Seven steps to Ofsted success for Sencos
If you are a special educational needs co-ordinator, what should you do to prepare for inspection?
The goal of education is not to attain an 'outstanding' grade from Ofsted. There are many wonderful systems and practices in our schools which do, and should continue to, achieve great things for our most vulnerable students, even though they don't directly inform or impact the school's report. However, schools all too frequently focus on Ofsted inspections to the detriment of anything that doesn't affect it. This obsession can cause upswings in staff stress levels.
The new Ofsted framework divides into four areas: achievement, quality of teaching, behaviour and safety of pupils and quality of leadership and management. Recently, there's also been much attention on the specific areas of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC) and the pupil premium.
Many special educational needs co-ordinators (Sencos) have commented on the positives of the new framework. It doesn't contain a distinct special educational needs (SEN) or inclusion category for the inspection, but instead integrates inclusion into all four key areas. By highlighting the progress of all inclusion cohorts across year groups and departments, it reshapes the role of the Senco as key to a school's success as a whole. However, while it now appears that inspectors will focus less on inclusion or SEN as a department, the fact that it crops up so widely makes it more important than ever.
One of the most common questions I get is: what do I have to do to prepare for the inspection? Here are seven steps to help you as a Senco get the outstanding comments that you deserve.
Know your data
Understand and summarise the process by which you identify students with various needs. Your assessment procedure documents might include a one-page summary of all assessments you conduct, your thresholds and the circumstances under which you might use them. Ensure all your documents about interventions clarify your baseline measurements and your regular review processes. Continuously update your provision map and make it accessible to all teachers who would benefit from this information. Make sure that your inclusion groups (such as the SEN cohort) meet or exceed their target grades and, where they don't, provide convincing reasons and evidence for why this happened.
Know your interventions
Create a list of all your interventions with SEN students. Summarise their purposes, who they are for, how often you check their success and the number of students who have progressed because of them. Ray, a Senco in a larger-than-average inner city secondary school, once showed me reams of papers cataloguing every detail about every provision. I was immensely impressed, but it took me more than two hours to get through it all and by the end my head was spinning. Together, Ray and I found a clear and concise approach to demonstrating a snapshot of summarised details.
A few months later he told me that his Ofsted inspector felt reassured that he had all of the detailed paperwork, because it backed up his summary, but they honed in on how well he grasped the bigger picture and our summary document gave them precisely that. It is very unlikely that your inspector will be inclined to spend two hours reading through all of your documents.
Demonstrate the quality of inclusion in the class
How widely is differentiation practised and how can you demonstrate its efficacy? Show that this is looked for in documents like your teaching for learning policy and formal observations. If possible, cite some of those results. You will also gain loads of feedback about this on a regular basis through teaching assistants (TA) and what students tell them. The quality of inclusion is most commonly measured by whether students make progress or not.
Demonstrate the strengths of your TAs
Justify how they are used by listing the statement hours and how you fill them. Keep this potentially very long document to a summary. It should be sufficiently clear that an inspector can take a quick glance and know that you know what you are doing. Show that details you include about their positive impact have been gleaned through a variety of approaches – that may include observations, line management and support meetings.
Lisa, a primary school Senco, said that all of her TAs always support brilliantly in the classroom. I asked her how she knew this, and she replied that every time she did an observation they followed all the protocols. We discussed the limiting nature of observations: the Hawthorn Effect describes how people change their behaviours when they are being watched. After a couple of weeks, Lisa told me that feedback she had gained from students and teachers revealed that some TAs were working even better than she could see through observations, and she was able to address a couple of concerns as well.
Address the pastoral issues affecting SEN
Ensure that the attendance, lateness, exclusion and bullying of your SEN students are limited and any problems are decreasing. Where there are difficulties, be open about them and demonstrate how you are dealing with them. I assume that every environment that manages children will have pastoral issues of some kind, from behaviour concerns to social issues to attendance.
It would be unrealistic for a school to maintain that it had no challenges at all, so your best approach is to be open and show what you have tried to do even if it hasn't worked. Peter, a Senco in an outstanding school, told me he was worried about 10 cases that he felt would let his entire SEN system down. I suggested we should use a couple of his biggest failure scenarios as his case studies and after some persuasion he agreed.
The Ofsted inspector that looked at the cases gave Peter positive feedback. He mentioned that even though the outcomes were not ideal, the cases demonstrated the efforts made by the school and how staff had gone beyond the call of duty. Sometimes a failed case can actually be a way of showing the good a school tries to do.
Prepare your Ofsted pack
Present the pack with diligence – ensure that it looks like a key document for the school. Guide the inspectors to your strengths, don't wait for them to ask. Include the following documents:
• Two to four case studies
• Summary of assessment procedures and evaluation of pupils
• Evaluation of interventions
• Pupil premium
• Feedback from pupils and parents
• SEN CPD and impact
• Evidence of observations – quality of teaching
Also, prepare for the most commonly asked questions by inspectors, which include:
• How do you work with agencies?
• What does inclusion mean to your school and how does it fit into the school improvement programme?
• How do you deal with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, as well as pastoral matters?
• How do you justify your budget?
• How effective are your systems of communication about SEN students?
Inform and involve your governors
The value and amount of governor involvement differs widely from school to school. Through the new framework, Ofsted is keen to ensure that your board of governors is involved with SEN and inclusion, and the inspector will most likely interview your link governor. In a preparatory meeting with your governor, you should introduce them to the documents listed above in the previous step and ask that they review them carefully and come back with any queries. At a second, follow-up meeting ensure that the governor fully understands the materials. If you can provide evidence that these two meetings took place, you can demonstrate that your governors are informed and involved.
It is understandable – and universal – to be anxious about your school's Ofsted inspection. All Sencos I have worked with find it to be a highly stressful experience. Instead, view the preparation process as an opportunity to share with your senior leadership team and board of governors your team's wonderful work, and show the plans in place to plug any gaps. Nearly every Senco I have worked with does brilliant work and has a lot to be proud of. So, worry less, demonstrate the positives, and never forget why you chose this career in the first place.