Tag Archives: ofsted

Having your cake and eating it

One of the things I was very interested to read yesterday was Ofsted’s annual report. Reading Ofsted reports is not something I would ordinarily do with much gusto (unless, of course, it was a school I worked in and I knew that someone was going to say something nice about me), but yesterday, given that I have become more and more interested in strategic pronouncements from our inspectorate, I read it with interest.

And what should I find there? Lo, and behold, much to my astonishment, a whole section about SEND. After the last few years, since I have been able to be outward looking enough to notice, the silence on matters SEND, from all sorts of educational establishments and offices has been, frankly, deafening. I, for one, am heartened that the spotlight has shifted its focus and started to shine our way.

Some of the report was good to see. The unacceptably high number of school exclusions that concern SEND of some kind. This is unacceptable. I agree. The continuing rise in home education for many of these young people and the concern raised about LA’s ability to keep an eye on them and make sure everyone is OK speaks to me of how many people’s right to an education is being ignored.

It was alright for us. Along with so many since 2010, we had the option to send our child to a special school. With an EHCP, he was able to get into one, and an excellent job it did too. I recognise that we were part of the rise in numbers of families choosing the specialist sector for their children. I’m very grateful that so many have read our story, and that it has played its part in heightening awareness of the difficulties many of us face, every day, in dealing with the education system. Without that special school, our son may well have found himself in some sort of time-warp, when children with his kind of disability were deemed ineducable, and I would definitely have been mentally crushed.

But many, the majority, of children with some sort of special educational need or disability do not find themselves in so fortunate a position. The majority of young people with a SEND of some sort do not have an EHCP, and neither are they educated in the specialist sector. As such, and I quote, these children:

…often have a much poorer experience in the education system than their peers…parents reported that they had been asked to keep their children at home because leaders said that they could not meet their children’s needs.

 Many children who have SEND present very challenging behaviour…The number of pupils who have SEND and were excluded [from school] was typically high.

This is, indeed, unacceptable.

And yet.

We are told that:

Higher than average rates of exclusion were also common [in failing schools]. However, this was sometimes seen as a positive step and linked to leaders taking a robust stance on behaviour.…

I don’t know, but it seems to me that we have got a bit of having your cake and eating it going on with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate. Which is it? In, or out?  Exactly which children are we talking about here?

Why is this is so difficult? And so difficult to emphasise?

The underlying causes of poor behaviour in children are not always evident, and therefore there is always a risk of misidentification.

I’ll finish with this quote, which was written in the context of shared British values and jumped out at me when I read it, and remembered with sadness all the little souls I have taught and I thought about my own children and their lived experience through this inspection period and wondered exactly which shared values we were thinking of.

…there are…those who seek to isolate young people from the mainstream, do not prepare them for life in Britain, or worse, actively undermine British values.


For more comment, please read:



Maybe one day I’ll come up with a few solutions, and we can start building that better system for us all.


The Education Select Committee

I’ve never indulged in such nerdiness before, I have to admit. I’ve usually got far more important things to be doing (like cleaning the bathroom, or something), however, when I realised that the Education Select Committee were meeting to discuss the purpose of education, and their two witnesses for questioning were Sir Michael Wilshaw and Sean Harford (of Ofsted fame), AND that it was on the telly, in between other appointments,I tuned in. And very interesting it was too – particularly the reporting of the event in the education press.

So, I thought I would (for your reading pleasure) collate the points that struck me, as I was watching – so that you don’t have to.
1. SMW is, like, really, really, really keen on Leadership. It is the solution to everything, from the teacher recruitment/retention crisis (we ought to advertise the very great financial rewards for those who make Leadership their career) to the constant conundrum of raising standards in our schools (we need good ones). Leadership determines everything. Apparently.

2. Ofsted is a burden upon schools. Mr Harford, the ‘soft and fluffy face of Ofsted’ (if you will pardon my lightheartedness) made a surprisingly candid admission to the committee. I’m not sure whether he meant it was an emotional and stressful burden, one that drives so many decisions in schools, or a financial one, but he’s right. It is.

