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January 2023 Ofsted SEND inspection framework and its new focus on Alternative Provision (AP)

It will be interesting to see how the refreshed Ofsted Area SEND (Special Educational Needs

and/or Disabilities) Inspection framework plays out as it comes into practice from January 2022.

There are a number of developments within the framework, including increased attention to the

voice of children and families - as it looks to ensure professional activity in a local area is having

the desired positive impact for children with SEND. Directors of Children’s Services, local health

leads and local education leaders, including headteachers, will all be involved in such inspections

as partners in local area SEND partnerships.

There is also a new focus within the framework - on Alternative Provision (AP). The framework

indicates this is largely looking at children with SEND in alternative provision; however it will

undoubtedly pick up on the children who attend AP who have been excluded whether or not they

have an EHCP, are on SEND support or are not recognised as having SEND.

I think this is a really useful timely focus.

AP places can be commissioned by a local authority or by a school directly. Often AP places are

used for children who for one reason or another are not in mainstream but do not fit the criteria for

a special educational needs school; sometimes they are waiting for a special school place to

become available. Children in AP are often there for less than a full school phase - so they may

attend e.g. for a six month period, for Year 10 and 11, or Year 8 and 9. The children in AP, at times,

will be the children who do not have the statutory protection which rightly protects those who are

looked after children (LAC) or those with an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP). There are

some outstanding AP institutions but also some which are less so: the small nature of AP

organisations makes them inherently less stable and vulnerable to key staff moves than larger

educational settings. All this means the children who attend AP are particularly vulnerable.

The March 2022 government white paper “Opportunity for All” claimed that its intention was: “Every part of the system, from strong trusts to local authorities, will be held accountable to a set of clear roles and responsibilities, so that no child falls through the cracks.” There were laudable intentions in the white paper to consult on how local authorities and MATs could work most effectively

together around vulnerable children - such as those who may spend some time attending AP. The

white paper shows a useful diagram on p54 neatly putting potential responsibilities of LAs and

MATs around their respective roles and responsibilities into two columns. I do not think that it is as

simple as that for vulnerable children at risk of exclusion or not attending school - and indeed, the

accompanying research paper to Opportunity for All ( “Research into how local authorities are

ensuring sufficient places and supporting vulnerable children” ) spells out the difficulties around

ensuring local area partnership between LAs and MATs work coherently at all times under current

policy which does not align responsibility and authority. One of the reasons for some difficulties is

the variability across MATs in buying into joint working and inclusive approaches. The research

paper says on p14 “School, trust, and LA leaders reported that, unlike in the statutory children’s

social care system, within the early help system the expectation of joint working and schools’ and

trusts’ role is not sufficiently aligned with policy incentives and accountability, that roles and

responsibilities are less clear, and consequently that the engagement from schools and trusts in

early help is more variable.”

“Opportunity for All” says in Para 151 that it would work openly on developing how it would

support local authorities: “We will back local authorities with new legal powers to match their

responsibilities – and work openly with the local authorities and the wider school system to co-

design the detail over the coming months. “ It will be interesting to see if any of this takes place

under powers of the DfE short of a Bill (given the recent stepping back from the Education Bill).

The Ofsted report on AP due in Autumn 2023, collating evidence from a range of area SEND

inspections, will undoubtedly cast a light on this important area, hopefully catalysing national action

which will support partners in consistent joint working to ensure vulnerable children flourish and

thrive. It will also offer timely insight into the extent to which the recommendations about AP in the

2019 Timpson report have been implemented. All this will be very helpful to local leaders of

children’s services and education.

Annie Gammon

Educational leader and consultant

IncludED Diagnostics

December 2022

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