Q. The Office for Standards in Education has recognised the need for a "level playing field" when making judgments about schools in contrasting circumstances. But how can inspectors make allowances, in socially disadvantaged schools, for the demands of the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice and its overwhelming impact on other areas of school life and management? Will inspectors be satisfied with evidence that a school is doing its best to meet the requirements of the code, even if it cannot practically apply them to all targeted pupils?
A. I might have delayed an answer to this, since I am not wholly confident of my reply, had not the question reflected a growing concern on the part of many schools about their capacity to meet the needs of pupils as defined by the code.
The code makes heavy demands in terms of the entitlement of registered pupils. There seems to be little doubt that some schools are wilting under the strain of making proper provision. Many claim that insufficient account has been taken of the likely repercussions of the code. How then should an inspector react in a situation where, as the question suggests, a school is not meeting the code's requirements in relation to all the registered pupils because it claims it is not practicable to do so?
I think an inspector should seek assurance that: * governors are using their best endeavours to secure appropriate provision for their pupils who have special educational needs; * the processes set out by the code are in place, inform the school SEN policy and are understood by all teachers; * the special needs coordinator is provided with the authority, time, and resources to discharge the role and the means to support staff; * the detailed requirements for pupils whose special educational needs are pronounced and severe are met, including formal statementing where appropriate.
* provision accompanying such statementing is properly implemented.
Finally, I think the inspector should take account of the statement in the inspection handbook: "The degree to which pupils require additional help lies along a continuum and should be considered in the context of the provision normally available."
Perhaps mistakenly, I take this as a faintly enigmatic plea for discretion, a reminder that a school can not only do the best it can, but must do the best it can. I believe that one of the justifications of the inspection cycle is that it illuminates areas we have been squeamish about looking at and raises issues we have been reluctant to consider. The plight of disadvantaged schools in providing for SEN is surely one of these. Inspectors will help by considering their circumstances with particular care. But in the end OFSTED may just confirm for us that we have here a problem too large to solve at a purely local level.
Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.