- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents


  I was grateful for the opportunity to give evidence to the Select Committee on Wednesday 6 May, as part of your inquiry into School Accountability. During the session, you asked me if I would clarify Ofsted's resources for the inspection of children with special educational needs, particularly in the light of the submission from the National Deaf Children Society (NDCS).

As I confirmed at the time, in addition to the four HMI with specific expertise in sensory impairment, our regional inspection providers employ additional inspectors (AI) who have a range of specialisms, who can be deployed when specialist schools are inspected. My full response to Parliamentary Question 265779 (enclosed),[13] quoted in part by the NDCS submission, gives further details about these arrangements.

  You were particularly interested in whether inspectors are sufficiently trained for the type of schools they are inspecting. Ofsted requires its contracted inspection providers to provide inspectors who are suitably trained and experienced for each inspection, and every effort is made to inspect special schools with inspectors who have expertise in the appropriate field. At the same time, in line with our current proposals for the inspection of maintained schools from September 2009, we are considering if the number of days an inspector spends in a school needs to be increased for special schools. I expect to be able to make an announcement about this when details of the new school inspection framework are released in June 2009.

  I cannot give a precise figure on the number of additional inspectors trained in hearing impairment issues because some of our inspectors work for more than one of our six current contractors. However, I can confidently say that each of our contractors is able to draw on a pool of experienced inspectors, far in excess of the four HMI that you mentioned in your question.

  For example, one contractor has 15 inspectors who have had specialist training in hearing impairment, 40 inspectors who have been through their own internal training on hearing impairment, 10 inspectors who have specialist training in visual impairment and five who have British Sign Language skills. Another contractor has 13 inspectors who have specialist training in sensory impairment, deafness or British Sign Language; another has eight; and another reports that they can draw from a pool of 39 specialist inspectors. One contractor has recruited the principal of a specialist school for hearing impaired pupils, so that this inspector can be included on the inspection teams for other specialist hearing impaired schools.

  All contractors consider the nature of special schools, or mainstream schools with a Unit, when planning an inspection team. If there is a significant proportion of young people with sensory impairment, contractors should ensure that they have a sensory impairment specialist as part of the team. All schools that are heavily reliant on sign language are allocated a specialist British Sign Language inspector as part of the team. For schools or Units where they think the demand on the inspector to inspect and sign throughout the day will be too great, they bring in a British Sign Language (or other sign language, appropriate to that institution) signer. As part of the planning of inspections, all contractors take great care to ensure that these schools are inspected at a time to suit the specialist inspectors' availability.

  I have looked at nine inspections carried out in 2007-08 where there was provision for hearing impairment at the school. I can confirm that six of the teams included inspectors who have specific qualifications for hearing impairment work. In two other cases a non-maintained special school and a community special school were inspected by teams of general SEN specialists. In the last school, a secondary sports college, we did not have any prior information about partial-hearing provision at the school and so were not able to provide a specialist inspector. The school did not raise the matter in pre-inspection discussion. In addition, there was one other school which, in the past, had provision for hearing impaired learners and we scheduled a qualified inspector for this reason. However, at the time of the inspection, the school had no hearing impaired learners.

  In the case of the London primary school inspection to which you referred (quoting the NDCS submission), there was a team of three inspectors. One of these was a specialist in Foundation Stage special educational needs and has consultancy experience supporting special schools, including those supporting children with hearing impairment.

  You have also passed on a question about the judgement on special educational needs in the new framework being introduced from September. In our current proposals, we are piloting guidance on the framework that makes clear that a school cannot be good overall if pupils with special educational needs do not make at least good progress.

  I am grateful to you for raising these matters and I hope you are reassured by my response to the issues that you have raised. I consider the inquiry into School Accountability to be a very important and well-timed opportunity to scrutinise the wider framework of accountability for schools. If there are any aspects of this inquiry on which you would like anything further from Ofsted, please get in touch.

Christine Gilbert

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector

June 2009

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