory SEND requirements only really touched down in FE in the 2015/16 academic year. It felt as if the thematic review was premature and did little in way of supporting the sector, who was grappling with the challenges of the reforms, in most cases, with little support or clarity from local authorities.

Upon reading the first two joint inspection outcome letters to local authorities I couldn’t help but question the total disconnect between the findings showcased in these letters versus the recommendations and outlines of the ‘Moving Forward?’ report. If you ever wanted a definition of inconsistency or confusion, then take some time during the summer to read both!

The ‘Moving Forward?’ report is frank and highlights the work still to be done to work towards a more cohesive, joined up and fairer system for young people and families with SEND. Whilst I felt it underplayed the extensive work and exertion of those within the FE sector, it was clear as to the work which still needs to be achieved to fully realise the potential of the SEND reforms. In stark contrast, the joint SEND local area inspection outcome letters seem to celebrate and highlight much ‘good practice’ with very little acknowledgement to services not working or the on-going non-existence of health within an EHCP with the lack of resource to meet needs within this area.

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