3. SMW doesn’t know much about special educational needs and/or disabilities, and either does he see this group of children and young people as fundamental to improving our education system or closing any gaps (as far as I could see). When asked about the value of tracking certain groups of students to check how they were getting on, he chose to focus on the children who get A-A* at GCSE, and why more children who get L6 at primary weren’t going on to get top grades in subsequent exams. Catherine McKinnell raised the issue of barriers to learning, and those children who benefit from a practical education, but the conversation didn’t seem to go anywhere. There was talk of dumbing down from Mr Harford, for those students who go on to functional skills courses, and much frowning about careers advice in general. It seems that if you get a D in English at 16, you should be able to get a C at 19. So that’s alright then.

4. SMW is very much a secondary school head teacher. This is what he knows about – and this is what he thinks all educational establishments should be (I suspect). You can tell this by his suspicion of primary school results (are they teaching science and art?) and his statement that all 16-19 education should be in schools, rather than FE colleges which are, he says, ‘in a mess’. His certainty has the tendency to obscure very real questions, I think, about primaries and FE colleges and the pressure they are being put under and the nature of the children and young people they serve and their needs.

5. How easy it is for people who know what they are talking about to bamboozle those who are feeling their way into understanding of our education system and how it works. There were some questions from MPs who had clearly listened to teachers in their constituency – and yet their questions were brushed aside by talk of ‘good schools will be doing what they should anyway’ – which sounds so glib, so true, so unassailable, that it is difficult to question.

Which leaves me with the last two interesting observations.

6. When questioned by an MP who actually knew what she was talking about from within the system, no less, Marion Fellows, it was possible for a mild mannered Scottish woman to get her gentle point across. Some children hate school and the FE college can be a new start for them – and change lives.

And last, but not least:

7. It all ended in a rather jolly way, with everybody having a sort of Scooby Doo chuckle at the end. How terribly nice – and how many important questions, for me anyway, left unanswered. I’m no further on. I still don’t know what any of them think is the purpose of education – other than to ensure that more children get A*s.

Speak Truth to Power part one

Now that I’m back at home from my visits to London, I’ve had a little while to think about where we go from here as far as education and SEND is concerned.  I thought, being as I have a dual investment, as it were, in its success, that I’d put some ideas down on paper, get some discussion going, that sort of thing.

We all know – or those of us with an interest in the area anyway – that there is too little good practice going on that is shared, and that too few people know about it.  Too few people feel they can change what goes on, even when they do know about alternatives.  It is my personal view, backed up with nothing better than a hunch, that many of the people with good ideas – the people who actually carry them out – are too far down the hierarchical pecking order to get their voices heard.  Patchy is the word that is bandied about.

We all know that, in the field of special educational needs and/or disabilities, the consequences of getting it wrong are very great for the children concerned.  There is, as the lady said, a moral imperative in the work that we do.  So let’s put the arguments behind us and work together to get it right.


I’ve had a bit of a think and I’ve arranged my thoughts into themes, from the general to the particular.  I’m very good at big picture stuff, but not so hot on things like details, so don’t expect to see too many of them here – if you have any good ones, add them to the comments below.  Because I’ve had many, many thoughts, I shall split them into a couple of posts.


National Government

In my view (and if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you will know this already) the government in the form of the Department for Education, needs to look at the purpose of education and whether the system we have is fit for it.

Personally, if the purpose is to fit all of our young people out with the skills and knowledge they are going to need in order to live an independent life as possible, I don’t think we are doing very well.  There are pockets of greatness, yes, but pockets are not what we are after, are we?

We have got to a situation where Education is serving itself, rather than the children, and we have an almighty job on our hands to change the prevailing culture.  Success comes in many forms, and so does accountability, so that really needs to be looked at.

