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Ofsted: Weaknesses in SEND system exacerbated during pandemic

Existing weaknesses in the system for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ofsted has warned.

Ofsted inspectors found that families were exhausted, even despairing, particularly when they were still unable to access essential services for their children by the time the inspection was carried out in spring 2021.

Chief Ofsted Inspector Amanda Spielman said: “Many local area leaders and practitioners have gone above and beyond to support children and young people with SEND and their families during this challenging time. However, our report shows that children and young people were not always getting the education and care they needed, even before the pandemic.

“As the damaging effects of the pandemic on children and young people with SEND become clear, so too does the need to ensure that we are all playing our role in supporting them. We will work closely with CQC to develop a new framework to support improvement in the way education, health and care services work together to get the best possible outcomes for children,” she added.

Ofsted and The Care Quality Commission carried out joint visits to local areas during the autumn term 2020 and spring term 2021. The report reveals the cumulative effects of disruption caused by the pandemic on the health, learning and development of children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).

Negative experiences of children and families are outlined in the report, including missed and narrowed education, the absence of essential services such as physiotherapy or speech and language support, and long waiting times for assessment and treatment.

Children with SEND were more likely to have been ‘out of sight’ of services. Problems highlighted include:

  • Weaknesses in universal education, health and care services, resulting in children and young people not learning essential skills and knowledge, and mistakenly being identified as having SEND
  • Significant inconsistencies in how SEND is identified
  • A lack of joined-up commissioning and joint working across education, health and care
  • A lack of clarity between organisations about who is responsible and accountable within local area SEND systems.

Often children and families’ experiences are determined by their relationship with practitioners and the strength of partnership working in a local area, the report found.

The report highlights the importance of all education settings being ambitious for every child and young person with SEND, ensuring that they receive a good quality curriculum and teaching.

A number of recommendations for improvement in the SEND system are made in the report, including:

  • More accessible universal services for children and their families, delivered by practitioners with a strong understanding of how to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND
  • More accurate identification when children need targeted or specialist support and higher aspirations for children and young people with SEND
  • A greater sense of joint responsibility between partners in a local area, clearer accountability for different organisations within local systems, and greater coordination of universal, target and specialist local services so children get the right support at the right time.

Ofsted has been developing a new inspection framework with the CQC aimed at driving further improvement in the SEND system and supporting children and young people at this critical moment.

SEND: Old issues, New Issues, Next Steps

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