Practise what you preach on SEND, Ofsted told

A literacy charity has praised Ofsted for its “unprecedented” intervention on behalf of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities – but warned that its words “must be turned into action”.

In its annual report published on Tuesday, the inspectorate was critical of the high exclusion rates of SEND pupils in mainstream schools, refusals by councils to assess their needs, and the disappearance of year 11 SEND pupils from the education system.

Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, devoted a significant chunk of her speech that accompanied the report to the 1.3 million (15 per cent) of pupils with special educational needs – she said the challenges facing them were getting “steeper, not shallower”.

These words must be turned into action, both in the new Ofsted framework and by inspectors on the ground

Her comments came as two families launched legal action against Somerset council for cuts to SEND services, making it the fourth local authority to face a court challenge on the issue.

Karen Wespieser, director of operations at literacy charity Driver Youth Trust, said the focus on SEND was “unprecedented and encouraging”.

In a blog she noted SEND was mentioned 28 times in Ofsted’s report this year, compared with eight in Spielman’s 2017 report and two in Sir Michael Wilshaw’s report the year before.

But she warned: “These words must be turned into action, both in the new Ofsted framework and by inspectors on the ground.”

In particular the new inspection framework, which will be published in summer, must be changed so no school could be outstanding unless it was inclusive, she said.

Adam Boddison, the chief executive of the National Association of Special Educational Needs, suggested Ofsted should only grade a school outstanding if it met certain “inclusivity standards”.

Boddison, who was speaking at a Westminster education forum, said a school without a special educational needs coordinator (SENco) for five years had achieved Ofsted’s top grade.

He also said Ofsted did not mention the SEND pupils who, he claimed, were “excluded before they even set foot in a school” because they were encouraged to apply elsewhere.

Of the 149 outstanding primary and secondary schools inspected this year, 67 per cent lost the top grade. The annual report said that pupils with SEND were “particularly poorly catered for in these schools”.

Spielman also highlighted how families trying to get more tailored support for their children were “going to extreme lengths” to secure an EHCP, which replaced statements in 2014 and which are supposed to carry more funding for pupils.

Demand for councils to undertake EHCP assessments has increased by more than 50 per cent since 2015, but refusals from local authorities to carry out those assessments has also shot up, this time by a third.

The Local Government Association has said there is a £536 million funding gap in SEND budgets this year as a result of growing demand – more than double last year’s shortfall.