An inspector calls. Again. But are they improving SEND provision?

An inspector calls. Again. But are they improving SEND provision?

Just under three years ago, inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission began checking up on England’s SEND services. 

The original plan was a one-shot gig – inspect SEND services in each of England’s 152 ‘local areas’ (that’s the local authority, plus the NHS commissioning groups that work within it), check to make sure the 2014 SEND reforms were being implemented effectively, and wrap the job up in 2021.

Plans don’t often survive reality unscathed, and that’s what’s happened here. The powers that be who commissioned and designed these inspections didn’t anticipate the scale of underperformance in local area SEND services. 

Where are we now?

We’re now just over halfway through the inspections – check out the infographics for more detail, and to see what’s happened in your local area and region. But here’s how things stand in mid-March 2019:

Find the interactive version of the map here

  • 82 of the 152 local areas have been inspected, and have received an ‘outcome letter’ detailing their performance in implementing the SEND reforms. Five more are awaiting the result of their inspection.
  • Local area SEND inspections aren’t like school inspections: there’s no grade from outstanding to inadequate. But in 40 of the 82 local areas – nearly half of them –  inspectors found performance poor enough that they invoked their most serious sanction: instructing the local area to submit a written statement of action (WSOA), a plan showing how council and NHS leaders are going to improve the service.
  • Inspection outcomes are getting worse over time: in 2016’s inspections, 25% of local areas were told to write a written statement of action. In 2017, 51% of local areas had to submit one. And in 2018, nearly 60% of local areas inspected had to put a WSOA together. There’s not a clear reason why, but it’s highly likely that inspection standards have risen since the first visits in 2016. 

There’s also a disparity in outcomes by region: London and the East Midlands have performed relatively well in these inspections, but outcomes in Yorkshire and the North East have been much poorer. Again, it’s not exactly clear why, but it’s notable that many inspections in the North have been led by Ofsted’s most experienced & capable SEND specialists.

Written Statements of Action

So what happens when a local area is told to submit a written statement of action? We’ve covered this in a previous SNJ article, but here’s how it works: 

In their outcome letter, the inspectors will have identified several areas where they feel serious improvement is needed. For each of these areas, the local area writes a draft plan outlining:

  • what the intended outcome will be;
  • what needs to improve to achieve the outcome, and by when;
  • who in the local area is responsible for ensuring that improvement happens, and;
  • the indicators or steps that will tell the local area that it is actually improving.

All fine: but someone has to make sure that the local area is delivering on the plan, and the original arrangements for that were pretty hazy. The architects probably anticipated that this would be an occasional outcome – not something that would end up being needed for half of England’s local areas.

So the task of making sure the local area was getting its house in order was largely left to a roving band of DfE & NHS consultants – in some cases, the same consultants who had reported no serious problems with the local area prior to the inspection. 

There were clear problems emerging with this gossamer-thin monitoring process. So in July 2018, the Department for Education announced two things

  • Firstly, that they’d get Ofsted and CQC to monitor the local areas that had to submit a written statement of action, check on their progress, and advise the DfE on next steps. 
  • Secondly, DfE would ask Ofsted & CQC to design a second cycle of local area SEND inspections, to start once the first cycle of inspections had finished in 2021.

The Re-Visit Process

Ofsted & CQC set about designing a monitoring process in the autumn of 2018, and what emerged was a system of ‘re-visits’. You can find the full re-visit framework here, but here’s how it works:

  • If the local area was told to submit a written statement of action, Ofsted & CQC inspectors will re-visit it roughly 21 months after the date on the original inspection outcome letter.
  • The re-visit isn’t a full re-inspection – it focuses on the areas of serious weakness identified in the first inspection. If fresh horrors emerge during the re-visit, they’ll be noted down for investigation the next time a full inspection happens.
  • The re-visit is carried out by one of Ofsted’s Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) and a CQC inspector – if possible, these will be the same people who carried out the original inspections.
  • Local areas get 10 working days’ notice of the re-visit – a week longer than they got for the inspections. That’s less time for local area turd-polishing than you might think – during this time, the local area has to keep the inspection team fed with data showing what they’ve done to improve since the inspection.
  • The re-visit itself is 2-4 days long, depending on how much the local area was originally told it needed to do to make its services fit for purpose. Most of that time is spent gathering evidence to check that the local area has actually taken effective action to remedy the serious weakness identified in the original inspection.
  • During the re-visit, inspectors meet with children and young people, as well as parents and carers. They might venture out on visits, or they might not – it depends on the original areas of serious weakness.
  • Once the 2-4 days are over, inspectors start firming up their judgements. For each of the areas of serious weakness, they’ll make a call on whether the local area has done enough to address them. The inspectors then draft a summary re-visit letter, put it through quality control, and it then gets published on the Ofsted website roughly 6-7 weeks after the re-visit.
  • The re-visit letter says upfront whether the local area has done enough to address each area of serious weakness. If new concerns get thrown up as a result of the re-visit, they’ll get mentioned in the letter too. 

