The role and performance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

Letter from Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Ofsted, dated 3 March 2011

I was pleased to have the opportunity to appear before the Committee recently to give evidence as part of the inquiry into Ofsted's role and performance. This scrutiny is a key accountability mechanism for Ofsted, and I welcome the chance to respond to questions and present our evidence.

During the proceedings you asked about the inspection of provision for pupils who have special educational needs or who are disabled and, in particular, deaf children and young people.

A specialist, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) inspector is someone who:

  • has expertise in a particular educational need or disability;
  • has gained this specialist expertise from previous school leadership and/or teaching experience or as a school inspector.

The following relates to inspections carried out between from 1 September 2010 to 20 January 2011.

I hope you find the information in this letter useful.

Inspection of special schools, including those for deaf and hearing impaired pupils and pupil referral units

All inspections of special schools, including those for deaf and hearing impaired pupils and pupil referral units had specialist SEND lead inspectors and team members.

Inspection of provision in mainstream schools for pupils who have special educational needs or who are disabled

In the last year, we have improved significantly our deployment of specialist inspectors in mainstream schools where there is designated provision for pupils who have special educational needs or who are disabled. As a result, a specialist SEND inspector has been used in almost nine out of ten inspections where there is designated SEND provision in a mainstream school. This includes the inspection of provision for deaf and hearing impaired pupils, where a specialist has been deployed in the vast majority of inspections.

Post-inspection feedback from mainstream schools with designated SEND provision is very positive. Overall satisfaction rates are at the same high level as they are for all schools, with over 90% of providers saying that they were satisfied with the way their inspection was carried out. There is no difference in the quality of feedback where a specialist inspector was not present in the inspection team.

The specialist skills of inspectors who inspect provision for deaf children

The recruitment criteria for Her Majesty's Inspectors and additional inspectors state that they will normally have:

  • a relevant degree and/or equivalent professional qualification (for example, a teaching qualification, a relevant social care qualification, a relevant vocational and/or teaching qualification in further education or adult skills, and/or a leadership and management qualification);
  • appropriate occupational/industrial experience for inspectors of further education colleges, work-based learning and adult skills;
  • successful experience within the relevant setting (for example in teaching, training, inspecting or advising);
  • successful and substantial management experience in the relevant area;
  • a wide range of experience within the relevant area (for example in more than one institution).

These criteria demonstrate that inspectors must have both a high level, and a wide range, of experience. Ofsted has found this combination to be a valuable starting point for a successful inspector, given the variety of provision inspected and the ongoing changes and developments that take place within education.

In addition to this common starting point, all inspectors must have expertise in the areas that they inspect. In order to inspect provision for deaf or hearing impaired pupils, an inspector must have gained relevant expertise through a range of experiences such as being a teacher, school leader and an inspector. At present there is no single qualification, nor a list of specific skills, experiences and competencies required, to inspect provision for deaf or hearing impaired children and young people.

Following recruitment, inspectors undertake detailed and extensive inspection training, including the shadowing of inspections that are led by experienced colleagues. It is a specific requirement that an additional inspector may not conduct an inspection unless this is supervised by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors or unless the additional inspector has conducted an inspection previously to the satisfaction of one of Her Majesty's Inspectors.

All inspectors undertake a regular programme of training to maintain and broaden their knowledge and expertise. The annual training programme for all school inspectors includes training relevant to the inspection of provision for special educational needs and disabilities. There is additional, enhanced, training for inspectors who are specialists in the fields of special educational needs and disabilities also. In the last academic year, this training has included the inspection of provision for deaf and hearing impaired children.

In addition to the improvements made to our training and inspection deployment as set out above, we are working with inspection service providers currently to produce clearer definitions of the expertise needed to inspect SEND provision, including for deaf and hearing impaired pupils, while ensuring that the inspection workforce maintains sufficient flexibility to inspect the range of provision present in schools.

The identification of schools with designated specialist provision

I would like to bring to the Committee's attention the challenges faced by inspection service providers in identifying schools that have specialist SEND provision so that they can ensure that a specialist inspector is part of the inspection team.

Inspection schedulers make use of a national database, Edubase, to provide information about schools that have specialist provision. Edubase is maintained by the Department for Education. Current school information on the database may be entered by the individual schools or their local authorities but it is not compulsory to keep this information up to date. The data in Edubase are incomplete, often significantly so, and Ofsted estimates that information is recorded for only a quarter of mainstream schools with special provision. Inspection schedulers therefore supplement Edubase with information from previous inspection reports. Ofsted is working with the Department for Education to see how the Edubase information can become a comprehensive and more accurate database of schools' specialist provision.

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Prepared 17 April 2011