The chief inspector of Ofsted has described the level of support available to children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) as a ‘national scandal’, and also expressed concern about the number of children disappearing from school rolls without a formal exclusion, a practice known as ‘off-rolling’

Writing in the inspectorate’s latest annual report, her second as chief inspector, Amanda Spielman notes that children with SEND are often struggling to receive the support they need. The level of demand for local authorities (LAs) to undertake assessments for education, health and care (EHC) plans has increased by over 50 per cent since 2015, with 45,200 children and young people being assessed in 2017. In her commentary to the report Ms Spielman says ‘the quality of these plans is far too variable within some local areas and across the country’, and that ‘many EHC plans have not been successfully implemented’. In 2018, 2,060 children with an EHC plan or statement of needs were awaiting provision, almost three times more than in 2010. LAs can also refuse to carry out an EHC needs assessment if they believe it has not met the required threshold of needs. This number has also increased, with approximately 14,600 refusals to carry out an assessment in 2017, up by more than one third since 2015. ‘One child with SEND not receiving the help they need is disturbing enough, but thousands is a national scandal,’ commented Ms Spielman.

The report also addresses the issue of ‘off-rolling’, focusing on figures which show that between January 2016 and January 2017, 19,000 pupils dropped off school rolls between Years 10 and 11. This is approximately 4 per cent of pupils, and around half did not then reappear on the roll of another state-funded school. The chief inspector expresses concern that this number is higher than might be expected, and that children with SEND are more likely to be among those off-rolled, while noting that it is not possible to determine the reasons from the data alone. The report speculates that some instances of ‘off-rolling’ are a form of ‘gaming’ by schools, with the removal primarily in the interests of the school rather than the pupiI, and in future the inspectorate will use data about where off-rolling appears to be unexpectedly high to prioritise inspections and ask questions of schools during inspections.

Other topics covered by the report include funding pressures in the further education sector, knife crime and gangs, and early reading where the chief inspector highlights the difference of achievement by children eligible for free school meals (FSM) in different parts of the country. She mentions the statistic that in Newham in London 80 per cent of boys who are eligible for FSM achieve the expected standard in the phonics screening check, compared with 51 per cent meeting the standard in West Berkshire.

Ms Spielman also expresses concern about the continuing exemption from routine inspection for outstanding primary and secondary schools, which has been in place since 2011. She says that the exemption has now ‘served its purpose’ noting that ‘Lengthy periods without inspection are unpopular with parents and even with teachers’ and that some schools have now not been inspected in over a decade. The education minister Nick Gibb has subsequently written to Ms Spielman asking Ofsted to increase its inspection of exempt outstanding schools to 10 per cent over the coming year, although the exemption from routine inspection remains in place.

Commenting on the annual report, Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT union said ‘It is shocking that thousands of young people are disappearing from school rolls each year and the NASUWT agrees with Ofsted that this is a situation which cannot be allowed to continue. The NASUWT has called on the Department for Education (DfE) to give local authorities the capacity and resources to allow them to challenge off-rolling and ensure all children receive their entitlement to education.’

A spokesperson for the DfE said ‘One of the key functions of a good regulator is that it highlights areas of concern and we will work with Ofsted, schools, local authorities and others to address the issues this report picks out.’

Ofsted will consult on its new inspection framework in January 2019.

Ofsted annual report:


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