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LGA response to the Ofsted/CQC consultation, a new approach to area SEND inspections

The consultation document rightly acknowledges that the SEND is the subject of significant reform via the SEND Green paper and establishment of Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), but we are concerned that it does not acknowledge the reasons why system reform is needed.

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About the Local Government Association

The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We work with councils to support, promote and improve local government.

We are a politically-led, cross party organisation which works on behalf of councils to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government. We aim to influence and set the political agenda on the issues that matter to councils so they are able to deliver local solutions to national problems. The LGA covers every part of England and Wales, supporting local government as the most efficient and accountable part of the public sector.

Key points

  • The consultation document rightly acknowledges that the system that supports children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is the subject of significant reform via the SEND Green paper and establishment of Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), but we are concerned that it does not acknowledge the reasons why system reform is needed: that the reforms set out in the Children and Families Act were not backed by sufficient funding or powers to allow councils to meet the needs of children with SEND or hold health and education partners to account for their contributions to local SEND systems. A new SEND area inspection framework must take account of the context in which councils and their partners are delivering SEND support.
  • We support the new inspection framework having a greater emphasis on the impact that local area partnership SEND support is having on the lives of children and young people with special needs. We are however concerned that neither Ofsted or the CQC have the capacity or expertise to deliver against the proposed framework.
  • The consultation states that inspectorates ‘sought to align the new framework with the direction set out in the green paper’. It would be helpful for Ofsted and the CQC to provide further clarity on this given the green paper sets out a series of high-level principles that will need further development before they can be implemented. In the meantime we are concerned that introducing a new inspection framework at a time when local SEND systems are facing an extended period of reform could result in inconsistency and unfairness.
  • We have also seen significant change in central government in recent months and it is unclear whether a new set of Secretaries of State will seek to pause or alter proposals set out in SEND Green paper, while the Schools Bill and the Government’s response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care will also have an impact on how SEND support is being delivered.
  • It is disappointing that the draft SEND area inspection framework only makes limited references to the role of schools in supporting children and young people with special needs. Ofsted should consider how school inspection outcomes, specifically approaches to supporting pupils with SEND and inclusion, should feed into area SEND inspections, particularly given the focus on children’s experiences in a local area. This would also give some good insight into the council approaches to having an effective graduated response to support children with SEND.

Consultation proposals

Proposal 1: focusing more on impact

We support the new inspection framework having a greater emphasis on the impact that local area partnership Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) support is having on the lives of children and young people with special needs. While it is important that SEND area inspections continue to test whether partners are fulfilling their statutory responsibilities to meet the needs of children and young people with special needs, a greater focus on how local arrangements improve experiences and outcomes is welcome.

Proposal 2: criteria for evaluating impact

The LGA supports the proposal to evaluate the impact of the local area partnership’s SEND arrangements on children and young people’s lives, based on the core criteria set out in the consultation document.

As with other Ofsted inspection frameworks we are disappointed to see that the framework makes no mention of the demand and funding contexts that councils find themselves working in and we do not believe it is possible for SEND provision to be separated from financial realities. Further to this it is not clear how a local area inspection will look at wider availability of specialist support within a local area and how this impacts on the delivery of support.

Proposal 3: inspection outcomes

We do not support the three proposed inspection outcomes, that in effect mirror the good, requires improvement to be good and inadequate grades that form part of the ILACS grading structure. We do not believe that the three summary outcomes can adequately reflect the complexity of delivering SEND support in a local area, nor any variation in performance between partners in a local SEND system. We see greater value in the continued use of the narrative judgement that forms part of the existing SEND inspection framework.

While we understand that the inspectorates will want to focus their attention on areas where poor performance has been identified, those areas will also need sufficient times and space to develop and implement their improvement plans. We believe that the inspectorates should only undertake a full reinspection where this will not undermine any improvements made in a local area; a blanket approach does not recognise that areas will face different challenges (for example workforce, demographic, the need to strengthen partnership working) when implementing their improvement plans or that they will all be addressed in the same timeframes.

Proposal 4: making recommendations in reports

We support the proposed change to the way that recommendations are made in SEND area inspection reports. The proposed introduction of clear and succinct recommendations that identify which weaknesses the local area partnership should address to improve the lives and experiences of children and young people with SEND and their families.

We also support the proposal for inspection reports to indicate which services, or parts of services, will be primarily responsible for taking forward specific recommendations. Providing accountability and clarity on who is responsible for what will help ensure timely action is taken to address poor performance and to help drive improvement.

Proposal 5: updating and publishing strategic plans following an inspection

We agree that local SEND partnerships should update and publish their strategic plans following an inspection. This will provide clarity and transparency on the work being undertaken by partners to improve the performance of local SEND systems, as well helping parents and carers have confidence that partners are working to ensure the local system will better meet the needs of children and young people with special needs.

Proposal 6: gathering more evidence directly from children and young people, and their families

We agree that local area SEND inspections should give greater opportunity for children and young people themselves to discuss their experiences of local SEND systems.

We are concerned that the proposed sample size of 6 children and young people to be involved in tracking meetings will be too small to help inform decisions given the very different needs, experiences and contexts of individual children. We do however except that a balance needs to be struck to ensure that this process is not unduly onerous for inspectors, councils or their partners.

The consultation rightly acknowledges that this evidence will need to be triangulated and balanced against evidence provided by parents and carers, as well as councils, health and education providers. Some councils have reported concerns that the current SEND area inspection framework gives too much weight to the views of some local parents and carers at the expenses of councils and their partners. It will be vital for inspectors to ensure they balance the views of all parties if there is to be confidence in the new inspection framework.

Proposal 7: including alternative provision

Bringing alternative provision (AP) within the scope of SEND inspection, while being consistent with the Green paper, would look to inspect a system which is fragmented, inconsistently defined and facing imminent and major change.  If the rationale for the previous Area SEND was to inspect implementation of the SEN Code of Practice and this shifts the focus away, the starting point assumes an expectation of a similarly common practice standard in AP which does not exist.

Further to this we are concerned that the focus on commissioning will not take account of the availability or quality of AP available within an area. This reflects a wider absence in the consultation and draft inspection framework on the role of schools and educational settings in local SEND systems. Area SEND inspections should look at the contribution of every partner, including education settings, if they are to gain an accurate picture of the performance of a local SEND system.

Proposal 8: introducing monitoring inspections

We support the proposed introduction of monitoring inspections where widespread failings have been identified by a SEND area inspection. These inspections will provide an opportunity for local areas to test the progress made in their plan to address areas for priority action.

We are concerned however that intervention and improvement support appears to be focussed primarily on councils. Ofsted and the CQC should provide further information on how improvement and intervention support will apply where poor performance in health or education is identified.

It will be important that Ofsted co-ordinates any monitoring inspections with improvement support that will be available via Regional Improvement and Innovation Alliances (RIIA), the LGA and Department for Education. This will both minimise any additional burden placed on a local area by reinspection and ensure the focus is on improving provision for children and young people with SEND.

Proposal 9: introducing engagement meetings

We are concerned that annual engagement meetings will place an additional burden on local councils and their partners at a time when the focus should be on meeting the needs of children and young people, including those with SEND. This is particularly true where local areas are required to produce a priority action plan following the identification of widespread failings during a full SEND area inspection. If the inspectorates decide to take this proposal forward the annual engagement meetings should be as light touch as possible and also take account of any other improvement/inspection activity (for example the ILACS annual conversation, an LGA peer review) when they are being scheduled.