Ofsted Speaks

Well! There I was, checking my email before I set off for home, and what should I find but a reply from the Man From Ofsted.  Here it is. (Just this once I am breaking a rule and putting someone else’s words in a post, but bearing in mind that this is an important issue to me, I thought I may as well.  Normal service will resume shortly.)  There is a link at the end to the consultation, but please feel free to use the comments below.

Dear Nancy

Thank you for your letter. You raise many important points.

Firstly let me explain that the inspectors who will carry out these inspections will have a depth of expertise in disability and special educational needs.  The team will include a HMI who is a specialist in disability and special educational needs and has received additional training in this area of inspection work. The CQC inspector is similarly a specialist in evaluating specialist children’s services. The third team member will be a local authority officer who is working at a senior strategic or operational level in special educational needs. The local authority officer inspectors will be recruited and trained specially for these inspections and, of course, will not inspect in any areas where have any connections.

Inspectors are clear that they will look for high expectations for disabled children and young people who have special educational needs from all involved. The consistent finding of Ofsted’s inspections and surveys is that this is the singular, most important feature for making the most progress. However it would not be right to say that having high expectations for progress and providing high quality health and social care are contradictory. High quality care contributes well to meeting a young person’s special educational needs and maximising their progress.

You raise the topic of identification of special educational needs. It is crucial that this is done well. The new inspection consultation paper explains that effective identification includes:
*         the timeliness of the assessment from when concerns were raised; as you explain the identification of special educational needs is not simply a matter of a young person having low attainment for their age.
*         the usefulness of the information provided by the identification, in terms of how it helps to plan effectively to meet the young person’s needs
*         how well different teachers and professional work together during assessments
*         the involvement of and understanding by the young person
*         the involvement of and understanding by parents and carers.

All of these aspects are so important and will form the basis of the inspectors’ evaluation.

Inspectors will expect to see how the local area has identified the area’s needs, based on a careful analysis of information about the special educational needs of their young people. They will then look at how well this analysis is matched by the area’s provision, in its mainstream and special schools, by specialist services and, where appropriate, through social care. This picture is the Local Offer and inspectors will ask parents about how useful they have found the published offer for their area.

Thank you for raising these matters, however, I must be very clear that it would be wrong to expect these inspections by themselves to right all of the concerns of all parents. The reforms are new and will need time to be implemented. The inspections will provide a rigorous evaluation of the whole local area, however we must be realistic that they cannot look at every concern raised by every parent. They will highlight key strengths and aspects requiring development and the inspection reports will provide a catalyst for change both in the area being inspected and to other local areas.

You included the link to the consultation in your open letter and I repeat it again here and ask as many as possible to respond:

Yours sincerely

Sean Harford HMI
National Director, Education

25 thoughts on “Ofsted Speaks

  1. Great post as always Nancy! Also Great that Sean sends such a detailed and carefully thought out and impeccably crafted response.I get so fed up of people being so cynical about everyone/everything and we have to work hard to recognise that there are good, kind and decent people looking after our interests. And who are prepared to put their heads on the block! Working together will take us much further than doing nothing but criticising. Well done you for such a result!

  2. Nancy – I went to see Sean Harford about a six year old special needs child who was illegally excluded in the mornings for a very long time (it ended up being months). The child’s school was judged ‘outstanding’ at the point where the child had already suffered the illegal exclusion for ten weeks and the lead inspector was fully informed at the time about the father’s worries about the illegal exclusion.

    The child’s afternoon timetable I likened to being fit only for a ‘performing circus monkey’ and the child had the velcro-teaching-assistant that the child knew wrote everything down.

    The child had to attend a ‘forest school’ one day a week.

    In effect, then, she had four afternoons a week at school with the inadequate afternoons-only time-table for months.

    The father and I complained vociferously to Ofsted and I went through three levels of complaint with specific questions and found the complaints procedure was not fit-for-purpose – we were stonewalled on every front.

    We happened upon the Children’s Commissioner’s reports on illegal exclusions which drew attention to this national disgrace and the fact that it was impossible to hold anyone to account for this state of affairs (illegal exclusions). There was a quote from Sir Michael Wilshaw stating that no school could be outstanding if illegal exclusions were involved.

    As you know, Nancy, I am experienced in lobbying and debating but I could not get through the system because the complaints system is not fit-for-purpose and Ofsted does not have to pay any regard to individual’s circumstances – even if these indicate inadequacy within the school!

    And the Children’s Commissioner is toothless with ‘no authority’ and also does not take into account individual cases.

