A test of guidance

The keen observers among you will have noted that the most recent Ofsted inspection framework revealed an increased focus on the achievement of pupils with special educational needs and the quality of teaching that enables learning to take place.

With the Children and Families Bill gaining Royal Assent and a new SEN Code of Practice to be implemented, raising the quality of whole-school provision is firmly on the agenda of most schools.
As a specialist practitioner in school inclusion, I am continually working with schools to sharpen their inclusive practice. My most recent project involved a primary school that had been rigorously engaged for the past 18 months in moving from their ‘satisfactory’ Ofsted report under the previous framework to a ‘good’ one under the new framework.  

The data
It was clear from discussions with the SENCO that the school had amassed ‘quantum data’ but there was no obvious framework in which to explore what the data meant, how it might be benchmarked, or even if they had the full range of data they would require to inform their future interventions – they ‘didn’t know what they didn’t have’. As the inspection team is only in a school for a short time, it is essential that schools have collected all the relevant data and supporting evidence they may need to inform the final inspection judgement.

The school focus
In our discussions it was also apparent that the school wanted the SENCO to take a more strategic role in the delivery of provision They school, and in particular the SENCO, had expressed the need for a framework, tool or format to enable them to develop the SENCO’s strategic role effectively and to ensure that evidence for specific aspects within the four key Ofsted judgements was gathered in a clear and consistent manner. However, as with many settings, there was not a clear vision of what that evidence should be.
 Along with the school’s senior leadership team, the SENCO had also identified the need to develop the whole school workforce to ensure that all staff had the skills, knowledge and understanding they needed to provide high-quality teaching and learning opportunities for all pupils.

Using the guide
I wanted to evaluate the use of nasen’s practical guidance, The Nasen Guide for Primary and Secondary SENCOs Preparing for School Inspection, and so this seemed to be an ideal opportunity to help direct the SENCO while considering the effectiveness of the guide as a whole-school improvement tool.  

What evidence does the inspection team want?
We began by evaluating each section at a time, starting with the Leadership and Management area of judgement and, in particular, the role of the SENCO. The notes section on the right-hand side of the page was useful to note where evidence was to be found, provided or produced by others, where there were obvious gaps that needed to be looked into and which staff would be involved. The criteria also very quickly showed gaps in training and nudged the SENCO towards observational evidence that she realised she did not have. It certainly focused the mind on impact, quality, accessibility and the inclusiveness of the school.

Quality of Teaching
The second area that the SENCO chose to focus on was the Quality of Teaching. She felt that the issues for consideration included in each section helped her to understand how the school could make better use of teacher observation, and the inclusive teaching observation checklist was really useful for this. The prompts for discussions with learners helped to give clear guidance and to identify the evidence required, showing the SENCO what she was looking for and the questions she needed to ask.
Through the use of the Achievement area of judgement, the SENCO was able to work with other members of the school team to explore the raw data and analyse pupils’ attainment and progression. Again, this led to specific, targeted conversations with staff where the SENCO felt empowered in assessing school procedures and in identifying areas for improvement.
Holistic approach
The school is proud of its holistic and nurturing approach. It is committed to ensuring that pupils feel safe and have respect and courtesy for each other. Through the Behaviour and Safety area of judgement, the school was thoroughly directed in clearly evidencing the attitudes and experiences of the pupils and in reviewing impact of interventions where needed.

Using the four areas of judgement, the SENCO could produce short-term (urgent) and long-term (through the academic year) action plans, which formed the basis for discussion at senior leadership meetings. To get the most from the considerations section, we developed a useful flagged system on the notes of how important or urgent some statements were compared with others.
Much of the SENCO’s direct school improvement work involved discussions with key staff members and this was supported by specific use of questions posed in the areas of judgement, which the SENCO found extremely useful during meetings. She felt it empowered her to create evidenced plans that ensured engagement at all levels and were not her sole responsibility to implement.

It was felt that the guide is a fantastic whole‑school resource – an extensive guide, not a ‘quick fix’. Gathering evidence and staff observations and holding discussions take time but the guide provides a very specific framework for this. The SENCO summed up her settings feelings about the guide as, ‘Inspirational and aspirational – the guide has been excellent in supporting us and has given us confidence in supporting all the pupils, all the time, to the best of our ability. It has given everyone the confidence that whoever walks in the door, we are prepared!’
Since my work there, the school has undergone an Ofsted inspection in February 2014 and was graded ‘good’ – a testament to the hard work the staff have undertaken in raising the quality of their whole-school provision.  Nasen will be offering training in the new academic year based on the framework laid out in the inspection guide.

Bridget Bolwell is a specialist practitioner in school inclusion with Brighter Futures, Bath.

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