Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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A statement is not enough – Ofsted review of special educational needs and disability

A major review of special educational needs and disability arrangements published today by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, reveals a range of concerns about the current system and how well it is serving children and young people.

For the Special educational needs and disability review – a statement is not enough, inspectors carried out 345 detailed case studies of young people’s experience of the current system, held discussions with many other young people and their parents, and visited 22 local authorities and a total of 228 nurseries, schools and colleges. The review considers a wide range of evidence and covers the early years, compulsory education, 16 to 19 education, and the contribution of social care and health services.

Inspectors found many pupils would not be identified as having special educational needs if schools focused on improving teaching and learning for all. The review also found the current system is focusing too much on statements of need, and checking pupils are getting additional services, and too little on how much this support is actually helping children progress. The review recommends that schools should stop identifying pupils as having special educational needs when they simply need better teaching and pastoral support, and that there should be more focus on evaluating the quality and effectiveness of services for children with special educational needs.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, said:

'Although we saw some excellent support for children with special educational needs, and a huge investment of resources, overall there needs to be a shift in direction.

With over one in five children of school age in England identified as having special educational needs, it is vitally important that both the way they are identified, and the support they receive, work in the best interests of the children involved. Higher expectations of all children, and better teaching and learning, would lead to fewer children being identified as having special educational needs.

For those children with complex and severe special needs, schools often need the help of health and social care services. All these services should be focused on the quality of what they are doing, and how well young people are doing as a result. At the moment too much effort is going into simply checking that extra services are being provided.'

1.7 million school age children in England are identified as having special educational needs or a disability. These pupils are disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, are much more likely to be absent or excluded from school and achieve less well than their peers both at any given age and in terms of their progress over time.

Parents that inspectors spoke to felt that under the current system they needed to “fight for the rights” of their children, and often saw a statement of special educational need as a guarantee of additional support for their child. But inspectors found that the identification of a special need or disability did not reliably lead to appropriate, good quality support for the child concerned.

Inspectors also saw some schools that identified pupils as having special educational needs when their needs were no different from those of most other pupils. They were underachieving, but this was sometimes simply because the school’s mainstream provision was not good enough, and expectations for them were too low.

The review recommends that where a child or young person is underachieving, the school or setting should start by analysing the effectiveness of their mainstream teaching and support.

Inspectors found that for children with the most obvious and severe needs, access to appropriate provision, from a range of services, was relatively quick and started at an early age. However, where diagnosis was more complex, access to services was not as straightforward.

For young people aged between 16 and 19, access to appropriate provision varied across schools, colleges and post-16 training providers. The choice of education and training opportunities at 16 was limited for many young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. It was rare to find education provision equivalent to 25 hours over five days for a college course for young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, although this was common for post-16 students in the schools and independent specialist colleges visited. Past the age of 16, young people with learning difficulties or disabilities comprise one of the groups most likely not to be in education, employment or training.

Some schools and other organisations were working effectively together and focusing on the outcomes for the young person. Others were concentrating simply on what services were being provided or on processes, without focusing enough on the outcomes for individual children. What consistently worked well was rigorous monitoring of the progress of individual children and young people, with quick intervention and thorough evaluation of its impact.

The best providers had a good understanding of how to help young people become as self-reliant and as independent as possible, and the ambitions expressed by the young people were taken into account.

Taken together the implication of these findings is that any further changes to the system should focus on:

  • improving the quality of assessment
  • ensuring that, where additional support is provided, it is effective
  • improving teaching and pastoral support early on so that additional provision is not needed later
  • developing specialist provision and services strategically so that they are available to maintained and independent schools,
  • academies and colleges
  • simplifying legislation so that the system is clearer for parents, schools and other education and training providers
  • ensuring that schools do not identify pupils as having special educational needs when they simply need better teaching
  • ensuring accountability for those providing services focuses on the outcomes for the children and young people concerned.

Notes for Editors

Notes to Editors:
1. The Special educational needs and disability review is available on the Ofsted website

2. Inspectors visited 22 local authorities between May 2009 and the end of March 2010. They visited providers from the early years private, voluntary and independent sectors; the early years maintained sector; maintained nursery, primary, secondary and special schools; non-maintained and independent special schools; discrete and general provision in further education colleges; independent specialist colleges; work-based learning providers, and care homes.

3. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

4. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 6899 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.


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