    The Ofsted Adjudicator has no authority and only investigates Ofsted’s policies and procedures – not the details of ‘the case’.

    I have NO FAITH whatsoever in people within organisations supposedly established for the care and welfare of our nation’s children.

    The people who investigate complaints about Ofsted – are Ofsted inspectors.

    The inquiry within the school itself was led by Governors to the school – guess what their verdict was – no accountability there.

    I could list the numerous organisations and procedures I went through in this case and it is farcical.

    I was told by Ofsted, including by Sean, to go through the Freedom of Information process to get the information I needed which was the details of the school’s incident records to justify why a six year old girl was excluded and not provided for during months of her infant years. They needed to be scrutinised because the exclusion and the provision was illegal and not fit-for-purpose on any level.

    The Freedom of Information personnel would not provide us with the information upon which the inspector thought it was acceptable to exclude the child concerned.

    The new, very poorly-informed headteacher to the school now believes that she is ‘outstanding’ and her school is ‘outstanding’ in all areas – I dispute this. This is a dangerous state of affairs. She protested during the inquiry that she had done everything the SEN advisors told the school to do – so cartwheels in the field, giving her special big ball a name, providing a comfy cushion in the classroom (although she was rarely allowed in the classroom), helping out in Reception, going on the computer, wearing a traffic lights bracelets to indicate when she was having a ‘meltdown’ and wanted to do ‘something else’. What !!!!

    Most worryingly, the case involved numerous local authority special needs specialists. My goodness, ‘specialists’ – then what are they doing for our children who may need high-quality and specialist teaching – or even bog-standard ordinary basic skills teaching (which this child needed and did not get)? There were numerous people and organisations that needed to be held to account and, eventually, as I discovered organisation after organisation, in effect, closed ranks, and they could not be engaged with actual facts – or even engaged at all (such as, the phone was never answered, no-one responded to emails, no-one answered specific questions, and so on). I eventually had to give up as I am an extremely busy lady and was getting nowhere no matter what I tried.

    I am very upset about this, however, because if someone like me cannot penetrate the system/s – and there is a perpetual cop-out for all these weighty organisations that individual cases don’t count, then what is the point of any of it?

    I sat through watching ‘Suffragettes’ recently and spent the whole time wondering what I might do next about this situation – not for the individual child concerned (who I believe is still being treated like an SEN child being sent to the forest school once a week even though she is now in another school – rather than getting the high-level teaching she needs for literacy and numeracy – but how pleasant for her to be running around a forest at the weekend and in the holidays and now during school time too) – but for all the other children who are hidden victims of an inadequate care and education system.

    A million chidren consists of a million individual children.

    I want everyone to ask themselves this – if every organisation has the cop out ‘we’ll spend time and money on our surveys and systems but I’m afraid we can do nothing for the individual child’ then there is no point to any of it.

    In my particular professional domain of basic literacy, I am often written to by despairing parents, sometimes of ‘special needs’ children, who feel or suspect that their child’s school is not providing appropriately for their child.

    Do we get any back-up by any system, any organisation, or any ‘real’ consequence for this state of affairs?


    Believe me, I can bring plenty of evidence to the table of a crime against at least one child in a school judged to be ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted – and I know of many other cases. But the systems would not let me bring it, and learn about their supposed evidence to test it, to refute it, to challenge it, or to understand the judgement.

    I will not be quiet about this situation. Bring it on.

    I can hold my own when it comes to evidence – the minutiae – but I was not given a chance to do so because the various organisations are unaccountable and not fit-for-purpose on any level.

    1. Oh Debbie, this is what I fear! Situations like this CANNOT be allowed to continue! As you so rightly say, who will inspect the inspectors? Who will ensure that ranks will not close? After a week in which inquests into the deaths of young people with SEND have taken place, where professionals have indeed closed ranks, we cannot afford to allow the same thing to happen in our sphere. Well said, Debbe, well said.

    2. My experience is very, very similar to Debbie’s. At every level.

      We got an apology in our case, but only through the efforts of our MP and a supportive charity. And five years later, Ofsted inspectors committed exactly the same error. This time, no apology.

      It’s worth noting that Ofsted have recently updated their complaints policy. Since September, Ofsted no longer ‘normally’ accepts or investigates complaints from third parties.

      Ofsted explicitly include parents in their definition of ‘third parties.’ People separate from the process of inspection. People with no stake. Which is bizarre – even more so when you look at how – (and why) local authority seniors will be riding shotgun on these inspections.

      I know a lot of parents of kids with SEND. I know very few who take unaccountable crap lying down. The next year should be very interesting.

