Data published by Ofsted on May 7th, 2021 provides worrying indications concerning Special Needs provision in England. Figures gathered by the inspectorate in the five years since 2016 point to a creaking system, which is failing large numbers of pupils. Perhaps of most concern is the conclusion that after being identified, these failings are often not adequately addressed.
“Significant weaknesses” identified:
The inspectorate’s figures state that more than 50% of SEND local area inspections uncovered “significant weaknesses” between 2016 and 2021. 116 of England’s 151 local authority areas were assessed at this time and of these, 59 were required to provide a “written statement of action” as a result. The worst possible inspection outcome, a WoSA such as this one from the Surrey authority, or this one from Essex, requires local leaders to submit a remedial plan within 70 days.
Since the findings were drawn, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have revisited 21 of the failing authorities. Of these, it was determined that just nine were “making sufficient progress in addressing all the weaknesses identified in the inspection.”
While the news may be alarming for parents or carers of young people with SEND, it perhaps will not be unexpected. The latest OFSTED study is merely the latest in a succession of similarly damning reports. In 2019, a litany of systemic problems was outlined.
EHCPs = vague, inaccurate and lengthy delays:
Education Health and Care plans (EHCPs) were introduced in 2014, as a means to centralise all necessary information regarding a learner’s SEND needs. In theory, they should remain an active document until the young person is 25 years old. However, Ofsted found that many EHC documents in circulation were out of date and inaccurate.
Often secondary age pupils were being served by plans based on information gathered only during their primary years. Targets and aspirations were too often vague and undefined, while many EHC plans contained categoric errors.
In a system that uses such plans as foundational, building provision and strategies from their recommendations, these weaknesses pose a major problem.
Issues with EHCPs also led to lengthy delays in the provision of support, with the old-fashioned statements of Special Educational Needs taking too long to be converted. As a result, large numbers of local authorities struggled to meet the 20-week target for delivery of EHCs when they were implemented and have been working with a backlog ever since. This can lead to frustrating delays for parents or carers who feel the needs of their children are not being met.
Excluded children and young people:
Exclusions, whether permanent or fixed-term, provided another area of serious concern. Ofsted’s findings showed that SEND pupils were five times more likely to be excluded than pupils without SEND. The ongoing problems with EHCs also underpinned this statistic, as SEND pupils yet to have an EHC plan were twice as likely to be excluded as those that do.
Lack of resources and ‘off-rolling’ to influence exam results:
In some cases, it has been suggested that something bleaker may be at work, that some schools are either unable or unwilling to expend resources on SEND, due to pressure to hit headline exam targets.
In 2018, Anne Longfield, the former children’s commissioner, outlined the practice of ‘off-rolling’ SEND pupils. “I have become more and more convinced that some schools are seeking to improve their overall exam results by removing vulnerable children from the school roll.” She said.
A bleak outcome:
The overall picture for SEND pupils in England is, therefore, a challenging one and it is easy to draw the conclusion that the present system, if not broken, is at least malfunctioning. Too many SEND pupils are slipping through the net and as a result, not achieving their potential. Any parent or carer who has faced a period of homeschooling, either due to exclusion or while awaiting placement, will understand this instinctively.
Within this landscape, the search for specialised SEND education can feel like a minefield of stress and anxiety. Yet for those who find themselves in this position, grounds for optimism do exist.
How we can help:
SENsational Tutors provide access to highly experienced professionals including specialist qualified teachers/ tutors, speech and language therapists, and occupational therapists, who support children and young adults with special and additional needs. They are able to work independently, or in collaboration with your child’s current school or provision to help them reach their full potential.