Last reviewed 8 September 2015

The Common Inspection Framework (CIF) came into force this month, bringing with it some new judgments and key changes. In this article, Suzanne O’Connell, education consultant, explains what it will mean for leaders of special educational needs and disability (SEND).

The new framework

School leaders have welcomed many aspects of the new Common Inspection Framework. Particularly popular is the commitment to a greater number of inspectors with recent and relevant experience. Inspectors will no longer be outsourced but will be directly employed by Ofsted which, in theory, will have more control over suitability and quality.

“Good” schools will have shorter section 8 inspections and will be able to engage in a dialogue with one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors. The inspection will start from the assumption that the school is still “good” and promises the kind of approach that school leaders have wanted for a while.

For other schools, the section 5 arrangements have been reworked. Ofsted are promoting the changes as “far-reaching” but overall the approach is the same and school leaders will recognise much of the detail too. SEND still does not have its own judgment but is woven throughout the inspection process; groups of SEND pupils come in for special attention through both case studies and data analysis.

The final consideration before inspectors make their judgment about “overall effectiveness” is the extent to which the education provided by the school meets the needs of various groups of pupils, including those with SEND.

The outcomes for SEND pupils are most important for feeding the inspectors’ view of the success of the school’s SEND provision.

Showing progress

The judgment on “outcomes for children and learners” describes how inspectors will give particular weight to progress. Inspectors will consider the progress of SEND pupils in relation to that of pupils nationally with similar starting points.

In order to form a judgment, inspectors will take account of RAISEonline and the school’s own performance information. Inspectors will take into account that schools are at different points in introducing new assessment practices to replace levels.

Inspectors will look for:

  • progress from different starting points

  • qualifications gained.

They will use information from data analysis, observations, discussions with stakeholders and looking at pupils’ work. When completing work scrutinies, inspectors will want to see:

  • that pupils are on track to meet or exceed the attainment expected for their age

  • that all pupils are set aspirational targets, given their starting points, and that they are on track to meet or exceed them

  • evidence of pupils’ efforts and success in completing their work, both in and out of lessons

  • the level of challenge, and whether pupils have to grapple appropriately with content (rather than always “getting it right” first time)

  • that teachers’ written and oral feedback is used by pupils to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills.

Where additional funding has been provided for SEND pupils, inspectors will expect that funded support is helping to close gaps in attainment and progress. The monitoring of additional money is woven into the judgment on the “effectiveness of leadership and management”. School leaders and governors are expected to check that additional funding is being used well and that its impact on outcomes is being measured.

The framework anticipates that the identification of pupils with SEND will mean that additional or different arrangements will have to be made and that this will lead to an improvement in progress. Inspectors will consider if there are any differences between the progress and attainment of pupils in resource-based provision and those with similar starting points in the main school.

Some exceptions

Not all pupils are in a position to catch up. Some have lower cognitive ability, which will mean they are never able to attain the same results as their peers. In this case, the School Inspection Handbook acknowledges that the judgment on “outcomes for children and learners” will be based upon an evaluation of the pupils’ learning and progress in relation to their starting points at particular ages.

Teaching standards

The judgment on the “quality of teaching, learning and assessment” expects that the Teachers’ Standards are being met and that teachers have consistently high expectations of every pupil. Assessment information has a key place here and must be used to identify:

  • pupils who are falling behind and need additional support; and

  • the strategies to use with them.

Particular emphasis is placed on the teaching of literacy and mathematics. Inspectors will continue to listen to pupils read, with a focus on those with low attainment. They will discuss their reading with them and consider whether they are being equipped with the phonics strategies they need to tackle unfamiliar words. They might also listen to lower-attaining pupils in Years 7 and 8.

In gathering evidence about maths teaching, inspectors will be looking at teachers’ explanations and the way they require pupils to think and reason mathematically. They will want to see how resources and approaches are used to help pupils understand and master the maths they are learning.

Teachers will be expected to identify common misconceptions and act to ensure that they are corrected. Pupils must demonstrate growth in security, breadth and depth of knowledge, understanding and skills.

It is acknowledged that some pupils will need more time to practise the skills they are learning and to embed their new knowledge and understanding. This need for consolidation has not always been recognised and special educational needs co-ordinators should be relieved to see that it is acceptable to return to, remind and revise.

The right leadership

To receive an “outstanding” grade, leaders must demonstrate that they “focus on consistently improving outcomes for all pupils, but especially for disadvantaged pupils” and are “uncompromising in their ambition”.

Disadvantaged pupils are one of the key groups that inspectors will want to see bridging the gap between themselves and their better-off peers. Many SEND pupils will fall into both categories and any pupil premium money used to raise attainment must be clearly identified and linked to outcomes.

Prior to the inspection process taking place, inspectors will have already checked the online information included in the school’s SEN information report. This must be displayed on the school’s website along with other mandatory information.

Other than this, if the results are right, it is unlikely that there will be a detailed inspection of how the new SEND Code of Practice has been implemented. However, consulting with parents, pupils and staff remains an important part of the inspection schedule, as well as a core feature of the Code of Practice itself.

High expectations

What has not changed in the new framework is the importance of data to demonstrate the difference that is being made to pupils with SEND. School leaders must make sure that they can demonstrate clearly from their data analysis that these pupils are not left languishing and that the whole school community has high expectations for them and what they are capable of. Along with these high expectations, comes the assessment to identify difficulties and the strategies to address them. Overall, these requirements will not come as a surprise to those responsible for pupils with special needs.