Two thirds of councils now fail SEND inspections

Number of local authorities found to have 'significant weaknesses' in how they support pupils with special needs last year was worst on record

Number of local authorities found to have 'significant weaknesses' in how they support pupils with special needs last year was worst on record

17 Nov 2022, 10:30

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More than two thirds of councils inspected by Ofsted last year had “significant weaknesses” in how they support pupils with special educational needs (SEND) – the worst record since the watchdog started visits six years ago.

Schools Week has extensively covered the failures of councils in their SEND provision. Around half of inspections already resulted in councils being ordered to produce a written statement of action.

An investigation last year revealed how seven of the eight areas visited by the watchdog after inspections restarted following Covid found “significant areas of weakness”.

New Ofsted figures, published this morning, show 68 per cent of councils effectively failed inspections in 2021-22.

This is worse than the 56 per cent in 2019-20, before the pandemic, and since inspections started in 2016-17.

Overall, 55 per cent of councils visited since inspections began have been ordered to produce action plans (82 of 149).

But there are stark regional divides. As of March, over four in five inspections in the East of England and nearly three-quarters in the North West had to produce action plans. That compares to just a third in London.

Ofsted aims to revisit such councils within 18 months. As of August, 46 had been done – but just under half were making “sufficient progress in addressing all significant weaknesses”.

Where an area is making insufficient progress on any of its weaknesses, the government makes a call on whether to intervene.

Schools Week reported last week how Kent council faces intervention after failing to address nine significant weaknesses.

The joint area SEND inspection report actually found the quality of provision had “regressed” since a critical inspection three years ago.

While some schools offer a “warm welcome” to children with SEND, others “neither participate in opportunities to share and learn from good practice nor overtly welcome” these pupils.

School leaders said the council has “failed” to address the “unequal admission” of children.

This “adds to inequities” in the SEND system and “anxiety that some children and young people who really do need a specialist place are not able to access one”. 

Three councils – Birmingham, North Somerset and Devon – have been issued with improvement notices or statutory directions from government following reinspections.

Last year the government sent a SEND commissioner to remedy failures in Birmingham – the first intervention of its kind.

An investigation by School Week last year into SEND failures found youngsters were waiting more than two years for support in some areas, with delays exacerbated by the pandemic.

In Rotherham, Ofsted found “too many children and young people reach crisis point”.

Ofsted said the reports were “very concerning. As before the pandemic, we’re seeing children and young people with special educational needs, and their families, being let down by the system”.

Ofsted will introduce revamped SEND inspections early next year. It is now just carrying out revisits until the new framework starts, claiming this means “there will be no accountability gap”.

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