So how do parents fit into this? If you’re a parent or carer, there are several ways you can get involved: a meeting organised with the parent carer forum (PCF), an open meeting, and an online survey that opens a week before the re-visit. This looks similar to the process used for the full-fat inspections – it’s somewhat creaky, and parents need to be alert to get involved

Also, bear in mind that inspectors will be mostly focusing on the weaknesses that they identified first time round. If you’ve got fresh evidence showing other parts of the local area’s SEND service running smoothly or diabolically, then inspectors will take it on board – but they’re unlikely to take immediate action on it.

Re-Visits: The Story So Far

It’s still early days for these re-visits – as far as we can tell, there have been four to date (Rochdale, Hartlepool, Suffolk and Dorset) and two more are happening this week (Sandwell and Surrey). 

Rochdale was the first local area re-visited. Inspectors gave the local area a generally clean bill of health, reporting that Rochdale had made sufficient progress across their four areas of serious weakness; they recommended that Rochdale no longer needed regular monitoring visits to keep them on track. 

Things aren’t so rosy-looking in SuffolkInspectors re-visited in January, examining four specific areas of serious weakness. They found that Suffolk had made sufficient progress on one of the four areas, but reported that Suffolk hadn’t made sufficient progress across three of them: too many EHCPs were still weak, the local offer and CAMHS mental health service were still in disarray, and efforts to improve joint working were still underdeveloped.

From the report, it looks like evidence from Suffolk parents was taken seriously: over 700 parents and carers provided evidence via an online survey and through SPCN, Suffolk’s formidable parent carer forum.

Last week, Ofsted & CQC reported on their January re-visit to Hartlepool, with a similar story – some progress made, but the quality of Hartlepool EHCPs remained too variable, and joint commissioning of education and health remained too weak. 

What happens next?

So what happens if a local area ‘fails’ one of these re-visits? We don’t know – but the little we do know makes us uneasy.

At this point, there’s no road-map. The only thing that’s clear is that the accountability ball gets passed back to central government. The Department for Education and NHS England decide what happens next. The inspectors trudge off stage-left, only to reappear if Whitehall summons them back again.

In theory, the Department for Education could use Ministerial powers of intervention to impose a new setup via statutory direction. They could issue a non-statutory improvement notice, beefing up the DfE’s existing monitoring and oversight arrangements. Or, of course, they could do nothing of consequence. 

And at this point, there’s a real risk that the accountability process will move behind closed doors in Whitehall, with parents and local front-line professionals shut out

Suffolk local area SEND leaders have already been summoned to a meeting with DfE and NHS England personnel to discuss next steps. Suffolk parents asked to attend this meeting. They’ve been shut out – they’re not even allowed to attend the meeting as observers, let alone as full participants.

The determination of Whitehall civil servants to shut parents out of this critical process tells you a great deal about their real commitment to co-production. Co-production is something other people should do, must do. Ministers, civil servants, and consultants give fine speeches about it. But it’s not for them. It’s for the little people.

Somewhere, hidden in the wings of this two-year bureaucratic clown show, there are children and young people with SEND who need proper provision, and they need it now. And they need the full participation of parents and carers in the process of making things better.

Does any of this make a difference?

We call this site Special Needs Jungle for a reason, and this is a part of the SEND jungle that’s particularly dense and impenetrable. Understanding this part of the jungle matters. People in positions of power and influence are making important decisions off the back of what these inspections reveal or fail to reveal. 

And after a frustratingly complacent and inconsistent first year, many of these inspections are now unearthing hard truth about how SEND services work at local area level. The process is now overseen by specialist inspectors who genuinely ‘get it’. But this is a problem that boils down to a simple question – will these inspections actually improve things for children and young people with SEND? 

The answer’s mixed. The local area SEND inspections often focus on strategy and process flow, and sometimes that makes improvements hard to see at an individual level – particularly those that are happening slowly behind the scenes. But there’s a limit to what these inspections can achieve. 

