Nick Whittaker, Specialist Adviser, SEND, Ofsted on things we’re changing at Ofsted.
For a child or young person, having special educational needs and/or a disability (SEND) means that they and their families will come into contact with many different organisations, services and professionals. The journey may include diagnosis and the search for help and advice (perhaps an education, health and care plan), and last through the child’s school life and into adulthood.
One of the organisations offering families help through this sometimes confusing landscape is NHS England. They have introduced their ‘Ask Listen Do’ initiative, which supports families of children with autism and learning disabilities.
I recently met Mary Busk, one of the team members who devised ‘Ask Listen Do’, and we had a thought-provoking discussion. She explained that the initiative offers resources, blogs and leaflets written by and for those with autism and learning disabilities. It provides practical help for parents and carers. For example, the joint project with Whole School SEND developed questions that parents could ask their child’s school about the support on offer. It also offers training resources and tips for organisations and practitioners to help them understand the need to make reasonable adjustments.
‘Ask Listen Do’ sets out clearly three important parts – education, health and social care. These must all work together for the best outcomes for children and young people. Organisations and practitioners need to have the skills to listen to feedback, concerns and complaints and learn from those affected by autism and/or a learning disability.
Ofsted plays a role in this, of course, in two main ways.
First of all, we inspect local area SEND provision in partnership with the Care Quality Commission (CQC). We involve children and young people with SEND and their parents as much as we can. Face-to-face discussions are a vital part of these inspections. We revisit local areas who do not measure up and continue to challenge them to improve, working in partnership with professionals and children. We are also working with organisations such as the Council for Disabled Children to develop ways of giving children with SEND a stronger voice in our inspections of local areas and schools.
Secondly, we play a role during our inspections of early years settings, schools and further education and skills provision. Our new education inspection framework (EIF), in place from September this year, puts more emphasis on inspecting SEND provision. It gives real weight to how inspectors judge that the needs of children and young people with SEND have been identified, assessed and met. The EIF makes it absolutely clear that schools should have an inclusive culture. Leaders and managers should have ‘a clear and ambitious vision for providing high-quality, inclusive education to all learners’.
We have also used ‘Ask Listen Do’ to reflect on our own practice based on feedback received through Parent View. As a result, we are trialling some new questions with parents at the moment.
Person-centred thinking and practice
We’re going further than that, however. Our own staff must understand the importance of SEND. This is why we’re spending more time training inspectors and helping them achieve better insight.
One aspect we’re particularly interested in, and which I know underpins ‘Ask Listen Do’, is person-centred thinking and practice. To achieve the best possible outcomes, it’s important for us to train our inspectors to listen carefully to children, young people and families to understand their hopes for the future. This does not mean that we should do everything that they want. What’s important to families is different from what might be important for them.
I’ll give you an example of this, from my time as a special school headteacher, about a young man called Simon who was in our school’s sixth form. Simon was very clear with us that what he wanted from life was to live as independently as possible and to get a job at Morrisons. He also told us that he definitely did not want to do any more English or maths. We had to explain to him that, without continuing with these subjects, he was not likely to achieve any of the things he did want. As educators and leaders, we knew that continuing to work on his communication skills and his knowledge of mathematics was essential for his future. Simply listening to and agreeing with Simon was not an option. Instead, we worked with him and his family to decide how best to help him achieve his ambitions.
For families, picking their way through the many obstacles that are in their way is a real challenge. Schools, Ofsted, the CQC and NHS England are just some of the organisations who can help improve things for children and young people. We cannot solve everything – but we can work together to help families.