Ofsted inspections deferred until 2024
Last week, the inquest into the death of Ruth Perry concluded, finding that her school’s latest Ofsted inspection ‘likely contributed’ to the headteacher’s death. The coroner is now preparing to issue a regulation 28 report which sets out the action that should be taken to prevent future tragedies.
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, issued an apology on behalf of Ofsted, in which she said ‘after Mrs Perry’s death we made changes to the way we work, to help reduce the pressure felt by school leaders. We will do more.’ As part of these changes, Ofsted has now launched a hotline that puts school leaders in touch with senior Ofsted officials to raise any concerns they may have about their inspection.
This week marked the last opportunity for Ofsted inspections to take place before the Christmas break. However, in the wake of the coroner’s verdict, Ofsted delayed inspections by a day to give inspectors urgent training on how to respond to anxiety and pause their visits if necessary. The inspectorate also announced that all deferral requests would be approved if school’s did not want to go ahead with inspection this week. Deferrals are usually only approved in exceptional circumstances.
Inspections are expected to resume in January 2024. However, the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) and NAHT, the school leaders’ union, have released a joint statement which says the current measures do not go ‘nearly far enough.’ They call for an immediate pause to inspections ‘to allow time for meaningful action to be taken to address the concerns raised by the coroner in the inquest.’
SEND tribunals reach another record high
The number of parents launching tribunal appeals against local authorities’ refusals to provide special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) support for their child has surged by a quarter in the last year, rising to another record high. Data reveals that a total of 13,658 appeals were made in 2022/23, a significant increase from the previous academic year when appeals reached 11,052.
When a local authority refuses to issue an education, health and care plan (EHCP), or assess a child’s needs, parents have the right to appeal the decision. Earlier this year, the Education secretary, Gillian Keegan, suggested that parents were using the system of tribunals to get their children into ‘very expensive independent schools.’ However, the latest data shows that 98.3% of parents won appeals that proceeded to a hearing – the highest success rate since records began in 2011/12. Just under half of all registered appeals were for children with autism; 27% related to a moderate learning difficulty (MLD); and 14% related to behaviour, emotional and social difficulty (BESD).
With more appeals than ever being lodged, the tribunal system is suffering from a significant backlog. As a result, some parents are left waiting for nearly a year to challenge local authorities’ decisions on SEND support. Anna Bird, CEO of Contact, a charity for families with disabled children, and Chair of the Disabled Children’s Partnership, says ‘the government and local councils must take action to make sure the right, lawful decisions are made first time, so that parents do not have to take legal action to get the support their children need and are entitled to.’
House of Lords committee calls for reform to 11-16 education
The Education for 11-16 Year Olds Committee has published its report ‘Requires Improvement: urgent change for 11-16 education,’ following an inquiry into how well the secondary education system is equipping pupils with the skills needed to thrive in a future digital and green economy. The cross-party committee calls for reform to the current system which they say is focused ‘almost entirely on academic learning at the expense of a broader range of knowledge, skills, and behaviours.’
Since 2010, government policies have created a curriculum that is shaped by a knowledge-rich approach. It was thought this would help to close the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, who have access to this ‘communal knowledge’ at home. However, the inquiry discovered that this approach has ‘left our young people with heads full of data committed to short-term memory – a diet perfect for examinations but wholly inadequate for life.’ The committee suggests that the government should reduce the overall content load of the 11-16 curriculum, particularly in GCSE subjects. Recognising the importance of literacy and numeracy, the committee adds that high-quality level 2 qualifications should be available for pupils to take in Key Stage 4, focusing on the application of these skills in real-life contexts.
The committee also found that the pressure of exam season limits time dedicated to learning due to undue emphasis on exam preparation, whilst also harming the wellbeing of students. Therefore, they recommend lowering the stakes and volume of exams taken at 16, as well as increasing the use of coursework and other non-exam assessments in GCSEs.
Furthermore, the committee calls for the government to abandon the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) school performance measures. The Ebacc measures the proportion of children who secure a grade 5 or above in English, maths, science, a humanity and language GCSE. The committee argues this is ‘overly restrictive and demotes to second-tier status subjects that bring breadth and balance and enable the development of essential skills.’
This comes as the government launches a consultation on the Advanced British Standard, a 16-19 qualification that allows pupils to choose from a minimum of 5 subjects and develop a mix of technical and academic skills.
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