From 1st January 2023, a new framework and handbook for inspecting local area arrangements for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) was jointly published by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Ofsted.
Inspections are carried out jointly by inspectors from the CQC and Ofsted, who specialise in education, health and social care, under Section 20(1)(a) of the Children Act 2004. This includes monitoring inspections under Section 20(2) of the Children Act 2004.
The purpose of an inspection is to make an independent assessment of the effectiveness of the local area’s arrangements for children and young people with SEND up to the age of 25 years old covered by the SEND code of practice (including those who have an education, health and care (EHC) plan and those who receive special educational needs (SEN) support) and make any recommendations for improvement. The outcomes of inspections are also made widely available to help inform decisions about education, health and care for children and young people with SEND.
The SEND inspection framework sets out the statutory basis for inspections, the principles and purposes of inspection, as well as the approach, frequency and timing of inspections. The SEND inspection handbook provides guidance to inspectors on how to carry out a SEND inspection, including how to gather evidence and how to formulate their judgements.
Both the SEND inspection framework and guidance have been published and can be viewed here.
What types of area SEND inspection can be carried out by CQC and Ofsted?
Under the SEND inspection framework, the CQC and Ofsted can carry out:
- A full inspection – the purpose of this is to evaluate and report on the overall effectiveness of the local area partnership’s arrangements for children and young people with SEND and any required improvements;
- A monitoring inspection – the purpose of this is to evaluate progress in priority areas identified at a full inspection;
- An engagement meeting – this takes place with representatives of the local area partnership to review their self-evaluation and action plan and discuss any challenges;
- Area SEND thematic visits – these are carried out to investigate a certain aspect of the SEND system.
Inspections are led by an Ofsted inspector and the inspection teams will vary in size depending on the size and nature of the local area and the complexity of the local SEND system. The inspection team will, however, usually consist of children’s services inspectors from the CQC and education and social care inspectors from Ofsted.
There are three inspection outcomes:
- The local area partnership’s arrangements typically lead to positive experiences and outcomes for children and young people with SEND. The local area partnership is taking action where improvements are needed.
- The local area partnership’s arrangements lead to inconsistent experiences and outcomes for children and young people with SEND. The local area partnership must work jointly to make improvements.
- There are widespread and/or systemic failings leading to significant concerns about the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND, which the local area partnership must address urgently.
When will an area SEND inspection take place?
The timing and type of inspection undertaken is determined by previous SEND inspection outcomes and any relevant information received by the CQC and Ofsted.
New local areas will receive a full inspection within the first three years of its operation. For existing local areas, where the previous inspection outcome was that the local area partnership’s SEND arrangements typically lead to positive experiences and outcomes for children and young people with SEND, a further full inspection will usually be undertaken within five years, with engagement meetings during that period. However, this can be brought forward or a monitoring inspection can take where a serious concern is raised or there is evidence to suggest that a significant deterioration has occurred in a local area’s performance.
A full inspection will usually take place within three years where it was previously found that there were inconsistent experiences and outcomes for children and young people with SEND. Where significant concerns were previously identified, a priority action plan is usually required and a monitoring inspection will usually take place within 18 months and a further full inspection within three years. However, where a local authority is also receiving monitoring visits under the ‘Inspecting local authority children’s services’ framework’, there will usually be no more than three monitoring visits within a 12-month period across both frameworks.
What happens during an area SEND inspection?
A detailed timeline for the inspection will usually be provided to leaders in the local area by the lead inspector at the point at which they notify them of the inspection. This will usually be eight working days before the fieldwork begins and ten working days before coming on site.
The inspectors use the evaluation criteria within the SEND inspection handbook to formulate their judgements, which includes guidance on the enquiries to carry out and evidence to be obtained to evaluate the arrangements for children and young people with SEND. This is not an exhaustive list and inspectors are expected to use their professional judgement.
During a full inspection of a local area, CQC and Ofsted inspectors will visit relevant education and social care providers such as early years settings, schools, colleges and specialist services in order to gather evidence to help formulate their judgements. This is to help inspectors evaluate the local area partnership arrangements and how they work together to support and improve the experiences and outcomes for children and young people with SEND. However, this does not form part of an inspection of those individual education and social care providers and they will be subject to their own inspections by their individual regulators under their own respective registrations.
Our specialist CQC and Ofsted solicitors regularly advise education, health and social care providers on compliance and inspections. For a no-obligation, confidential discussion with one of our specialist regulatory solicitors, contact us now on 0161 696 6250 or via our online enquiry form.