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'Well done, but what took you so long, Ofsted?'

Ofsted are showing interest in off-rolling, but they need also to show that they're prepared to do something, says Jarlath O'Brien

SEN Ofsted

Ofsted are showing interest in off-rolling, but they need also to show that they're prepared to do something, says Jarlath O'Brien

Ofsted's annual report has attracted much attention today, and rightly so. It is always a hot topic in our world, but the mainstream media seems to have been all over it today, too, which pleases me.

Two aspects of the report are particularly noteworthy.


The state of education for children with SEND remains of grave concern to colleagues nationwide. We are in a strange place where well over 90 per cent of England's special schools — where approximately half of all children with education, health and care plans are educated — are rated as good or outstanding (and outstanding special schools are not free from inspection, by the way), yet local authority after local authority is coming in for fierce criticism in their local area inspections about the implementation of the 2014 SEND reforms and of their assessment, commissioning and provision of services.

The outlook for SEND provision remains bleak as long as central government continues to starve local authorities of cash. Local authorities are easy to criticise, and they do deserve plenty of criticism for their handling of SEND services, but their progress is undoubtedly being hampered by funding challenges and until schools minister Nadhim Zahawi and education secretary Damian Hinds recognise this and find more money for SEND and less, alright none, for grammar school expansions then little or nothing will improve.

Illegal exclusion

The other area I lose sleep over is off-rolling and illegal exclusion. Calling it informal exclusion is like describing a root canal treatment as a dental tissue massage, so let's not beat about the bush here, and let's call it what it is.

I lose sleep over it because it has been going on for ages in plain sight and no-one has done a bloody thing about it.

Children with SEND (again), vulnerable children, children eligible for free school meals and some minority ethnic groups are more likely to leave schools and if anyone is surprised by this then I suggest that they haven't been paying attention these past few years.

I refuse to believe anyone in education is surprised by the details of today's announcement on this issue from Ofsted, so we've been complicit in allowing it to get this bad. I've reported flagrant cases in the past and this has made me unpopular with colleagues, and I will continue to do so where I see it, but I know for sure that in each case nothing was done.

And yet, not too much time will pass before we get yet another report of a headteacher appearing before the Teacher Regulation Agency for a case of misconduct for financial impropriety or for exam malpractice. We take harsher action on adults altering exam papers to improve a child's grade than we do when an adult denies a child to an education. What has happened to us to lose our perspective so spectacularly? Ofsted said that off-rolling showed where school leaders had "lost sight of their core purpose and put the school's interest ahead of the child's". They're right.

Given that Ofsted gave it so much light today I hope and expect to see them place serious emphasis in their inspections in the future on satisfying themselves that schools are not off-rolling, and for school leaders to be held accountable for their actions where evidence of this practice is proven.

I have three things to say to Ofsted following today's report.

Firstly: well done. For too long, I have felt that Ofsted wasn't interested enough in SEND and, in particular, off-rolling.

Secondly, what took you so long? Far too many vulnerable children have had their futures blighted by this shameful practice and it needs to be eliminated. Now.

Thirdly and finally, what are you going to do about it? You know how schools respond to perceived or actual demands from Ofsted. This time, use that for good. If schools know that you will be asking about changes to their numbers, they will need to be prepared with the answers. "What about schools with a naturally high turnover, Jarlath?" is a question I'm always asked. My local secondary is next door to the Royal Military Academy. I can be sure that their turnover of children is bigger than average because of the large number of service families in their community. They can easily explain this, and they will also happily show you that, of those that do leave, there isn't a gross over-representation of children with SEND or who are on free school meals. They won't also have a big spike of kids leaking out of their school before the January census in Year 11.

As Professor Gert Biesta says, "When a child becomes a liability for their school's performance, education is at an end."

Jarlath O’Brien works in special education in London. Better Behaviour – a guide for teachers is out now, published by SAGE

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