League tables and end of school examinations and accreditations need to be changed.  Alternative forms of accountability need to be considered, and exams/accreditations that allow children and young people with SEND to show what they know in positive way need to be found and celebrated.

If you’ve got any ideas about how we could go about making the system of accountability and exams better, I’d be grateful if you could add them to the comments.


The role of inspection

I wrote to Mr Harford last month about what I would like him to inspect as far as services for children and young people with SEND are concerned, and I agree with many that there is an important role that Ofsted can play as far as ensuring people are getting their best start.  However, it also seems to me that Ofsted has a lot to answer for for instilling a culture of fear in our schools, and fear is bad for learning and bad for SEND.  So, we need to know that inspectors will look at all sorts of data, the qualitative and the quantitative, when they are making their judgements, and have in mind the most vulnerable as well as the brightest and the best.  We need them to challenge the tick box culture that is strangling education.  We need to believe that this is what they will do.

If a school isn’t doing as well as it might with their vulnerable kids, what are Ofsted going to do about it?  Is there a way where they can help, rather than simply pronounce judgements?

As an aside, I think it would be enormously helpful if the four categories were abolished and sent to the bottom of the ocean in a concrete overcoat.  Either a school is a good school or it isn’t.  That’s all we need to know, frankly, and the same goes for teachers.  Anything else just encourages window dressing.



We need co-operation and collegiate working, not competition.  Teachers in different schools need to be able to meet together.  Training needs to be improved, inspection simplified, and flexible provision ensured.  Above all, we need a culture change.   We need to stop seeing children with SEND in a medicalised way.

Thanks for reading.  Please do contribute your ideas in the comments.


An open letter to Mr Harford

Dear Mr Harford,

I saw the link for a consultation on inspection for provision for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) today while I was eating my sandwiches.  I will be responding to the consultation later, but, while it is on my mind, I wanted to put some thoughts down on paper (as it were), in case the questions in the consultation don’t quite address my concerns and my train of thought is derailed.

If you don’t mind, I’ll get straight to the point.

  • The conflation of education with care

It may seem like a small thing to many people, and there is no doubt that some students with disabilities do need an element of care, but I cannot stress how important it is that, in educational establishments at the very least, care does not form a much of a part in assessment of services or in the language we use around the subject, except where there is a medical need for that child or young person.

The reason is this: while a medical model of disability is used in the diagnosis of an SEND, it is there that its usefulness in terms of provision and expectations pretty much ends – and the excuses begin.  What children with SEND need from us is an education so that they can, as much as they are able, become useful and valued members of society, rather than dear weak souls who must be cared for for the length of their short lives.  Being kind and caring is very nice, but it doesn’t make one effective.

**Amendment** I think it is worth asking the question of people what we mean by care. I am writing about the medical sort, where people are looked after rather than empowered. This is because my son has Down’s syndrome and this is something we have come across. It’s not great.

In that case, I would ask that you would ensure that your teams of inspectors are well trained in special education, so that the very last thing that they can be accused of is of patronising either the schools or the children with a ‘poor little dears’ mentality that devalues their judgements.

I would suggest, in this endeavour, that your inspectors have some time to familiarise themselves – as well as become inspired by great practice – with the fabulous schools and colleges who are working to change lives and secure futures right now.

  • Identification

Identification of SEND is a fraught business, and, as both a parent and a teacher I have a couple of thoughts to add to the mix.  As far as a condition like my son’s, Down’s syndrome, is concerned, it is a relatively simple matter to diagnose.  An experienced midwife and a quick blood test and you’re done.  There is either an extra chromosome or there isn’t.  Where the problem lies is in how this diagnosis is communicated to parents, both expectant and very new.

Could I suggest that you take some time to look at the work of Hayley Goleniowska on the language that people working in the medical profession use when talking to new or expectant parents.  While I appreciate that Ofsted has little to do with medicine, the EHCP is where the two worlds meet, and this attitude of doom towards disability has really got to change.

