Schools should face inspections focused on whether they are inclusive for pupils with special educational needs, according to a major new report.
The Commons Education Select Committee wants accountability checks on schools to be toughened up to assure parents that schools are delivering for pupils with SEND.
And it is also calling for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to be given powers to investigate complaints about individual schools.
Investigation: Two thirds of latest SEND area inspections find weaknesses
The MPs' report, published today, suggests that schools should face a new type of Ofsted inspection focused on those with special needs, or that the watchdog should increase its focus on SEND through existing inspections.
The committee recommends that the inspectorate should have a particular focus on pupils who receive SEN support – a package of help provided to pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools who do not have Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans.
It also calls for councils and health providers to face more rigorous and regular area-wide Ofsted and CQC inspections of SEND services to check whether government SEND reforms were working.
A Tes investigation last month revealed that more than half of the first 100 area inspections have found significant weaknesses with widespread concerns over the quality of education , health and care plans and the number of SEND pupils being excluded from mainstream schools.
The MPs' report, much anticipated by the sector, warns that families of children with SEND have been thrown into crisis by a system which is failing to meet their needs.
It has warned that “non-inclusive practice” in schools has resulted in children with SEND becoming victims of illegal exclusions, being told not to come on a school trip, to not apply to the school, off-rolled or encouraged to move schools.
The MPs say: "We do not think enough is being done to ensure that every pupil with SEND receives a high standard of education and that all schools are inclusive.
"Ofsted must deliver a clear judgement, and through this assurance to parents, that schools are delivering for individual children with SEND.
“It should either seek to do this through its existing programme of inspections, or alternatively develop a separate type of specialised inspection focusing on SEND, with a particular focus on the school’s responsibility to deliver for pupils on SEN Support and that inclusive schools get the recognition that they deserve.
"If this requires legislative change, the Department should work with Ofsted to bring forward proposals at the earliest possible opportunity.”
But school leaders have expressed concern about holding schools to account “with a big stick.”
Julie McCulloch, the director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders said: “We note the education committee’s recommendations for a greater focus on SEND in school inspections and powers for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to investigate complaints about schools, and we naturally recognise the vital importance that SEND provision is delivered to the highest possible standard.
“However, this crisis cannot be solved by the big stick of more oversight when what is needed is sufficient resources and joined-up education, health and social services which ensure the needs of these young people are met swiftly and in full.”
She said that the government’s underfunding of SEND services had left schools and colleges “desperately trying to secure Education, Health and Care plans for vulnerable pupils…while under the cosh of performance tables which effectively penalise them for having vulnerable intakes”.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “We launched our new inspections last month after extensive consultation with providers, parents and stakeholders. Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision was an important part of our consultation, and features prominently in the new inspection framework.
“Our inspections look at whether schools have an inclusive culture. Schools should identify and support pupils who have additional needs or barriers to learning, drawing on specialist support where necessary. We want schools to make sure that all children have a positive experience of learning and achieve the best possible outcomes.
"Our inspectors take a rounded view of the quality of education that a school provides to its pupils, including those with SEND.”
The select committee report calls for the government to fund a strengthened inspection system where local areas are checked annually.
It says: “CQC and Ofsted should design and implement an inspection regime that not only improves practice but has a rigorous framework that enables local authorities and their partners to be held to account and sets a clear timeframe for re-inspections.
"Ofsted and CQC should also clearly set out the consequences for local authorities and health bodies that fail their annual inspection”.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, welcomed the report, saying its "findings of families having to battle a system designed to support them, echoes what we’ve seen in the complaints we investigate".
"Sadly, we uphold almost nine out every ten investigations from children and families with special educational needs and disabilities," he added. "This is unprecedented in our work.
“As it stands, our ability to investigate all parts of the SEND system stops at the school gate, so I welcome the Committee’s recommendation to extend our powers to look at issues within schools, including free schools and academies.
"It is something we have long called for, and we stand ready to work with the government in taking it forward."