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Ofsted Chief nudges DfE about Alternative Provision issues

How will the DfE respond to some education concerns flagged in the recent annual Ofsted report? New Year, new plans.

The annual Chief Inspector’s report Ofsted Annual Report 2021/22: education, children’s services and skills came out mid December 2022. This annual review gives an overview of the “state of the education nation” from the very well informed Ofsted perspective. I find it interesting to see what the report indicates as areas to applaud, areas of concern and the Chief Inspector’s hints about what should be done about the latter.

The first element of the report I want to emphasise is acknowledgement for those working in schools and the education system. There is much to recognise and be proud of, without being complacent. Most schools have done a great job for their pupils during the pandemic. Some of the phrases about this from Amanda Spielmann, the Chief Inspector, include: “Eighty-eight per cent of all state funded schools are now judged good or outstanding – up nearly 2 percentage points from 2021…. “ our inspections told a broadly positive story”. So there is an affirmative summary for the great majority of pupils in the great majority of schools.

However there are some particular areas of concern: these are, as often, around vulnerable children and around parts of the system where there is a lack of clear accountability. A number of issues for all schools are picked up: including early years reading and attendance.

I want to pick up some issues where the Chief Inspector clearly thinks the DfE need to take action on systemic change. These are alternative provision, provision for children with SEND and prison education. We know that the two former were due to be attended to by government in the follow up to the green paper. Indeed Gillian Keegan, Secretary of State for Education on 1st January 2023 tweeted in a video message that some SEND reforms would be announced early this year. Claire Coulinho, Under Secretary of State, said on 29th November 2022 that there would be new plans for Alternative Provision and SEND : “Early next year we'll be publishing the SEND and AP Improvement Plan to ensure all SEND pupils get an excellent education.“

Ofsted have clearly given their views on what needs to happen. The Chief Inspector’s report points out: “…. a lack of clarity about the purpose of AP and what constitutes good outcomes for children and young people in AP. The Department for Education should consider this when developing national standards and a new performance framework for AP. It should analyse current patterns of use to ensure that performance measures reflect the best pathways in and out of AP.”

It will be interesting to see what the new DfE plans hold. Will there be primary legislation or revised guidance? How much will there be changed expectations for mainstream schools about their interface with AP over some of our most vulnerable children who have historically poor outcomes? And how much will there be a change to expectations of partnership local system wide working to support vulnerable children? Is there any feedback from the government AP Pilot? One of the dilemmas of the current England education system is that academies (forming about half of the schools in the country) are very much set up to look after their own pupils - not necessarily to be part of a local area collaborative. While some academies are very cooperative in terms of local area joint working, others are less so. The 2022 white and green papers indicated that more collaboration would be expected: indeed, the SEND Code of Practice sets out strong expectations of collaboration. I would hope that ministers take every opportunity to lay down a strong framework of local collaboration and expectations for our most vulnerable children - who often need combined collaborative education, health, social care and family support to fulfil their potential as adults.

Annie Gammon

IncludED Diagnostics

4th January 2023

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