  3. “The reforms are new and will need time to be implemented.” There it goes again. What, other than SEND reforms, and possibly houses, are classed as still new after a year??

  4. People can judge for themselves whether they think it was OK for a six-going-on-seven year old child to be excluded four mornings a week from her local primary school (with no alternative provision) for around 8 months – and whether it was OK at the ten week period to judge the school concerned ‘outstanding’. Here is the Children’s Commissioner’s report on illegal exclusions for anyone who is truly interested – it’s shocking:

    Click to access Always_Someone_Elses_Problem.pdf

    This was my final summary letter to Ofsted:

    “Thank you for your official response to my multi-faceted complaint.

    Your response did not surprise me.

    To take my complaint to the adjudicator would be a further waste of precious time when you have made it perfectly clear to me that any subsequent investigation would, yet again, be based on faceless, humanity-less, commonsense-less, policies and procedures – totally unrelated to the content of my complaint that your school’s inspector HAS NOT TO DATE accounted for condoning an illegal exclusion which has caused considerable misery – nor accounted to the father of the child concerned in response to his complaint.

    Nor has anyone in your organisation ACCOUNTED TO THE CHILD HERSELF who is the victim at the heart of this.

    Nor has anyone in your organisation ACCOUNTED TO THE MOTHER OF THE CHILD who was duped by your inspection process into thinking her child’s headteacher and teachers are ‘outstanding’ and therefore ‘must be right’ in excluding her child for months on end and putting the responsibility for the child’s education in her non-professional, single parent’s hands.

    Nor has your complaints procedures accounted for the judgements of the procedures with any evidence to explain the original inspector’s judgements – the system has only listed ACTIONS TAKEN, not provided EVIDENCE or EXPLANATIONS upon which judgements were made.

    This is an extraordinary set of circumstances in an era when teachers themselves have to provide EVIDENCE AD NAUSEUM for every step they take and judgement they make for every child in their care.

    We are in an era of evidence-overload AND YOU HAVE PROVIDED NONE.

    This is an extraordinary set of circumstances in an era when parents can be fined (and Sir Michael Wilshaw speaks about this vociferously with no compassion or understanding) for taking their children on family holidays in school time.

    How does a week or a fortnight’s family holiday compare with months of a child being illegally excluded?

    Such hypocrisy.

    I expected nothing different from you regarding your final verdict based on my experiences of Ofsted’s inspection policies and procedures and complaints’ policies and procedures to date.

    But I was hopeful that at some higher level that those in charge such as yourself could transcend the stonewalling, obfuscating realities of those Ofsted policies and procedures which, in my experience, are not at all fit-for-purpose – that is, they are clearly unrelated to accountability and justice for real children’s education and welfare.

    The length and scale of the child’s exclusion should have enabled a humane, timely and appropriate response from your Ofsted inspectors at every level. This was an emergency and transcended the time-consuming processes at school level, governor level and local authority level.

    It was YOUR OFSTED INSPECTOR who swept this case under the carpet, condoned it, and complicated the context.

    It was YOUR OFSTED COMPLAINTS’ PROCEDURES POLICIES AND PROCEDURES that enabled your organisation to get away with wrong decisions at the point of the school inspection and subsequently.

    Your letter has confirmed to me that Ofsted is entirely unaccountable and it has dealt with my complaints based not on the needs of an innocent child, nor on my accusation (in effect) that your Ofsted representative, ……………….. , arguably did not fulfil her remit well enough nor account for herself to me, or the child’s father, or to the child herself, or the child’s mother, nor have your procedures addressed my concerns which was to provide actual evidence upon which …………… based her judgement that the child concerned had been dealt with correctly, legally, justifiably.

    Your response, and the response of your colleagues and your organisation, are nothing less than ‘jobsworth’.

    You have shielded ………….. – and you have shielded your organisation – by your policies and protocols.

    Your inspection compounded the problem of the illegal unwarranted exclusion of an innocent child – aged six turning to seven – and is this child any less important than ten such children, or a thousand or a million?

    A million children is made up of individual children.

    Ofsed has not accounted for the fact that I QUESTIONED IN WRITING whether I was being put on the correct ‘step’ of complaints procedure – and I was told IN WRITING – that I was on the correct procedure.

    Ofsted has showed no compassion, no common sense, no justice, no humanity, no judgement, no professionalism in this case.

    I think your Ofsted system is a disgrace and you have not advised me, nor the child’s father soon enough, nor well enough – and I hope that, if nothing else, this case might have touched a few consciences along the way.

