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Ofsted meet Parent Carers of children with SEND in mainstream schools

January 15, 2019

On Friday 14th December, the NNPCF arranged for a group of parents to meet with a representative from Ofsted to share their experiences of children with SEND in mainstream schools. The parents covered a wide range of SEND including ASD, ADHD, SPLD, SEN support and hearing impairments.

The parents told some harrowing stories of part time timetables, unofficial exclusions, and teachers writing their children off. The Ofsted representative said that whilst they heard these stories when conducting local area inspections, they rarely heard them when inspecting schools.


It is vital that Ofsted hear parental views when inspecting schools and we discussed the ways in which parents are notified about the inspection and how they can share their views:

  • Parents can give feedback about schools at any time using parent view This asks parents to complete a survey about the school and Ofsted will look at feedback about schools on parent view when determining which schools to inspect.
  • Ofsted require the school to send a letter to parents notifying them of the inspection. If the school has electronic methods of communication with parents then they should use these to notify parents of the inspection as well. In addition, the school must put up a notice at the school during the inspection.
  • During the inspection, a free text facility is available in the parent view tool which allows parents to write about their views of the school.
  • Ofsted inspectors will be available to talk to parents during the inspection and will often be available at the start and end of the school day.

The experiences shared by parents echoed the latest report by Ofsteds chief inspector. In December, Amanda Spielman published her second annual report. She highlighted many of the concerns and issues that parent carer forums have been raising over the last year about the experiences of children with SEND in our schools system.

She said, “adequate support for our most vulnerable children with SEND is a basic expectation of a decent, developed society. We need to do better.”

In her report she discussed many of the themes that the NNPCF has raised with the department for education over the last year including:

  • The rising trend in exclusions for children with SEND
  • The quality of EHCPs and the lack of provision available
  • The cliff edge as young people reach school leaving age

Ofsted is currently in the process of revising its school inspection framework. The NNPCF believes the current inspection framework is too academically focused and we have been working with inspectors to ensure that new framework better reflects the more holistic needs of children with SEND.

The themes we have raised with Ofsted and the Department for Education are summarized below:


Official exclusions

DfE statistics show that children with SEND are significantly more likely to experience permanent or fixed term exclusions. Parents talk about two key issues here:

  • Often, “bad behaviour” has been triggered by a failure to make reasonable adjustments, failure to follow agreed approaches or a change in routine. Parents report that very often, the incident that triggers an exclusion could have been avoided.
  • Schools do not take enough consideration of special educational needs when applying disciplinary or behavioural policies. Many disciplinary or behaviour policies do not reference the schools SEND policy or the requirements of the Equalities Act.

Unofficial exclusions

Perhaps more prevalent that official exclusions are “unofficial exclusions”. This is where a child cannot participate in the full activities of the school as a result of their special educational needs. The types of unofficial exclusion that we hear about includes:

  • Part time timetables
  • Parents being asked to regularly pick up children early or bring them in late
  • Advising parents to keep their children at home for a while to “calm down” to avoid an official exclusion
  • Missing school activities (e.g. trips)
  • Isolating pupils
  • Encouraging pupils to be home schooled
  • Discouraging pupils with SEND from applying to their local school e.g. at open days


School culture

Parents in each local area are usually aware of those schools and head teachers that “understand” SEND and those that do not. Those schools with a good reputation for SEND become “SEND magnets”. The types of things that parents report include:

  • A culture in the school that welcomes and pupils that are different (e.g. lots of staff learning signing to help a child)
  • A whole school approach as described by NASEN
  • A graduated response to SEND –  too many parents report an “all or nothing” approach
  • An approach that sets out that every teacher in the school is a teacher of SEND
  • Clear leadership from the head teacher about the importance of SEND
  • A clear, up to date and useful school SEN information report

Conversely, many parents report that some local schools appear to actively discourage children with SEND. These schools often have significantly fewer pupils with SEND than the national or local averages.


Role of the SENCO

Parents report very varying experiences of dealing with SENCOs Many speak very highly of the efforts of the SENCO to support their child but often report many concerns about the challenges that SENCOs face. Examples include:

  • SENCOs who have not been allocated enough time to do the job properly
  • SENCOs who have not had enough training on special educational needs and are not supported to undertake further professional development in this area
  • SENCOs who do not have a clear reporting line into the school’s senior leadership team
  • SENCOs who are not properly supported by the senior leadership team
  • SENCOs who feel as if SEND is their responsibility, not the responsibility of every member of staff in the school
  • A lack of specialist support for SENCOs in creating the interventions that SEND pupils need


There is a lack of transparency around the funding of SEN in mainstream schools. Parents often report they do not understand how SEND notional budgets are used and schools are unwilling to share this information with them.

Parents also report that funding is the driver for them being encouraged to apply for an EHCP. This is sometimes presented by schools as a route to getting additional resources, rather than necessarily based on the needs of the young person. Parents are often told that as the notional budget of £6,000 has been used up, they must apply for an EHCP to get the additional support their child needs. i.e. support is effectively capped at £6,000 for children without an EHCP.