Ofsted confirms U-turn over SEND in inspections

Ofsted scraps plan to remove 'high-needs' category in inspection framework after objections from FE providers

Stephen Exley

High-needs provision is to be retained in new Ofsted inspection framework for further education providers

Ofsted has scrapped a plan to remove the “high-needs” category for SEND provision from FE inspection reports.

The move, revealed by Tes on Friday, was confirmed by the inspectorate as it unveiled the final version of its new inspection framework.

It had proposed to scrap the existing six categories in reports: 16-to-19 study programmes; adult learning programmes; apprenticeships; traineeships; provision for learners with high needs; and full-time provision for 14- to 16-year-olds. These were due to be replaced with three new categories: education programmes for young people; apprenticeships; and adult learning programmes.

Background: Ofsted set to scrap high-needs inspection category

Read more: What the new Ofsted inspection framework will look like in FE

FE providers 'concerned' over SEND plans

However, in response to its consultation, Ofsted has confirmed that it will retain a section titled “provision for learners who have high needs”.

Ahead of the launch of the consultation into the new framework, Paul Joyce, Ofsted’s deputy director for FE and skills, said the proposals were intended to stop learners with SEND or high-needs being “marginalised or isolated” in inspection reports.

However, the proposed change faced widespread opposition from within the sector. In January, Clare Howard, chief executive of Natspec (the Association of National Specialist Colleges), said the high-needs section of reports “acted as a means of ensuring that providers were playing their part in delivering the SEND reforms, and has been a critical factor in improving the quality of provision for learners with SEND”.

Ofsted’s report on the consultation responses acknowledged that many had been “concerned” by the proposal.

Ofsted: 'We've listened'

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Mr Joyce said the move was “primarily due to the number of responses that we’ve got from the sector around this”.

“We thought long and hard about our proposal and, as was made clear in the consultation, we decided to suggest not having a separate category for high-needs provision to ensure that provision wasn’t isolated or marginalised.

“In FE and skills… often this provision is relatively small in a provider, and we wanted to avoid that relatively small department that may involve two or three staff and a handful of learners being actually identified and graded in a report.

“But we’ve balanced that with the consultation responses and, indeed, the teachers in the sector, local authorities and – importantly – parents and carers do actually value that grade, do actually value that narrative that inspectors provide… The consultation was to listen, and we’ve listened, and we’ve reinstated the grade.”

'Logistical' challenges of on-site preparation

Ofsted has also decided not to press ahead with plans for “on-site preparation” for short inspections before the formal start of the inspection proper. It noted that some respondents were “concerned about the logistical challenges presented by a perceived reduction in the notice period”.

However, plans to widen the window for reinspecting providers judged “requires improvement” from 12-24 months to 12-30 months have been given the go-ahead. Ofsted’s consultation response stated: “Those who supported the proposal often commented that genuine and sustained improvement can take time and that the new timescale would better enable Ofsted to reflect this, while also enabling us to reinspect those that make rapid progress more quickly and update their inspection judgements.”

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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