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Parents, OFSTED & Local Area SEND Inspections.
During a conversation with @JonJonesHMI on Twitter, I was asked to explain more about the frustration and disappointment parents felt about opportunities to have their voice heard during the inspections. Some parents said they felt ‘excluded’ or unable to contribute for various reasons and this was not how the inspections were described as being. In order to gather as many views and experiences as possible,
I asked in online SEND parent support groups, on Twitter and via email. My email to Jonathan Jones HMI is below and Jonathan’s responses are in purple font. I would like to thank Jonathan for being open to listening to parents experience and his permission has been gained to share.
Thank you for the opportunity to explain in detail about parental concerns with the LA SEND Inspections.
It’s apparent that it’s challenge allowing parents an equitable chance at submitting evidence to their local area SEND inspection. I don’t think that there’s a one-size solution to the problem, and it is encouraging to hear that OFSTED are doing what they can to address it via social media, outreach to charities and PCFs.
In order to respond to you accurately, I sought the views and experiences of as many parents as possible, via online SEND groups, email and on social media. I was quite overwhelmed by the response, and gained the views of over 150 parents from a wide range of areas/LAs, perhaps demonstrating the importance of this subject to parents.
It’s of interest, that approx three quarters of respondents are not affiliated with a PCF, nor were they during their area inspection. However, approx half are ex-PCF members/leaders and left for various of reasons. Although possibly linked to this subject, I won’t go into those reasons here, as I appreciate its not the information you asked for.
With regards to the Local area SEND inspections, the points below were raised multiple times, and most were included in over 90% of responses.
Parents’ opportunities to speak to Inspectors:
We understand that Inspectors have direct, unfiltered access to parents via the webinars, however it is widely felt that this method gives little scope to provide more than a yes/no snapshot of parental views. Overwhelmingly, parents felt disappointed by the webinars, in particular the lack of opportunity to add details and specifics. (Which perhaps links to the ‘individual cases’ issue detailed below).
“We are currently reviewing how we gather parental views via the webinar. We are hoping to provide a webinar that is open over a longer period of time which will help get around the inconvenient times that parents have told us about. It will also allow parents more time to make comments rather than only having 30mins to do so.”
Inspectors have access to parents at the visits they make to settings, but they are concerned that Inspectors discuss the suitability of the settings they plan to visit with the LA beforehand. Also, many parents weren’t told about their child’s setting being visited, therefore were unable to contribute in this way.
“Inspectors do not discuss the suitability of settings with the LA. The lead inspector chooses the settings and informs the LA during the notification. The LA informs the settings that they have been identified. The LA has the responsibility for informing all parents and carers of children who have SEND and live in the local area. We are very clear with the LA that all parents can attend the settings meeting (so long as their child attends that setting) and that neither schools nor the LA are to select or invite specific parents.
As well as meeting representatives of PCFs, inspectors hold a meeting with parents (often in multiple locations). These meetings are open to all parents of children who have SEND in the local area. Parents are also able to send in their comments to LASEND.email@example.com
Parents can meet inspectors via direct meetings, although almost all parents who responded raised a concern that LAs and/or PCFs are selecting which parents attend.The two most used phrases to describe this were, ‘cherry-picked’ and ‘only the right parents get to attend’. It is widely felt that meeting is possibly where Inspectors get their best opportunity to harvest detailed parental evidence, however despite wishing to attend, there are parents who the LAs will actively avoid selecting, but who could potentially give very informative evidence to Inspectors.
In addition the vast majority of SEND parents are not affiliated with a PCF and because of this, and due to the various sizes, experience and range of SEND involved, PCF’s alone cannot be deemed to be an accurate representation of parental views, experiences or concerns. In addition to this, many parents were not aware when the meeting was being held, and therefore couldn’t ask to be considered.
“The LA has a responsibility to inform parents, PCFs also do this and we announce inspections on our own social media platforms.”
I’ve been made aware that OFSTED & CQC have the final say over which parents they speak to, but how would an Inspector know if parents have been specifically chosen by the LA or PCF to attend these meetings?
‘Inspectors do not choose which parents to speak to. There should be no ‘selection’ process.”
How are parents informed of these meetings in order to have an equitable chance at being considered to attend?
“The LA has a responsibility to inform parents, PCFs also do this and we announce inspections on our own social media platforms”
Inspectors saying they are not interested in ‘individual cases’:
Parents are not expecting inspectors to directly sort out their individual cases, they’re reporting that inspectors aren’t using individual examples as a basis for drawing up lines of inspection enquiry, and therefore feel it’s a justified concern.
When a parent tells an inspector that the LA told them e.g. ‘Your child cannot have an EHC assessment until they are 3 years behind their peers’, it’s an individual example, but it would give inspectors valuable information in order to determine whether it’s a one-off, or whether it’s a widely-used unlawful local policy.
“The example that you provide is exactly how inspectors are to consider such evidence. I would hope that parents do not feel that inspectors aren’t interested in their individual cases but it is that we cannot investigate or comment on this. What inspectors do is consider what wider issues this indicates. Exactly as you illustrate above.
You can appreciate that if every parent were to explain their individual cases in a meeting then it would not be practical. I think the challenge for us is in managing expectations. Ofsted has no powers to investigate complaints or individual cases. Similarly we cannot use one case in isolation as being indicative of the quality of the whole provision. This is not to dismiss or ignore the failings in an individual case.”
The same is true for Tribunals & LGO complaints. Parents have said that some inspectors have a tendency to assume that these are reflections of individual parent dissatisfaction. That they see these cases as individual / anecdotal outlier complaints, rather than cases of statutory failure that might suggest that more systemic failings are going on beneath the surface.
“Inspectors routinely consider the outcomes of tribunals and LGO cases in their preparation and with the discussions with leaders.”
One example given was from a father, who pursued a complaint about his local area inspection. In the complaint correspondence, he was told that individual cases are not pursued, and that notice would only be taken if the case was representative of the majority of cases. Parents are therefore confused how Inspectors would know if an individual case was a majority experience unless it’s investigated further.
“Inspectors are holding differing meetings with all different people and not just from the LA. We evaluate a large amount of evidence prior to the inspection and during the inspection. Inspectors ‘triangulate’ what they see and hear and then come to conclusions. Where there are weaknesses, this is because there is a weight of evidence supporting this. Ofsted has no powers to investigate individual cases.”
The way in which evidence from parents gets treated during the inspection process itself:
The way that parental evidence is framed in many inspection outcome letters is often instructive: parents “feel”, “believe”, “are anxious,” “are worried”, particularly when this evidence is critical of local area services. Evidence from local professionals tends to be framed far less emotively: they “report”, “confirm”, “comment” or “describe.” A common opinion is that there is perhaps a degree of unconscious bias from some inspectors when evaluating evidence from parents and carers versus professionals.
Although evidence will be surely be relayed in various ways, most of it reviewed by parents who studied the submissions, say they were sober, data-driven, and clear in their findings of how effectively the local area is implementing the reforms. Surely there must be evidence to support the parental submissions in order for them to be included in the reports, otherwise wouldn’t OFSTED or CQC say so specifically?
Alternatively, if the evidence is there, why are parental submissions either consciously or unconsciously being framed this way? It might not seem like a big issue, however, as SEND parents, we’re used to the “Mum feels…” approach in meetings and reports. It is one that discounts our input from the offset.
“In our earlier reports, parents and other stakeholders identified this very issue. We have reviewed our writing guidance and inspectors are to write clearly and unambiguously on what the evidence says.”
I am grateful for the opportunity to share this information with you. Thank you for listening and I hope to hear from you soon