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Making your secondary school SEND provision outstanding

The new Ofsted education inspection framework raises the bar for learners with SEND. What will secondary mainstream schools have to do differently to succeed? We interviewed ASDAN Trustee Pauline Trapp, a highly experienced former SENCO and Assistant Headteacher, to find out more.

1. Ofsted says pupils with SEND must achieve ‘exceptionally well’ if a school is to obtain an outstanding rating. What does this phrase mean?

The exceptional progress of pupils with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) needs to be consistent and secure across the whole school in every subject. Excellent progress must also be evident in pupil knowledge, understanding and skills. Ofsted will triangulate this by observing teaching and learning; scrutinising work and assessment; and talking to pupils and their teachers. This is called a ‘deep dive’ (see question three) by Ofsted – a thorough, detailed investigation. Internal progress data, therefore, must be accurate. In order for a school or academy to achieve outstanding, ensuring progress for SEND learners is pivotal and it determines the overall effectiveness of the school. High expectations of learners are important, as is a variety of appropriate pathways so that all pupils can access the curriculum and achieve.

2. Is the Ofsted focus on students achieving ‘exceptionally well’ new? 

Ofsted’s emphasis on enabling SEND learners to reach their potential has always been there – schools need to demonstrate that vulnerable groups are achieving. But Ofsted has raised the bar this time. Now it is saying progress for SEND students must be exceptional for your centre to be deemed outstanding. Ensuring learners are thriving in 13 subjects across Year 8 for example is ambitious. It shows how serious Ofsted is about pushing SEND learners to reach their potential. No doubt that achieving this will be a considerable challenge for schools and many will have to rethink their approaches to achieve this higher standard.

3. Could you elaborate on the Ofsted ‘deep dive’ you refer to?

Schools will be asked to explain what conclusions they are drawing from their data and how this informs their curriculum development and teaching and learning.

In addition, schools will need to be confident that their students are able to talk about their knowledge and demonstrate what they know. For example, Ofsted might look at the full history faculty or a group of Year 8 students and do a deeper investigation. Inspectors will be getting below the surface in a way they haven’t before. This will be good for raising standards for SEND learners but it means extra pressure on schools – there is nowhere to hide under the new framework.

4. Pupils with SEND must achieve the ‘best possible’ outcomes in order for schools to obtain a good rating under the new education inspection framework. What is your interpretation of this?

There should be evidence that all pupils are following appropriate pathways, and are learning and making progress. Ofsted will inspect the intent, implementation, and impact of the curriculum towards an end point. Inspectors will want to see that the curriculum has been devised appropriately for pupils with SEND and demonstrates progress. There is an additional emphasis on schools ensuring learners have the cultural capital (see question five) needed to access the curriculum and succeed in their lives.

Schools need to fill any gaps in learning, including those caused by poor attendance, illness or domestic disruption. This won’t be easy but it is important in order to achieve a good rating.

5. Ofsted says disadvantaged young people and pupils with SEND should acquire the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life. What does this mean?

This phrase ‘knowledge and cultural capital’ is taken from the national curriculum and means the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens. What do the learners need to know that they don’t know already in order to access the curriculum? Is there specific vocabulary or are there experiences that they have never had which may be a barrier to progress?

SEND pupils must be introduced to the ‘best that has been thought and said’. They must be helped to ‘engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement’. For example, learners may need to be aware of man’s first landing on the moon, or the work of a particular artist or musician in order to access a poem or piece of literature. Ofsted has referred to citizenship and British values but cultural capital is a welcome new phrase – for me it is broader and more global.

6. Ofsted inspectors will gather and evaluate evidence about whether leaders are ambitious for all pupils with SEND. How can leaders demonstrate ambition?

Ambition for me is ensuring all SEND pupils have personalised programmes, enabling them to work at their own level and make progress. Personalised learning is crucial because it has been shown to boost outcomes for young people with SEND, such as helping prepare them to live independently. Tailored learning for those with social, emotional and mental health needs boosts confidence and self-esteem. Personalised learning is at the core of ASDAN’s courses and is something schools need to prioritise. Focusing on personalised learning also shows ambition because it means that every student’s learning needs are catered for and progress is therefore much more likely.

7. How can ASDAN courses support a successful Ofsted inspection in relation to provision for learners with SEND?

ASDAN courses provide explicit evidence of pupil learning and progress, which is a priority for Ofsted. Importantly, ASDAN qualifications and programmes centre on providing accessible and creative challenges that have been shown to engage and motivate young people, as well as boosting core skills, confidence and self-esteem. These contribute towards the judgement on personal development, while behaviour and attitudes, a separate judgement, will improve through a curriculum that’s tailored to the learners’ needs.

ASDAN’s focus on the development of core skills such as problem solving, communication and teamwork means the end point is always in view. Ofsted says all learning should build towards the end point.

8. What is the end point of education for SEND learners?

It’s important all students, including those with SEND, leave school as rounded human beings that are ready for adulthood and are employable, at whatever level this involves. The idea of creating fully rounded young people should not be accepted as a by-product of education. Programmes, structures and activities need to be put in place and facilitated to ensure core skills and positive attributes and characteristics are developed in young people. Academic achievement is obviously important but it is not enough in itself to prepare people to succeed in the world. You hear of academically gifted students leaving higher education who are not rounded young people and ready for the workplace. This shows that no matter how high achieving you are, all students need to develop transferable skills.

Keep an eye out

Next week, we will publish a second blog from Pauline where she reflects on:

  • the most important skills SEND learners need
  • why extra-curricular activities are key for SEND learners
  • the main challenges facing SENCOs

You can read more about ASDAN’s courses for learners with SEND on our website. You can also contact us about how our programmes and qualifications can meet the needs of your learners.

About Pauline 

Pauline Trapp is an ASDAN Trustee and works as an Education Consultant specialising in SEND. As a former SENCO and Assistant Head at Churchill Academy and Sixth Form, she was part of a team that oversaw three outstanding Ofsted inspections at the North Somerset school.