Inspectors aren’t regulators – they’re there to see how effectively local areas are implementing the SEND reforms. They don’t have a direct remit to hold your local area to account for its failure to act lawfully. 

Unbelievably, four-and-a-half years after the SEND reforms began, with evidence of failure now visible from space, with serial unlawful behaviour stretching back decades, this sector still has no regulator.These inspections aren’t a fix for that. Parents are still going to need to rely on the SENDIST Tribunal, the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman, and even judicial review to secure their children’s educational rights.

These inspections also don’t touch SEND funding, which is in national meltdown. The Suffolk re-visit failed to report on the near-total breakdown of mainstream high-needs SEND funding arrangements in the local area, caused by a mixture of national shortage and local incompetence. 

And ultimately, inspections also don’t happen frequently enough to embed changes in local area organisational behaviour – which is still shocking in many local areas lucky enough to be in the first wave of complacent inspections. Talk to families in places like Derbyshire, East Sussex, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire & Trafford – who all ‘passed’ in 2016 and 2017 – and you’ll hear cases of appallingly unlawful behaviour. These local areas won’t be reinspected for at least two, possibly three years. No real improvement’s likely there for years. 

These inspections are now a lot better than nothing – but inspectors are working within the limits of the powers they have. And for the worst areas, the ultimate power to drive improvement lies with the Department for Education and NHS England – and they don’t appear to want parents and carers involved.

As appalling as it is, it’s still up to parents to make SEND accountability happen.

Who’s next for a re-visit?

  • Waltham Forest – Date confirmed: March 2019
  • Date not confirmed: Sefton; Middlesbrough; Brent; Bury; Wakefield


How to Start Your Own Autism Blog

How to Start Your Own Autism Blog

This afternoon, I joined Dr Anna Kennedy‘s weekly show ‘All Things Autism’ at Women’s Radio Station. Today’s episode centred on starting an autism blog and we’re lucky to also have on the show autism blogger Ann Hickman, who also contributes for HuffPost UK.

Anna kicked off the show by sharing her insights about autism – She said that until now parents with autistic children are still being told that:

  • ‘Your child has eye contact, they cannot be autistic’
  • ‘Your child is too articulate, they cannot be autistic’
  • ‘This adult isn’t autistic; I have seen Rain Man
  • ‘This person can drive; they’re not autistic’

Just like Anna, I find these comments unsettling. We’d think that as a society, we had already moved on from all these stereotypes on autism. Apparently, more needs to be done.

And this is where blogging about autism could be helpful – blogging is a powerful platform in creating conversations.

Having a fellow blogger on the table makes the topic even more meaty. But even though Ann Hickman and myself are both bloggers, we have slight differences with our blogging backgrounds. For one, Ann draws her content from her lived experience of having autistic children, while I run a user-generated blog.

I also gathered from our conversation that Ann runs her blog to ultimately promote awareness about autism. I, on the other hand, run a blog because it’s my chosen career and also to promote awareness on mental health.

I also shared on the show that my blogging journey started with me blogging about my opinions, and then later on as a travel (It was only in 2014 that I launched Psychreg). In contrast, Ann started as an autism blogger straight away. Yet, in spite of these mini difference Ann and I share the same passion for blogging. And this passion is what you will constantly hear from bloggers like Ann and myself.

It may sound cliché and a little unrealistic on the surface, but there’s a reason for it. When you blog about something you’re passionate about, you’re more likely to put in the time and effort to make your platform shine. 

Throughout the show, Ann talked about her experience as an autism blogger. She runs ‘Rainbows are too beautiful‘. She hopes to raise awareness, promote understanding, discuss important issues, and most importantly offer support to those who are passionate about autism. 
Ann’s blog opened up opportunities for her. Right now, she is a contributor on The Huffington Post UK and The Mighty. She has also provided guest posts for newspapers such as the Yorkshire Post and several online publications including Special Needs Jungle. Ann shares many posts as a way of increasing awareness.

While Ann talked about her experience of being an autism blogger, I focused on the technical element of blogging: I offered tips on how to start a blog (be it an autism blog, or something else):

  • Choose a domain name
  • Choose a blogging platform
  • Decide how often you would update your blog
  • Promote it on social media

Aside from writing for different publications, both Ann and I have also spoken at a number of events. Ann has been a speaker at one of the events of Optimus Education; while I have been invited to speak at a number of events both here in the UK and overseas. This summer I will be one of the speakers at Mental Health Blog Awards to be held at Portsmouth on 27th July. It was an afternoon filled with learning and insights about the blogging. 

