Last reviewed 6 December 2016

The new School Inspection Handbook contains relatively few changes, but these should be noted by senior staff. Suzanne O’Connell looks at the implications for the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO).

In the education world, it isn’t often that inspection frameworks and handbooks go largely unchanged. However, the Government’s commitment to leaving the Ofsted framework as it is this year looks likely to be honoured.

The new School Inspection Handbook published in August 2016 remains very similar to the previous edition published in August 2015. This is good news for senior leadership teams of schools expecting an inspection. However, there are some minor changes to reflect other policy and accountability changes that schools should be aware of in relation to pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND).

School website

Schools should not underestimate the importance of their published website information. Inspectors examine this before arriving at school and the school’s special educational needs (SEN) information report is one of the items they will be looking for. Schools should make sure that the information report remains up to date and reflective of what the inspector will find in school.

Schools must be even clearer about what they are doing with any additional resources they are given. This includes not only pupil premium but Year 7 literacy and numeracy catch-up premium in secondary schools. A school’s rationale and evaluation of its pupil premium strategy should be clearly indicated on the website. Schools should always be mindful of setting out how they know that their spending decisions are making a difference to outcomes.

Governors and funding

In a new emphasis, it is outlined that governors are expected to ensure that SEN funding is properly managed. Inspectors will ensure that the school’s finances are properly managed and can evaluate how the school is using the pupil premium, Year 7 literacy and numeracy catch-up premium, primary PE and sport premium and SEN funding.

This requirement is also reflected in the grade descriptors and SENCOs, the SLT and governors should take note that for a school to be outstanding, the grade descriptor for the effectiveness of leadership and management includes that:

“Governors systematically challenge senior leaders so that the effective deployment of staff and resources, including the pupil premium, the primary PE and sport premium, Year 7 literacy and numeracy catch-up premium and special educational needs funding. Governors do not shy away from challenging leaders about variations in outcomes for pupil groups and between disadvantaged and other pupils nationally.”

Inspectors will also give consideration to governors’ development in their role as part of the effectiveness of school leadership. Inspectors will want to see “how committed they are to their own development as governors in order to improve their performance”.

The framework does not refer to the actual process of supporting pupils with SEND and what inspectors should see operating in a school. Instead, results are expected to demonstrate how well pupils with SEND are being provided for. How governors are monitoring spending is another route to ensuring that SEND provision is still being given sufficient consideration.

Pupil progress

The pupil outcomes have changed slightly to include more emphasis on pupil progress. Inspectors are expected to recognise the importance of different starting points when it comes to looking at outcomes for pupils.

For a school to be outstanding:

“From different starting points the progress in English and mathematics is high compared with national figures. The progress of disadvantaged pupils from different starting points matches or is improving towards that of other pupils nationally.”

For a school to be good:

“Progress of disadvantaged pupils and pupils who have SEND is above average or improving across most subject areas.

“From different starting points, progress in English and in mathematics is close to or above national figures. The progress from different starting points of the very large majority of disadvantaged pupils is similar to or improving in relation to other pupils nationally.”

For a school to be inadequate:

“Progress from starting points in any key subject or Key Stage indicates that pupils are underachieving considerably.

“There are wide differences in the progress and/ or attainment of different groups from similar starting points and these are not improving.”

A similar message can be found in the document Primary School Accountability in 2016: A Technical Guide for Primary Maintained Schools, Academies and Free Schools available at

In this document published in September 2016, the DfE would seem to acknowledge the difference that intake makes. The importance of intake would seem obvious. However, for years, there has been an assumption that whatever your intake, the same outcomes are possible. Although schools should not relax on the expectation that academic excellence is obtainable everywhere and with everyone, there is some hope in this:

“We have reformed primary accountability to allow better recognition of schools doing well with a challenging intake, and to challenge those that are not doing enough with a high-attaining intake.

“We aim to be able to recognise better the progress that schools make with their pupils, including low, middle and high attainers.”

However, how to demonstrate this for those with responsibility for children with SEND is still unclear.

The primary accountability document tells us that there is no longer a “target” as such for the amount of progress that an individual pupil is expected to make in the same way as there was with levels. This is good news for the SENCO which has been perhaps trying to push two levels of progress between Key Stage 1 (KS1) and Key Stage 2 (KS2) from children who were evidently unable to achieve this. However, SENCOs are still likely to feel the need to use the Primary School Accountability document to demonstrate progress through data.

Primary School Accountability in 2016 outlines how pupils are allocated according to prior attainment groups (PAGs) with other pupils nationally with similar KS1 attainment. Having worked out the child’s PAG you are then given the average reading, writing and maths scores that the child might be expected to achieve in KS2. Although it is not expected that this should be translated into a target for individual pupils as such, it is likely that schools will still feel a need to do this.

The Ofsted to come

With Michael Wilshaw now being replaced by Amanda Spielman, we can expect changes to come. The promised Ofsted moratorium might have been honoured to date but we can expect significant changes to come as a result of the new regime. It’s early days, but some of the indications are already there in the choice of Ms Spielman.

We have already seen Ofsted keen to remove itself from any hint of prescription when it comes to what good teaching and learning practice is. This disassociation from teaching methods was also referred to in the White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere with the suggestion that Ofsted might no longer report on the quality of teaching, learning and assessment.

The inspection service is likely to become even more of a desktop check with an even greater focus on those schools that are struggling. Starting points might be the new accountability focus but SENCOs will need to be as sharp as ever in showing the progress that children have made.