SEND: A new form of accountability planned

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
Photo: iStock

From May 2016, there will be inspection of local authority SEND services. The Pathfinder final report suggests some accountability is needed, but what are the implications for schools?

The final report of the evaluation of the SEND Pathfinder Programme gives a worryingly mixed account of parents’ experiences of SEND reform.

Separate planning between agencies, parents used as go-betweens, and some potentially effective systems undermined by lack of resources and funding.

It is not a cohesive picture of a system on the brink of SEND break-through. Rather it is a patchy inconclusive set of mixed impressions of a system trying to find its feet at best and sinking slowly at its worst.

Any overall picture is hard to see because there is none. Local authorities were given a significant amount of discretion in terms of the way they implemented the reform. The government’s approach was to lay out the principles but to allow detail to be drawn in at a local level. However, this has led to variable implementation.

This is a variation that is clear when we consider the Local Offer. The Local Offer was meant to make the provision in a local authority transparent; to place all the cards on the table of what parents might access and how. However, this master-plan to bring local information together seems to have turned out inadequately in many instances. The Pathfinder report reveals that only a minority of Pathfinder parents had even heard of it, let alone used it.

The SEND Code of Practice is full of good intentions but lacks the specifics that perhaps schools and local authorities needed. Its wording makes it difficult to hold anyone to account for its implementation.

A Department for Education (DfE) research report into SEN funding highlights this in relation to how SEN pupils are supported. Although the £6,000 funding threshold has brought some added clarity to what schools should provide, the report recommends that schools and local authorities should agree a “core entitlement” and that this should be part of the Local Offer.

But criticism isn’t there just for local authorities being woolly about what can be expected, it is also levelled at the DfE too. The DfE needs to give more direction, a role that they have always been reluctant to assume. With the lack of clarity driving expectations then it is left to inspection to hold local authorities to account for the ways in which they have or have not brought the new Code of Practice to fruition.

Inspection of SEND

In the face of huge local differences, a consultation has been launched on how Ofsted might inspect local authorities’ SEND provision. Rather than at schools, the DfE’s inspection focus is aimed at SEND departments on a local authority level.

Currently, a very small team is going out and about checking up on what’s happening.

“They mainly seem to be concentrating on local authorities that are not doing as well and giving them a nudge,” explained Dr Rona Tutt, a specialist in SEND provision and ex-headteacher of a special school. “I don’t know how long this team will last, but, in any case, they cannot do the in-depth work that these inspectors would be able to do.”

The consultation opened in October 2015 and is set to close on January 4. A relatively long consultation period in comparison to some we have seen. The first inspections will then begin in May 2016, a prospect that is likely to put fear into many local authority SEND departments.

Schools will be approached and inspected as part of the process. However, this is to ascertain the local authority’s effectiveness rather than that of the school itself. During their visits to schools it is proposed that inspectors will:

  • Discuss with senior leaders and governors how the local authority fulfils its responsibilities and how they contribute to this.
  • Look at a sample of students’ files and information about their progress.

Inspectors will not undertake observation of teaching and learning activities. When writing their report, it is proposed that inspectors will take into account:

  • Performance towards meeting expected timescales for statutory assessment.
  • The outcomes for children and young people in national assessments and their destinations on leaving school.
  • Any information about the use of disagreement resolution services, mediation and appeals to the First-tier Tribunal.
  • Data about the delivery of the healthy child programme and other commissioned health services, such as national screening programmes
  • Complaints made to Ofsted or the Care Quality Commission (CQC) relating to SEND.

There will be no overall grade given but rather a summary of their findings including key strengths and areas that need further development

The right direction?

Dr Tutt sees the proposals for local authority inspection as a good opportunity to pull all local authorities up to a reasonable standard.

“School leaders are being asked to play their part in supporting the reforms but with fewer specialist advisors and specialist support teams available,” she added.

“The dream for me would be to get all local authorities working to a definition of inclusion that sees the value in a flexible range of provision. There needs to be part-time, short-term and dual roll provision being far more widely used in order to meet children’s changing needs more quickly and effectively.”

Although supportive of the move Dr Tutt believes that there are still some issues to be addressed through the consultation.

“The Ofsted, CQC and local authority inspectors on any team will need to complement each other, so that there is an understanding between them of a wide range of SEND.”

She would also like it to be clear, when measuring the success of a local authority, the number of children and young people identified as having SEND who have been excluded and the length of time pupils are out of school waiting for suitable placements.

Tania Tirraoro is editor of Special Needs Jungle and a campaigner on behalf of parents with children with SEND. She believes that a system of accountability is way overdue: “It should really have been developed at the same time as the reforms,” she said.

“So that those involved could have been on hand to help local authorities through the implementation period. Instead what we have is a generally poor picture of fragmented practice, confusion, lack of training and misinformation.”

Ms Tirraoro recognises that the implementation period has been far from smooth: “In the past year, instead of parents’ lives being easier they have been made twice as hard, and I fear that those with EHCPs (Education, Health and Care Plans) that went through easily have ended up with something not worth the paper it’s printed on.

“This is why accountability is crucial, so that every child with SEND has a quantified and specified EHCP that meets their needs and is properly carried out, whether they have an informed parent or not.”

What is important now is that this consultation period is used as an opportunity to feed through views and ensure the process adopted is fit-for-purpose.

The SEND Code of Practice represented a huge shift in thinking and approach. The culture change it needed was not going to happen easily. Inspection at least should give an emerging view of SEN reform in its second year of implementation.

Further information


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