By Charlie Henry, Ofsted lead on special educational needs
When does the process of inspection begin and end?
In one sense, that’s an easy question to answer. It begins when the Ofsted inspector turns up, laptop in hand, and ends when the inspection report or outcome letter is published.
On the other hand, publication is the beginning of the process. In highlighting key strengths and in identifying problems, the inspection report acts as catalyst for change, and change for the better.
That applies across all remits which we inspect: schools, early years, social care, and further education and skills.
But I’d argue that this concept of publication as a starting point will particularly be the case when we publish the first of a new kind of inspection outcome letter in summer 2016. It will be concerned with some of the most vulnerable people in our society: children and young people with special educational needs up to the age of 25.
Whole local area
From May 2016, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission will inspect local areas to see how they are fulfilling their responsibilities to children and young people who really do need, and are often dependent upon, local public services. These are the services they receive from their nurseries, schools and colleges and from the specialist therapists and other professionals in educational, health and social care services. These inspections are about how the whole local area meets the needs of some of the most vulnerable children and young people.
But we will not just want to see that these services are being delivered well. Inspectors will want to see evidence that children and young people are progressing, whether to their next stage of education or employment.
The new inspection is not just about holding local areas to account; crucially it’s also about helping the area to develop and improve.
I want to stress this key part of our inspection outcome letter – which will be jointly written with the Care Quality Commission. We will highlight key strengths of local areas. It is my hope and indeed my expectation that local areas’ key strengths will be seriously considered by other local areas.
So, what will we actually do from May next year?
Special educational needs is, of course, a wide spectrum. We are talking about young children with profound learning or physical disabilities on the one hand, and those with, for example, Asperger’s or social, emotional and mental health issues on the other.
It’s a wide range but the aim of special education is the same: to make the young person fulfil their potential, and lead as independent a life as is possible.
Inspectors will look at the wide range of children and young people, and consider the services they use. In most cases this will include a school or college of some type.
Inspection teams will usually consist of an SEND specialist HMI from Ofsted, a Children’s services inspector from the Care Quality Commission and a specially recruited and trained SEND Ofsted inspector from another local authority. And I want to stress that these inspections will not just be about the local authority. While I recognise that local authorities have a key leadership role for their area, they cannot implement the special educational needs reforms on their own.
We will tell the Director of Children’s Services and the Chief Executive of the clinical commissioning group two working days before the inspection starts.
Once they have got going, the inspection team will meet the important managers and leaders from the area’s education, health and social care services. They will also visit early years settings, schools and further education providers. On these visits inspectors will not be inspecting the nursery, school or college themselves since these are covered other inspections. They will be exploring how the whole local area fulfils its responsibilities and how providers contribute towards them, to ensure disabled children and young people and those who have special educational needs are identified and that their needs are met and their outcomes improve.
We will assess how well schools and colleges are fulfilling the responsibilities of the education and health care plans – a kind of contract between the child or young person who has special educational needs, and the public service. But it’s not just about those young people who have the new education, health and care plans; it’s as important that we look at those who receive additional support but whose needs are not severe enough to require one of these plans.
Our inspections will be thorough, and last five days. We will talk to school leaders and managers of the services the children and young people use. So, for example, we may ask about the effectiveness of reading support for pupils who have particular problems, or the success of specialist support for deaf children.
Inspectors will also ask health service managers how they are meeting the needs of children and young people who use their services.
And, of course, we will talk to children and young people with special educational needs, and to their parents too. They are at the heart of this process.
In coming to our conclusions, inspectors will consider data such as that from healthy child programmes. In bringing together this evidence, our report – which will take the form of an outcome letter – will highlight key strengths and recommendations. It will be addressed to the whole local area.
Any further action by Ofsted and CQC will depend on the findings of the inspection. Actions may range from requests for more detailed information on the steps that are to be taken to address the findings, to arranging further meetings or discussions with local area representatives and/or further inspection.
There will be some sobering truths to be told in the next few years, I am sure. These will always be grounded in evidence; what inspectors have seen and have found out about the services for some of the most vulnerable people in the country.
I do not expect there to be an overnight transformation in the fortunes of children and young people who have special educational needs. But I am optimistic that this new way of inspection will help to bring about a cultural change whereby children and young people with special educational needs really do get the services they need to be as independent as they can.
I hope you can help by taking a close look at our consultation, which runs until early next year.