    Your sincerely,

    Debbie Hepplewhite

    cc. Public Domain”

    I realise that I have written in a very strident way – but compare that to a very long time of a little child getting the message that, actually, her school did not really want her there.

  5. As a profession we must genuinely adopt a more transparent and forensic approach to identification of SEND- especially academic, social and mental health needs. This needs to be a holistic approach carried out by staff in schools, with parental input and timely access and feedback from the whole range of outside agencies such as EP, OT, SALT, paediatricians etc. This of course requires assured funding, rather than bought in services, and the time for colleagues to evaluate, plan and review the ‘ diagnosis’ and implement strategies.

    Will Ofsted really be able to effectively scrutinise and evaluate the identification, implementation of interventions and outcomes? Without this oversight and then, hopefully, exemplification of what is realistically possible is there any point in pretending SEND provision will meet the needs of children as individuals. The children will be attending school but will they just present?

  6. To consider the prospects for rigorous inspection of LAs, we could start by considering how Ofsted are doing inspecting SEN in schools.

    As Debbie points out, too often ‘SEN’ is ‘ seen as little more than a side-line issue which should not get in the way of the really important ‘mainstream’ business of a school being found outstanding.

    Here’s a challenge.

    Go to Ofsted’s website. Look through the most recent reports and try and find an Ofsted report on a school that mentions, let alone discusses, the Equality Act, its Regulations and inclusion. The best you can hope for is some bland statement about children with SEND making average, better than average progress etc. Based on what? Academic levels.

    Yet the law requires a whole range of measures to be put in place and evidenced to comply with the Equality Act and its regulations and Ofsted has confirmed its inspectors are supposed to be inspecting compliance.

    So how are we supposed to believe that Ofsted inspection of redoubtable LA SEN teams, often all too well-versed in rose-tinting reality and frequently lacking in any real strategy for inclusion, is going to make a difference?

    In a world of block-contacted, cheap, generic provision for those lucky enough to get anything and of scant regard for truth and lawful duties, it may be just another way of silencing parents by way of Ofsted rubber-stamping.

  7. My son’s school was recently inspected by Estyn (Wales). It is a Hearing Impairment Unit. At the time there was no teacher of the deaf in place. We wrote to the inspectors about the failings of the fairly new head teacher but the unit was still seen to be fine and dandy!!

  8. another thing is that the health authority aren’t really into early intervention. They talk a lot about it but in reality the systems they have in place aren’t doing a good enough job. If our sons hearing impairment was diagnosed earlier we would have had a clearer picture of his educational needs. He was assessed by the LA EP as having severe /profound learning difficulties. We had his privately assessed and in parts of the assessment he was borderline average!! He has processing difficulties so would have really struggled without us challenging the system. Early diagnosis of hearing impairment is vital as he had no chance of learning language and without language you cant access the curriculum!

  9. Not a long response – but in my humble opinion OFSTED outlived it’s usefulness decades ago. It costs millions of pounds a year and yet barely any education professionals I know consider it to be fit for purpose. Thanks for including the consultation link, I will have a look at that.
    I am enjoying the TES a little more now it has some new contributors by the way. Keep it up!

  10. Nancy – I just had to share the private comment one of my sons made to me about this whole issue of no-one in Ofsted, nor the Children’s Commissioner’s dept, nor anyone anywhere in educational and care authority, being prepared to take any responsibility whatsoever for the exclusion I reported to you earlier in this posting. Out of the mouths of babes….

    “So Jess and I just watched “Experiment” – a film about Stanley Milgram’s obedience studies. I learnt about Milgram during GCSE psychology. I would say it was a big motivator for me needing to stir up all that drama at foodstuff’s (the job where Jess and I worked in the freezer) despite the personal stress it caused and indeed it reminds me to always try and do what it right especially when it is difficult or unnatural to do so.

    Perhaps it is worth referencing and linking the results to people and institutions with whom you run aground with? So the next time they try to pass the buck or shirk responsibility you will be giving them a gentle reminder that by avoiding the issues at hand they as an individual are directly responsible for hindering the education of people’s children – even if they feel that they are just doing what they are told – it is what it is – or its not their job etc etc.

    I’m sure despite the stonewalling and passing the buck they are bright enough to grasp the parallel such a reference will draw.

    – just a thought i figured i would share.”

    Needless to say, I’m very proud that a son of mine has such thought-processes. He has demonstrated on many occasions that he will do something about an unjust scenario despite considerable angst and cost to himself.

    He has far more about him than those with clout hiding behind organisations’ ‘policies and procedures’ and supporting complaints systems that are not fit-for-purpose – and who betray individual children (untold numbers of them) abysmally.

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