Free article: SEN reform - Progress so far

Published: Monday, 21 March 2016

After one year of implementation of SEN reform, schools and parents are reporting a very mixed picture across the country. Suzanne O’Connell considers what the DfE is proposing and what schools should be doing.


  • The implementation of the SEND code of practice across LAs and schools is varied.
  • The DfE is consulting on inspecting LAs’ SEN provision.
  • Schools will be visited as part of the inspection process.
  • It is important to show that all staff in the school are being held accountable for pupils with SEN and their progress.

The SEND code of practice placed much of the responsibility for implementation and development of SEN reform on individual local authorities (LAs). Although the code outlined what was expected there was still opportunity for local decision-making. In many respects this was to be welcomed. However, it has resulted in a wide variety of practice in different parts of the country.

Now, over a year since the SEND code of practice was officially implemented, the DfE wants to investigate how well LAs are doing in implementing the reform. The DfE released the consultation document Local area SEND inspections in October and the consultation closed in January.

The consultation proposes that Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will jointly inspect LAs across the country beginning in May 2016. Inspectors will evaluate:

  • how LAs, nurseries, schools, further education establishments and health services identify children and young people with SEN
  • how well they provide services to meet these needs both in nursery, school or further education colleges and through specialist services such as speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and mental health services.

Inspectors will look at students’ files and information about their progress and will visit early years’ settings, schools and further education colleges to inspect provision for themselves and hear their views.

All local areas will be inspected over a five-year period and there will be a risk assessment element to the selection where there are significant concerns about an area’s ability to fulfil its responsibilities. The inspection team will usually consist of an HMI from Ofsted, a Children’s Services Inspector from CQC and a trained inspector from a local authority but not from the area being inspected.

Inspectors will look at a wide range of groups of children and young people, different ages, different settings and those not attending school. The inspection will last five days and an outcome letter will be sent to the LA, which should then also be circulated to schools. There will be no overall graded judgement but the letter will include recommendations and any priority areas
for action.

It is not expected that local areas will have to prepare for the inspection as such, and inspection will begin with the LA’s own evaluation of how effectively it is meeting its responsibilities. The inspection will focus on all children with SEND, including those who don’t have education, health and care (EHC) plans, and the inspection reports will highlight strengths in local areas in order to help spread good practice.

Visits to schools

Although it is the LA that is being inspected, schools will be visited. The consultation document points out that the LA cannot implement the reforms on its own:

‘The inspection will, therefore, evaluate the effectiveness of the local area as a whole, which includes the local authority, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and NHS England (for specialist services), early years settings, schools and the further education sector, in working together to identify children and young people early and appropriately, and in meeting these needs and improving outcomes.’ (p.6)

When visiting schools inspectors will:

  • discuss with senior leaders and governors how the local area fulfils its responsibilities and how they contribute to these
  • look at a sample of students’ files and information about their progress 
  • not undertake observation of teaching and learning 
  • take account of the outcomes for children and young people in national assessments and their destinations after leaving school 
  • want to know how well the school and other professionals worked together during the assessment process 
  • gather the views of parents, carers, children and young people.

The ADCS (Association of Directors of Children’s Services) has fed back about the Ofsted consultation, saying that the plans are too broad, unsustainable and overly ambitious. They suggest that now is not the right time to begin this kind of inspection as the reform is still being embedded and LAs are not ready for inspection.

Accountability at school level

The first year of implementing the SEND code of practice was bound to see schools and LAs straddling both systems. The timetable for moving over from statements to EHC plans was optimistic, and many LAs and schools found themselves struggling to come through on time.

Ofsted may not be directly reporting on individual schools but it would seem a timely opportunity to check on the systems your school now has in place and how you are holding staff accountable for them. The National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER) research report Supporting the attainment of disadvantaged pupils: Articulating success and good practice has some important messages in terms of accountability and data analysis in our schools. Although it is focused on the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, its conclusions are just as relevant to the SEN department.

The NFER’s research notes the importance of having clear accountability of every staff member when it comes to helping disadvantaged pupils to succeed.

‘Senior leaders in more successful schools tended to devolve more responsibility to front line staff and to use support staff more effectively. Teaching assistants (TAs) were accountable to class or year group teachers; these people were accountable to middle managers (heads of year, inclusion or subject leads); who in turn were accountable to the SLT and the headteacher. Decisions were made collaboratively between the groups.’ (p.79)

To do this staff need training in understanding and examining data, as well as time to be provided for them to engage adequately with it. Every member of the SEN department should be responsible for their own data analysis rather than this being delegated to one individual.

It is worth identifying allocated time every term or half term for staff to analyse and share their data. These sessions should also incorporate sharing of strategies and setting outcome targets. Although the responsibility for analysing data should be shared, it is also important that staff know who to go to if they are having difficulties with this. Support and assistance should be made available to them.

‘A key feature in more successful schools was that teachers engaged with the data as well as school leaders. Staff were not simply inputting data and handing it over – they were looking at it, analysing it and using it to underpin their teaching. Staff in more successful schools had time allocated so that they could plan how to deliver their lessons to meet the needs of their disadvantaged pupils.’ (p. 79)

In more successful schools teachers uploaded pupils’ assessment data at least every six weeks. They analysed the data on a year group, class and individual level and looked at progress along with the headteacher and SLT. Line managers closely monitored the success that teachers were having in supporting their pupils in making progress.

Time is running out for using the speed of SEN reform introduction as an excuse. Schools and LAs must now tighten up their implementation timetables and ensure that accountability is clear at every level.

Further information

  • Local area SEND inspections: The inspection of local areas’ effectiveness in identifying and meeting the needs of children and young people who are disabled and have special educational needs:
  • Supporting the attainment of disadvantaged pupils: Articulating success and good practice: Research report, November 2015, Macleod, Sharp, Bernardinelli – NFER; Skipp – Ask Research; Higgins – Durham University: 

About the author

Dr Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance writer specialising in education. Prior to this she taught for 23 years and was a headteacher of a junior school in Nuneaton for 11 years.