Councils with “significant weaknesses” in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision may not be inspected again for up to four and a half years, following the introduction of Ofsted’s new framework.
The new regime by the inspectorate and the Care Quality Commission came into effect on January 1.
Local SEND services will be judged more on the impact they have on children, with more scrutiny on alternative provision.
Figures show that more than two thirds of councils inspected by Ofsted last year had “significant weaknesses” in how they supported pupils with SEND – the worst record since the watchdog started its visits six years ago.
Areas found to have significant weaknesses produced a “written statement of action” (WSoA), and then faced a revisit, usually within 18 months.
But revisits for areas subject to WSoAs under the old framework ended in December, and although Ofsted completed 13 last term, 23 areas have not received them.
Seven were last inspected in mid-2021, meaning their revisits would have been due soon. But Ofsted is now only guaranteeing those areas will get an inspection within three years, meaning some could wait more than four years.
‘It will make problems worse’
Hayley Harding, the founder of the SEND pupil and parent campaign group Let Us Learn Too, said delays would “just mean problems getting worse, more pressure being put on families and ultimately more children’s educational futures being lost”.
She said inspections were the only form of investigation for local authority SEND departments that “actually highlight the challenges that disabled children and young people face when trying to get the services and help that they need”.
Steven Wright, a parent campaigner on SEND in Suffolk, warned that if areas were left unchecked “there would be a very high chance that there would be no improvement”.
“Ofsted inspections are currently the only motivation for improvement. And if that’s taken away, even if it’s just a delay … the council as a system will effectively relax and allow things to drift.”
An Ofsted spokesperson said full inspections of areas previously subject to a WSoA would consider “previously identified weaknesses and any progress made” when reaching a judgment.
When scheduling inspections, Ofsted said it would take account of previous outcomes, the time since the last inspection and “any other information” that may “indicate that an inspection may need to take place sooner”.
During engagement meetings with all local areas, the bodies will also “identify any issues of concern”.