As far as identification in schools is concerned, I would like you to ensure that teachers (all of them) know that SEND is not directly linked to attainment.  I am not convinced that many teachers really understand this (particularly in primary, because I work in that phase)  – and autism is a case in point.  The *amendment* average age of diagnosis for Asperger’s (that’s people with Autism who function at a high educational level) is 11-12 years old.  They have left us in primary, and have joined the secondary school – where their chances of losing the plot and being excluded are much higher.

Often, I hear of the reason why a child does not have a diagnosis of whatever learning disability it might be, is that their attainment is not bad enough.  Well, what happens when working their little socks off is not going to help them any more?  What happens when they can no longer cope?  They still have an SEND.  It’s not always about attainment by any means.

We seem to have a ‘step in when we are at crisis point’ mentality and this has to change.

  • Local area arrangements

I would like you to look at firstly how these are communicated to parents.  Putting them up on a badly designed local authority website is not good enough.  Handing out the odd glossy leaflet is not good enough.

Parents of children with SEND are often tired and hassled.  Information has a tendency to go in one ear and out of the other.  Someone needs to take responsibility for making real relationships and having enough knowledge of what is out there to make sure that the right thing gets to the right person at the right time.

At the moment it is far too ad hoc and this has to change.

In addition, I would like you to look at where activities and services are happening in relation to where the children and young people actually live.  Are they having to drive some distance so that they can access something that is suitable for their needs, or have all methods been employed to ensure that there are quality inclusive options in their area so that they can get together with their typically developing peers in sensitive and creative ways, rather than be herded together, miles away from the communities in which they live, in some sort of ‘Special Needs Club’?

If there are inclusive options, I would like you to assess their quality.  Saying that everyone is welcome is the first step on the journey but it is not enough.  I am not sure that everyone understands this and that there are some providers out there who claim to be inclusive, invite some disabled kids along (preferably the easy(!) ones) and change nothing about what they do – as part of some tick box exercise in order that they can get their funding.  This has to change.

I would like you to investigate the level of training, knowledge and understanding of SEND in our schools.  I’m not convinced that it is very good – and that has to change.

  • Inspect the inspectors

Let’s face it, the focus on attainment and progress at all costs isn’t helpful as far as inclusive practice is concerned.  Learning needs and disabilities come in many shapes and forms, they aren’t easy to understand, and neither is teaching children with them easy to do.  Sometimes it can take a child a long time to get to a place where they are capable of learning.  This needs to be explicitly understood by inspectors and good practice celebrated.  Otherwise nothing will change.

I hope you don’t mind me making this letter an open one – I have a sneaking suspicion that there are lots of other people out there who will read it – and will have something else of value to contribute.

If you are reading this and you have a story to tell Mr Harford that will help him in his endeavours to understand the state of provision for children and young people with SEND, please do use the comments.  Here is the link to the consultation.

Thank you for reading,



Here is a picture of my son reading – which some teachers believed he would never be able to do – and told me so.
A comment from a friend regarding mental health:

My concern is that many children with SEND also need support from Children’s Services for Short Breaks, Family Support, Child Protection and so on; they’re not getting it. In my own LA, an Ofsted inspection earlier this year rated Children’s Services as Inadequate and they deserved it. It’s given them such a kick up the bum that Social Workers are now trying really hard and managers are responding. For so long we’ve wanted Ofsted to get involved in SEND and expose what goes on: if they are opening files and interviewing families I think that’s a very good thing and we need to work with them to get it right.

Tospy Turvey

My son goes to an Outstanding school.  Not that what Ofsted had to say about it bore any bearing whatsoever on our decision to send him there.  I’ve never been one for looking at school websites, or reading Ofsted reports (unless I am applying for a job there) or checking their place in the league tables.  I’d much rather go and have a look round on an ordinary day, get a feel for the place, ask a few questions and get a few answers from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

Still, it was nice to have the inspectors’ agreement.  The novelty of having someone agree with me is always a pleasure, whatever the subject.  Sam regularly puts his uniform on in the holidays, he is keen to go no matter what his state of health, and we know, thanks to great communication, that he doesn’t get an easy ride when he’s there.  Some weeks he seems to be constantly in detention for something or other, but he still wants to go; it is his school.  Although I’m not much of a getter-involveder, this school has changed all of our lives for the better.

