7 things you need to know about Ofsted’s thematic reviews of AP

Ofsted will not make judgments about AP from thematic reviews, but serious concerns could lead to further inspection

Ofsted will not make judgments about AP from thematic reviews, but serious concerns could lead to further inspection

26 Jan 2023, 11:52

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Ofsted will not make judgments about AP from thematic reviews, but serious concerns could lead to further inspection

Ofsted has set out how it will conduct thematic reviews of alternative provision (AP) in local areas as part of its new area SEND inspection arrangements.

The reviews were announced at the end of last year in an effort to improve the watchdog’s knowledge of how AP is used in practice.

Inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will begin visiting local areas in February.

Visits will take place across both the spring and summer terms, with findings to be shared in a national report this autumn.

It comes as part of the inspectorate’s new joint area SEND inspections framework, which came into force in January.

The new framework is set to shape inspections of SEND services in local authority areas, carried out jointly by the CQC.

An annual series of thematic reviews as part of this will explore particular aspects of the SEND system.

Here are the key findings from Ofsted’s guidance on the first set of visits focusing on AP…

1. Visits will not result in judgments

Ofsted said thematic visits would find out “the extent to which” AP is meeting the health, care and education needs of children and young people and “better understand” the purposes for which it is used.

They will also explore how local area partners work together to commission and oversee placements within the provision and highlight good practice.

The visits are also expected to “provide insights” into the relationship between SEND and AP.

But while Ofsted says its findings will be used to update inspection approaches “as appropriate”, it will not make judgments about individual areas during the thematic reviews.

Inspectors will debrief local area leaders on observations and “reflective discussion” at the end of visits.

Individual areas will then receive a summary note with a record of the visit, but it will not include judgments or recommendations.

2. Findings will not identify local areas

When a national report is published later this year, the local areas Ofsted visited will be listed.

But findings will not be attributed to individual areas unless the areas have agreed to identified.

Personal information about children, young people, parents and carers will also not be featured.

Ofsted and CQC will select a “varied sample” of a “smaller number” of local authority areas to visit.

The watchdog added it would “be considerate” of other inspection activity when selecting areas to visit.

3. All types of AP within scope of the visits

The scope of thematic visits will be children and young people between the ages of five and 18, who are in AP or have been within the previous six months.

All types of AP are within the scope of the visits, with inspectors also seeking to understand how local partners define AP.

Outreach services, such as alternative providers to improve behaviour within mainstream schools, could also be reviewed as part of visits.

4. How AP supports children to stay in mainstream

The Ofsted guidance lists seven overarching themes it plans to investigate during thematic reviews. These include the role of AP, strategic planning, commissioning decisions, oversight arrangements and transition arrangements.

Inspectors will also look at factors that enable or prevent local partners from working together and the impact of arrangements on children and young people.

Sub-themes include AP’s outreach role in supporting children and young people to stay in mainstream provision and how it supports them to return where appropriate.

5. Leaders will get 10 days’ notice of visit

Inspectors will notify local leaders 10 working days before on-site visits start. Leaders will then be sent a link to a survey which they should “make reasonable efforts” to distribute to relevant stakeholders.

A virtual set-up discussion will take place between inspectors and local leaders and the local authority and other partners will be asked to provide information to support the visit.

Inspectors will also carry out pre-visit analysis, select providers to visit and around three children and young people to take part in tracking meetings.

The latter meetings will enable inspectors to hear directly about their experiences and outcomes.

6. Visits could take up to eight days

Each visit will consist of up to four days of off-site activity and four days of on-site visits.

But inspectors will be able to reduce the number of days “when appropriate”, such as when visiting a smaller local area with fewer children and young people.

During the course of visits inspectors will meet with children and young people in AP and parents and carers, as well as leaders and practitioners.

7. Significant concerns could lead to AP inspections

Inspectors are advised to follow existing procedures if they are concerned about a child or young person during the course of visits.

The guidance states that if they remain concerned, either Ofsted or CQC will consider if further action is appropriate.

This could include referring individuals to the local authority or requesting an inspection of the individual service or provider.

If other serious concerns are identified, inspectors will also notify a senior officer from the local authority. This could lead to an inspection.

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