Campaign victory on Ofsted SEND inspections

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research, National Deaf Children’s Society

Two of the most important things the Government can do to ensure deaf children get the support they need are to ensure: 1) there’s enough funding in the system and 2) local authorities and schools are properly held to account for the support they provide.

Yesterday, the Education Secretary gave a speech which recognised concerns about the first and promised action on the second.

Back in 2016, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission began inspections of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Under this new inspection framework, each local area would be inspected once over a five-year period.

This inevitably raised the question over what would happen after 2021 when the five year period was over and each area had been inspected. How would we know if those areas hadn’t got worse? What ‘incentive’ was there for local authority managers to make sure these services didn’t get deprioritised?

The good news is that the Education Secretary seems to have recognised these concerns and has confirmed he will ask Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission “to design a programme of further local area SEND inspections to follow the current round.” What’s more, he also asked Ofsted to consider further follow-up inspections for those areas where provision has been found to be poor.

The inspections aren’t perfect. On our side, we’d like to see much more focus on education support for deaf children. In fact we’ve been asking the Department and Ofsted to consider introducing new additional ad-hoc inspections of specific SEND services, including those for deaf children, to run alongside the existing local area inspections. But the inspections are still a vast improvement on the zero accountability that we had before. And the fact the inspections are likely to continue beyond 2021 is good news and a campaign victory.

Elsewhere, the Minister recognised that SEND budgets are under pressure and that he was “listening”. There was also an explicit recognition that one of the pressures on the SEND budgets is a shift of children moving from mainstream to specialist provision.

It’s important that deaf children are able to go to special schools if it’s right for them. At the same time, they should be able to get the support they need in mainstream schools too – and in reality, most deaf children will attend their local mainstream school. As the Minister said: “SEND pupils are not someone else’s problem. Every school is a school for pupils with SEND.”

To address this, we’re calling on the Government to look at the ring-fence on the schools budget. Currently, the ring-fence means that local authorities are unable to move funding from the schools budget to the high needs block (which covers SEND funding) in response to the growing funding pressures that the Minister highlighted.

We’re also calling on the Minister to take a closer look at the specialist SEND workforce. In relation to deaf children, Teachers of the Deaf play a key role in ensuring mainstream schools know what to do to support deaf children. It stands to reason that a 14% reduction in the numbers of Teachers of the Deaf over the last 7 years will impact on the quality of support they can provide to schools. Urgent action is needed to address this staffing crisis, and the Department can start by introducing a bursary scheme to fund the training costs to become a Teacher of the Deaf.

The Minister stated that SEND is a huge priority for his Department and that we need “High ambitions, high expectations for every child”. His speech and announcement on Ofsted are both welcome news – but there’s still more to be done.

Election 2017: Education funding and deaf children

Brian_Gale

Brian Gale, Director, Policy and Campaigns

One of the big election hot potatoes is around education funding, with many parents concerned about possible cuts to the money schools get.

But it’s not just schools that are experiencing challenges – services for deaf children and other children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are also under pressure.

It’s true that the Government have protected, and provided some additional SEND funding. But it’s also clear in many areas that this isn’t enough. Too many local authorities have, or are planning to, cut the vital services upon which deaf children rely.

There are various reasons why the government’s ‘protection’ isn’t enough.

  • It doesn’t take into account inflation or increases in wages and pension contributions, so will still constitute a cut for many local authorities in real terms.
  • It also fails to take into account the fact that the number of children and young people with SEND are rising across the board, including deaf children.
  • More children are being placed in special or residential schools, which will be more expensive to the local authority. There’s been a 19% increase in special school places in the last 5 years.
  • New legal duties and policies means that services are expected to do more to ensure more childcare is available for young children and to support deaf young people over 16. Whilst there are positive intentions behind these changes, the extra funding provided has not been enough to meet their ambitions.

To fund the shortfall during the past 3 years, over 75% of local authorities have had to take more than £300million from school budgets to try to meet their legal obligations to children with SEND. Even that has not been sufficient to stop some children with SEND experiencing cuts to the support they receive.

More worrying is a proposal by the Government to stop local authorities using school budgets to meet the needs of an increasing number of disabled children requiring support. This could leave families facing the prospect of cuts to the support their disabled children receive.

We’ve been monitoring and challenging reductions to spending on deaf children’s education across England for the last seven years as part of our Stolen Futures campaign. Many of the parents we work with will be seeking reassurance that the next Government will do more to protect these vital services.

One way the Government could do this is by putting specialist education support services for children and young people with SEND, such as Teachers of the Deaf, onto a statutory footing. This would mean that local authorities would in future have a legal duty to ensure sufficient specialist support is provided. We think that putting these services on a statutory footing will protect them from funding cuts and help make sure that deaf children get the support they need to get a good education.

Do you agree? If so, ask the people standing for election in your area what they will do to protect services for deaf children if they get elected. Will they commit to support a new legal duty on local authorities to provide specialist education services for children and young people with SEND?

Find out more about our election work on our website.