The school watchdog Ofsted has delivered a scathing indictment of children’s education with special educational needs and disabilities, warning that provision is “disjointed and inconsistent”, with thousands missing out on vital support to which they are entitled.
Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of England’s schools, drew attention to the plight of pupils with SEND, warning that the diagnoses was taking too long, was often inaccurate and mental health needs were not supported sufficiently in her second report.
The report, which presents a state-of-the-nation commentary on the quality of education, revealed that in 2018 more than 2,000 of the most needy children who have official education, health and care (EHC) plans – legally binding documents setting out their needs – were still awaiting provision, almost three times more than in 2010. In 2017 the figure was more than 4,000.
The overall number of requests for ENC assessment that were either refused or delayed have also increased dramatically. In 2017, there were about 14,600 refusals by local authorities to carry out an assessment—a third more than two years earlier.
Spielman also raised concerns about the number of children with special needs who seemed to disappear out of education altogether. Almost 5,800 pupils with SEND left their school between years 10 and 11; some will have been removed from the school roll illegally, because they were perceived as difficult to teach or at risk of bringing down GCSE results. Half of the 19,000 GCSE-aged pupils that dropped off school rolls between 2016 and 2017 did not reappear on another state-funded school roll.
The report also flagged up a widening gap in performance and outcomes for children with SEND between the worst and best local areas. Of the 68 local area inspections carried out, 30 were found to have serious failings.
The chief inspector’s findings come at a time of mounting anger among parents of children with SEND who say vital support services are being withdrawn. A number of parent groups around the country have already launched legal action against their local authorities to try to resist further cuts planned for SEND provision.
Legal action has also been launched against the education secretary, Damian Hinds, and the chancellor Philip Hammond. Parents have accused him of failing to provide local authorities with sufficient funding to pay for SEND services for their children.