Ofsted has warned some pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are “not getting enough help” in mainstream schools — even when receiving specialist support.
The schools watchdog today released its ‘Supporting SEND’ report which investigates how children and young people’s needs are met in mainstream education.
It found specialist support from multi-agency services is “not always timely or implemented appropriately.”
The report also highlighed “long wait times and high levels of bureaucracy” in the education, health and care plan process, with some families forced to pay for additional services themselves.
It comes as government data shows a fall in the proportion of new EHC plans issued within 20 weeks.
“This suggests that the playing field is not level for pupils from poorer backgrounds,” it said.
Ofsted looked at 21 pupils’ experiences in depth across seven mainstream schools for the qualitative research, carried out before the pandemic. Further issues included “gaps in teachers’ or staff’s understanding of pupils’ needs,” negatively affecting children’s experiences particularly when they lacked EHC plans.
Some schools were teaching a curriculum “not properly sequenced or well matched to pupils’ needs.”
Ofsted’s national director for education Sean Harford said many children had found it harder to engage with remote education during the pandemic, making providing the right support “more important than ever”.
Ian Noon, head of policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said the report provides “compelling evidence” that the SEND system “isn’t fit for purpose and doesn’t deliver for everyone who relies on it”.
“The government has the necessary evidence, so it must address these issues when it reviews the country’s SEND provision later this year. This is the perfect opportunity to fix a broken system once and for all.”
The report comes after the inspectorate published data alongside the Care Quality Commission on its local area SEND inspections.
The data revealed the poorest areas of England were most likely to have “significant weaknesses” in their SEND provision.
Two-thirds of the most deprived areas were ordered to produce a written statement of action (WSoA), compared with half of the wealthiest areas. According to Ofsted, a WSoA is an “indication of significant weaknesses”.
Separate data released today by the Department for Education shows a 10 per cent increase in the number of children with EHC plans in England in the year to January, following a similar rise the previous year.
It also highlighted growing delays, wth the proportion of EHC plans issued within 20 weeks fell from 60.4 per cent in 2019 to 58 per cent last year.
Although EHC plan numbers have continued to rise, last year saw 6,200 fewer initial requests for plans amid the pandemic. The DfE said the 7.7 per cent drop to 76,000 was the first decrease since EHC plans were introduced in 2014.
A DfE spokesperson said it was “reassuring” that provision of EHC plans had continued throughout the pandemic. They highlighted £1.7 billion funding to “tackle the impact of time out of the classroom” and rising high needs funding, but acknowledged there was “more to do.”
The ongoing SEND review will make the system “more consistent, high-quality and joined-up”.