Local area SEND services will be able to achieve the top inspection outcome even if they need to make improvements, as long as they are taking action to address their “weaknesses”, Ofsted has said.
The watchdog has announced that its new joint area SEND inspections framework will come into force in January with only a few minor amendments from the version consulted-on earlier this year.
Chief inspector Amanda Spielman today dismissed calls for the new inspections to be delayed until after the government’s SEND review reforms have been implemented.
Doing so would would “risk creating an unacceptable accountability gap in a system that needs to improve urgently”,” she warned.
The new framework will shape inspections of SEND services in local authority areas, carried out jointly with the Care Quality Commission.
It comes after new figures showed more than two thirds of councils inspected by Ofsted last year had “significant weaknesses” in how they support pupils with SEND – the worst record since the watchdog started visits six years ago.
From January, inspections will focus more on the impact SEND services have on children and young people, use children’s experience as a “starting point” and increase scrutiny on alternative provision.
Services will be rated with three new inspection “outcomes”.
The first will be for services which “typically lead to positive experiences and outcomes for children and young people with SEND”.
The second will be for when services lead to “inconsistent experiences and outcomes”.
The third will highlight “widespread and/or systemic failings leading to significant concerns”.
Ofsted tweaks ‘outcomes’ for improving areas
But Ofsted announced today it will change the wording of the first outcome slightly, so it covers SEND services that are “taking action where improvements are needed”.
Ofsted said the change “will ensure that a local partnership that is performing well in many areas, but may still need to make some improvements, could receive this outcome if it is aware of weaknesses and is taking action to address them”.
In the consultation, 73 per cent of respondents said they agreed with the introduction of the three new outcomes, but 8 per cent disagreed.
The watchdog said feedback, “mainly from local authority representatives and some professional associations”, stated that the outcomes were “worded negatively”, and that the first outcome “set the bar too high”.
Consultees also complained the wording of the second outcome also “made it too broad, creating a risk that too many local areas would fall within this outcome”.
“In response to this feedback, we have revised the outcome criteria in the framework and handbook so that the first outcome will now apply to the local area partnerships that may still have some improvements to make, but are fully aware of them and are already taking action to address them.”
The framework has also been updated to clarify that inspectors will continue to take account of compliance with legal duties, despite focusing on the impact on children.
‘We will strengthen accountability’
Spielman said she the framework will “strengthen accountability by introducing a continuous inspection cycle and three distinct inspection outcomes”.
Inspection reports will “set out what local area partnerships are doing well and what they need to improve”. Ofsted will be “clear about who is responsible for making improvements and what they need to do”, she said.
“We will increase transparency by asking local area partnerships to update and publish their strategic plan following each inspection.”
Spielman said some consultees had suggested Ofsted should wait for the implementation of the government’s SEND reforms.
But Schools Week revealed last week that ministers have abandoned their pledge to publish their response by the end of this year. Instead, their implementation plan will come in “early” 2023.
‘Not right’ to wait for SEND review implementation
Spielman said large-scale system reform “can take many years to implement and embed into practice”.
“It would not be right to wait until reforms are implemented, given the scale and depth of problems in the SEND system. There can be no accountability gap while any new reforms are agreed and put into action.
“Given the persistent and worsening issues in the SEND system, we have been clear throughout that we cannot wait to act. To do so would risk creating an unacceptable accountability gap in a system that needs to improve urgently.”
Ofsted has also announced it will carry out an “annual series of thematic reviews as part of the area SEND inspection arrangements”.
The first will focus on AP, to “improve our knowledge of how it is used in practice, and the extent to which it meets pupils’ education, health and care needs”. Findings will be shared next autumn.