Pupils’ experience of SEND support varies widely, Ofsted finds

There is wide variation in the experiences of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in mainstream schools, according to new qualitative research from Ofsted. Their new report, Supporting SEND, details findings from a small scale study looking in-depth at the experiences of 21 pupils in seven mainstream schools across two local authorities. Ofsted acknowledges that, given the small numbers of pupils involved, the study may not be representative of the wider population of SEND pupils in mainstream schools. However the study was developed to explore how the needs of children and young people are met in mainstream schools and how approaches vary between providers. The research took place prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

They found that schools often took a pupil-centred approach when identifying needs and planning provision, but that staff did not always know pupils well enough for this to be effective. Gaps in understanding of pupils’ needs and starting points resulted in a negative impact on their experiences, learning and development. Ofsted found that, among their sample, this particularly seemed to be the case for children without education, health and care plans (EHCPs) and those who were less well known to their special educational needs coordinators (SENCos).

They also found that in some schools effective relationships with parents and carers had been developed, in which the school treated them as partners in co-production. These schools often used a range of formal and informal channels to encourage families to share information, and therefore enable pupils’ needs to be more accurately identified. Parents and carers in these schools felt well-supported by individual members of staff, such as the SENCo or a class teacher, and were more likely to be confident about the school’s broader approach to inclusion. However, more commonly across the schools, mechanisms for co-production with parents and carers were often in place but implementation was not always meaningful.

The research found that SENCos played a vital role, especially as a ‘crucial intermediary’ between external agencies, schools and families. However SENCOs sometimes felt they did not have enough time or support to carry out their role effectively, for example where the SENCo also had a role as a full-time class teacher. It was also found that external support from multi-agency services was valued by families and school staff. However both schools and families expressed frustration at long wait times and bureaucratic barriers to accessing such services. Similar concerns were expressed about the process for obtaining an EHCP.

Almost all the pupils who took part in the research had Teaching Assistant/s (TAs) allocated to them, either in the classroom, or to work with them out of the class on intervention activities. Many pupils were spending curriculum time with TAs rather than teachers, and Ofsted comment that this ‘raises concerns about pupils with SEND having full access to the high-quality teaching that they need’. Ofsted also suggest that TAs should receive training to enhance their ‘subject-specific curriculum knowledge’, as good subject knowledge will be needed to deliver intervention activities successfully.  

Overall, even within the small cohort taking part in the research, Ofsted found significant variation in experience and provision. They note that ‘The variation in support experienced by pupils in this study, even when they had a similar identified need, suggests that the SEND system relies on particular individuals performing important roles well and working together effectively.’ Although the inspectorate acknowledges that ‘absolute uniformity is unlikely’ they suggest that the significant variability in provision ‘is not an indicator of a system working effectively for children with SEND’.

Full report: https://tinyurl.com/tmn4d32m

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