When I got the inspection report I was curious.  You hear such things, on the teacher grapevines; things like ex-secondary-cooking-teachers inspecting nurseries, people making judgements on institutions about which they clearly know little, that sort of thing, that you hardly know what to believe.  Whenever I have met an inspector they always seem like perfectly nice people (the last one – who was being inspected by an inspector herself – paid me the great compliment of asking me – before she’d seen my lesson, I hasten to add – if I was the NQT – I assumed it was my young and fresh demeanour that led her that conclusion), but you never can tell.  Apparently.  I wanted to know what this inspector thought of our wonderful school.  What I read made my eyebrows raise and my eyes pop.  I have never read a report like it.  Clearly the inspector was blown away.  Clearly the inspector knew what they were seeing.

And my son’s school isn’t alone.  It is one of a significant number of special schools ranked ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.  It is part of a success story that is changing lives for the better, not just those of the children who attend these schools, but for their families too, but, as Laura McInerney pointed out last week (was it only last week?) one that so few seem to know about, or care.  Why is this?

Often, when a school is rated outstanding there are fanfares in the form of banners hung along the school fence, stories and photographs in the local press; the parents of the children who attend these schools glow with reflected glory.  After spectacles such as those seen in the 2012 Olympics, people with disabilities carrying torches through the sun and rain, a signing choir at the opening ceremony; the way that everyone likes a bit of triumph over adversity you would think that they might get a bit more attention, but no.

It goes against the story that the education storytellers are telling at the moment.  Or some of them anyway.  It’s a story of smallness.  A story of scale.  While one son attends a school of around about a hundred pupils, the other attends the behemoth next door, swallowed through the gates along with almost two thousand other children.  It’s a story of ‘spiky’ profiles that defy nice graphs and small, small steps that sometimes go backwards.  It’s personalisation and experts in their field quietly getting on with the job.

It is perhaps a story that some don’t want being told.  I mean, what would happen if all the parents of ordinary children got to find out about these schools?  They might start wanting their schools to be a bit more like them.  We don’t want our mainstream teachers finding out about the professional expertise or respect with which their special colleagues are held, or the freedom they have to personalise a useful curriculum, or they might be wanting some of the same,and then where would we be?

I don’t think it’s the low expectations factor.  There are no pats on the head in our inspection system.  And while I’m at it, there are no pats on the head for the children who attend these schools either.  Special schools are subject to the same vagaries of the inspection system as everyone else.  We mainstream teachers, struggling with our fear of categories might want to look at their success and write it off as letting them get away with it because aww, look at the poor dears, but that wouldn’t be honest.

Oh, I don’t think that the presence of Learning Disability has nothing to do with it.  After all, we are so keen to deny the existence of Down’s syndrome that expectant mothers are screened to within an inch of their lives.  ‘Abort it and try again,’ is the somewhat inelegantly expressed advice that, nonetheless, so many of us are given.

Down’s syndrome, or other conditions like it, you know, the ones you don’t get better from, the ones you cannot triumph over because they are a fundamental part of who you are, is not exactly the story that the newspapers, or the politicians, our national storytellers, like to tell.  There’s something about learning disability that we, we who are in love with strength and beauty, winners not losers, the survival of the fittest expressed through market forces, are turning from, attempting to wipe out of our collective consciousness, if not our existence.

We don’t like to look at our imperfect selves.  We don’t like to see the reality of who we are.

And yet.

The funny thing is that it is here, in this examination of our weakness, in this dedication to the welfare of our most vulnerable, that we could well be at our greatest.

What do we make of that?

You looking at me?