I was struck by a phrase someone used in a discussion back in the summer – ‘big-hearted schools who welcome SEND students and see their Ofsted rating drop’.
I’d like to unpack that a bit.
I believe, and Ofsted’s inspections of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in schools are built around this idea, that the experience of pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities is a bellwether of the school’s performance.
Children who have SEN and/or disabilities are part of the big picture that makes up a school; there is no division here. Academic excellence, and effective SEND provision, are all part of the same picture and a school cannot be truly outstanding if it’s letting some of its pupils down.
We’ve been told that some schools are refusing pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities because they are concerned that this will be reflected in their Ofsted rating.
Schools should be truly inclusive. And by that, I mean inclusive in the real sense, including children and their parents:
- in decision-making
- in setting targets linked to the child’s education, health and care (EHC) plan or SEN support plan
- as part of collecting information about what is important to the child, now and in the future, and how best to support them.
Inclusion means making the school a strong part of the local area’s provision for children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities. Mainly, it means identifying, assessing and meeting their needs well and making sure they are achieving their potential. At the heart of this is removing the barriers that get in the way of children who have SEN and/or disabilities being fully included in all areas of school life.
Progress and achievement
During inspection, our teams look at how pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities are progressing; not compared with all pupils in the school, but with pupils nationally who have similar starting points to them. Inspectors look at the support individual pupils are given and consider whether it is helping them to achieve better outcomes.
We know that some pupils, for example those who have profound and multiple learning difficulties, are working at significantly lower levels. For them, inspectors consider their starting points and the progress they’ve made. Inspectors will look at how well the curriculum has been adapted to their needs and the gains they have made in their learning and development. We purposefully take starting points into account and understand that some pupils will make progress in very small steps.
Academic achievements are very important, but schools are about more than just that. For pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities it is vitally important that they are well prepared for the next stage of their lives. It’s also about learning to manage relationships with people, learning to make decisions and become independent and finding out what makes you tick. How schools prepare pupils to do this is vital.
Supporting parents, supporting children
Parents often contact us with complaints about how their child who has SEN and/or disabilities has been treated at school. They feel they’ve been let down, sometimes for a long time. I urge schools to think about the processes that are in place for helping families. Individual knowledge of each child is essential, but any system must be fair and open. Parents must speak to the Special Educational Needs Coordinator and then follow the school’s complaints process, but it’s important these processes are transparent and easy to follow.
In the coming months, we’ll be publishing the consultation into our education inspection framework. One of the strands of this is about children who have SEN and/or disabilities and I urge you to respond to it when it’s published. As a profession, we’ve got a duty to make sure that all children have the support they need to make the most of whatever opportunities life may hold.