The beefed up focus on special needs and disabilities in Ofsted’s draft inspection framework is welcome, but there’s more they could do if they really want to incentivise schools to be inclusive, notes Adam Boddison

Earlier this year, I made the case that under Ofsted’s education inspection framework (EIF) no school should be able to be outstanding unless they can demonstrate that they are inclusive. With this principle in mind, I have looked carefully at the draft school inspection handbook and whilst I welcome the progress that has been made, there is still more to be done.

The EIF goes some way in making explicit references to special education needs or disabilities (SEND) and the expectations in relation to inspection. Paragraphs 293 to 295 in particular provide guidance on how inspectors should apply the EIF in relation to special schools and SEND in mainstream schools. There is an acknowledgement of the individualised provision that is often required for learners with SEND, and that it would be inappropriate to directly compare their outcomes given their vastly different starting points and pathways.

There are several references to ensuring that learners with SEND are prepared for adulthood and employment, with statements such as “pupils with SEND must have the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life” and the school “consistently goes ‘the extra mile’ to promote the personal development of pupils, so that they have access to a rich set of experiences”.

There is also some progress in relation to setting out a much broader notion of outcomes beyond simply academic results. Paragraph 294 sets out that inspectors will consider “how well the learning and development of pupils with SEND are assessed, and whether pupils’ outcomes are improving as a result of the different or additional provision being made for them, including outcomes in communication and interaction, cognition and learning and physical health and development”.

Ofsted could go further by providing examples of what would be considered non-inclusive

Whilst I welcome this broader notion of outcomes, I find myself puzzled that some, but not all, of the broad areas of need defined in the SEND Code of Practice 2015 were included. Notably absent from this list is the area of social, emotional and mental health needs, which is odd given the meteoric rise in the number of learners being identified with these needs in our schools. Despite this, there were other references to learners being physically and mentally healthy within the wider document and the grade descriptors for personal development.

Paragraph 234 outlines Ofsted’s expectations in relation to inclusion by describing some of the features of an inclusive culture in a school. This is welcome guidance, but could go further by providing examples of what would be considered as non-inclusive and unacceptable. For example, it is unacceptable to exclude children and young people with SEND before they even enrol by suggesting they would be better off in a different school that could better meet their needs. This is a form of gaming the system, which Ofsted has also highlighted in the EIF.

Paragraph 43 states that Ofsted will “report on any failure to comply with statutory arrangements when they form part of the inspection framework and evaluation schedule”. It would be useful to be explicit here that this includes reporting on breaches in relation to the SEND Code of Practice 2015. Such a reference would be helpful in emphasising the importance of the Code of Practice and would provide a mechanism for ensuring compliance.

In summary, I welcome the significance and prominence of SEND and inclusion within the EIF and the draft school inspection handbook. However, if Ofsted really want to incentivise schools to be inclusive, they could include a fourth grade descriptor under the category of overall effectiveness: “the school is inclusive”. This would make inclusion a limiting factor, as is the case with safeguarding, and it would truly mean that no school could be graded outstanding unless it was also inclusive.