14 Oct

Local Area SEND Inspections: what are they telling us?

At the time of writing this blog, there have been seven published outcome letters as a result of Local Area SEND Inspections: Bolton, Brighton and Hove, Enfield, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire and Stoke. The inspections are carried out jointly by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission and consider the effectiveness of a local area in identifying and meeting the needs of children with SEND. Local areas have not been graded on their effectiveness but strengths and areas for improvement have been identified. This blog considers what the seven published letters might be telling us about SEND provision in schools nationally.

1. Variation and Inconsistency

Whilst the reports share some common themes, it is clear from reading them together that each area has taken its own approach based on local needs, local context and the funding and resources available. This could be seen as a good thing because it means that there is not a ‘one-size fits all’ approach happening nationally. However, this is very much a double-edged sword, since it is generally agreed that children with similar needs are receiving different levels of funding and support nationally and this is deemed to be an unfair postcode lottery. Of course, the Fairer Funding and High Needs funding proposals have now been delayed by a further year, so this is not likely to be resolved in the immediate future.

2.  Special supporting Mainstream

There is evidence from the inspection reports that the significant expertise available in special schools is being used to develop specialist knowledge and provision in mainstream schools. I have seen evidence of this personally through the Nasen network, particularly when special schools are part of a Multi-Academy Trust consisting of both special and mainstream provision. In practical terms, this can be about specialist staff providing CPD or coaching and the Gloucestershire report specifically references the targeted support that special schools have provided. However, effective SEND provision requires effective SEND leadership and so developing leadership capacity and capability is also important. Special schools in Stoke were praised for their outreach provision and leaders there have said they are willing and able to do more.

3.  SEND Exclusions Reducing

Two of the reports, Hertfordshire and Nottinghamshire, explicitly reference the reduction in the number of children and young people with SEND being excluded. Nottinghamshire in particular was praised by inspectors for halving the number of children being excluded since 2012. It is not clear that these reductions are happening in all local areas but the examples cited are aligned with data released by the Department for Education in January 2016 which shows that exclusions are reducing for both SEND and non-SEND groups.

4.  Mental Health is a Growing Concern

There is evidence in the reports that the SEMH (Social, Emotional, Mental Health) needs of children and young people are not always being dealt with. The Enfield report suggests that secondary schools are not identifying SEMH needs quickly enough and that this is leading to exclusions. Similarly, the Hertfordshire report is clear that the support for SEMH in schools is still at an early stage of development. Given the reductions in CAMHS nationally and the increase in need, this may become a significant issue for our sector if it is not addressed swiftly at both a local and national level.

In summary, the reports show (as Ofsted reports always show!) that whilst there is some excellent practice there is still much more to do to achieve a fair system in which all children and young people with SEND have their needs effectively identified and met.

Dr Adam Boddison

nasen Representative