Parents question inspectors’ special needs training

Parents question inspectors’ special needs training

A parent of two deaf children is angry about Ofsted’s refusal to tell him if two inspection teams who separately assessed a Berkshire school for deaf children in January and October last year had specialist training.

Mary Hare School in Newbury was deemed to be outstanding by Ofsted in January 2014, but a second inspection nine months later found it required improvement. A monitoring visit in February found that senior leaders and governors were taking action to tackle areas requiring improvement

Matt Keer is one of a group of parents who submitted a complaint to Ofsted in January about their concerns that none of the inspectors had “the qualifications, experience and expertise necessary to inspect deaf educational provision properly”.

To ascertain the qualifications of inspectors, Mr Keer asked Ofsted for the content and format of special educational needs training undertaken by inspectors.

The education watchdog said that additional inspectors (AIs) of special schools received an “initial day of enhanced training”, reviewed to take into account changes to the SEND code of practice. They also attended an extra training day each year focusing on national developments in SEND.

Mr Keer then asked whether any member of the teams that inspected Mary Hare had “not completed the enhanced training programme for inspecting SEND provision” by the time they carried out the inspections.

Ofsted said that while it did hold the information, it would not release it “as it was the personal information of the HMI and the additional inspectors (AIs)”.

Responding, Mr Keer said: “This ‘enhanced training programme’ is pretty unimpressive. For one thing, it’s just two days. What it doesn’t do – at all – is give inspectors a grounding in specific types of SEN.”

Inspection experience was “not enough”, he added. “Ofsted’s inspectors need the right qualifications, front-line experience and skills if they are to inspect deaf education provision properly.” They should have a specialist teaching for the deaf qualification, he said.

An Ofsted spokesperson said teams that inspected special schools had “considerable experience of inspecting special education, including provision for sensory impairment”.

She added: “While there is no legal requirement that an inspector of schools for the deaf should hold a teacher of the deaf qualification, all inspectors are required to hold qualified teacher status. In addition, inspections of special schools are carried out by inspectors who have completed enhanced training in the inspection for special education needs and disabilities. We are confident that this provides the appropriate level of expertise in these cases.”

Ian Noon, head of policy and research at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said it shared the view that inspections of special schools for deaf children should be carried out by experts.

“It is vital that the inspectors should be able to communicate with all pupils. Parents of deaf children need to have confidence in Ofsted inspections . . . urgent action is needed to address this.”