We thank Dr Anna Kennedy for inviting us on her show and we hope that her listeners enjoyed today’s show as much as we did. 
You can catch a replay of the episode online at Women’s Radio Station or via their app.


Autism Assessment in Adulthood

Autism Assessment in Adulthood

Bernie has asked me to share her son’s story . 

Far too many stories like this are highlighted now across the media.  This is a shameful failure in my opinion of our current system . Our sons and daughters are not second class citizens. Our sons and daughters do matter.

Bernie shared:

‘Please make this a lesson to be learned as an example of poor treatment and care for Autistic individuals.

My handsome son was taken away from the mainland UK very suddenly in 2016 to a residential unit on an island. My son apparently was to be assessed and I was reassured he’d be back in a few months.  I trusted them to return my son safely to me.

He was 19.

My son is still there. 

I’ve waited ….

And waited on his return.

No one was listening to me despite being his mother and Guardian

I travel 100 miles return weekly to be with him for a few hours. 

Promises for his return have fallen through with the Head of Care here literally disappearing without knowledge of where or why he left. 

He says at the official review November 2018 my son can move to a home for severely disabled young adults in our area but this was not possible for him as they had no pavement outside the home to safely walk him since it was near a busy road.

His social worker after being off for most of last year has not been in touch since she came back until I followed contacted her and then she announced “we need a review”.

The system has been taken over by Private Care companies many of which are individuals with severe forms of autism who are being looked after out of their areas.

There are young and old together in one room during the day.  He only gets out when staff are available. 

I was redirected to an MP by another MP I had already been in touch with regarding our situation .  I just feel like I’m going around in circles. 

Listen to me his mother since I have been there through his whole young life. . Fighting for every bit of help I could get for years. 
I am his voice. 

As his mother I know him best.

I want him home. 

He is my son. … ‘

Bernie Redman

Autism Awareness Week – Autism Got Talent will showcase at the Apple Store, Covent Gardens

Autism Awareness Week – Autism Got Talent will showcase at the Apple Store, Covent Gardens

We are so excited that six of our Autism’s got Talent performers are showcasing their talent at the Apple Flagship Store in Covent Garden during Autism Awareness Week!!!

This will take place at The Apple store, No. 1, 7 The Piazza, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8HB 
on April 5th at 5.30pm until 6.15pm. 

Anna Kennedy will be presenting each of the performers!
So if you are in the area on Friday April 5th 2019 at 5.30pm until 6.15pm – come and join in to support us and say hello!! 

Our performers are:

Callum Kirrage

Marie Gorton

Ethan Kumalo

Macauley Elvin

Autism with Attitude 

Emma Awahi

The Apple store,
No. 1, 7 The Piazza,
Covent Garden, London WC2E 8HB 

Autistic boy target of disability hate crime – by Penny Bracken

Autistic boy target of disability hate crime – by Penny Bracken

One weekend in April 2018 my autistic son (17) was outside on our front garden minding his own business when he became the victim of an unprovoked attack on him resulting in physical and mental injuries. Harry was minding his own business watching his autistic sister and other sister play outside. Within minutes youths descended upon him and immediately started mocking and taunting him. They asked why he had no friends and a shouted “because you’re autistic”, they mocked his hair and the way he dressed. They kicked footballs at his head and punched and kicked him and pulled at his clothes and then threatened to damage his belongings. They also made threats of violence and stated the whole street wanted us out of our home because we were freaks and didn’t belong there.

I called the police. Harry was extremely overloaded with frustration and anxiety as this had been a part of his life for the past two years but no one cared.Police arrived and despite expressing our concerns of our safety they dismissed it and drove away. 45 minutes later Harry was surrounded by a large number of residents both youths and adults and he was violently attacked by a male in his twenties. A boxer who had made several threats but this time followed it through.

Family background

Harry was diagnosed with Autism and sensory processing disorder when he was 13 just before his fathers diagnosis of the same and his 10 year old sisters diagnosis of selective mutism and autism. Harry has always found social situations extremely challenging and although he tried mainstream school he found it too difficult and was home schooled along side his younger siblings.

We moved into social housing in Somerset in January 2016 because of my physical disabilities. Despite Harry’s difficulties with social communication and emotions , he became very good at football. He played a solitary position of goal keeper and played for Yeovil town, Bristol City and Arsenal before he was attacked.

Discrimination started

Not long after moving into our new home it became apparent that the rest of the estate did not accept “different people” in their community.

He autistic members of my family were continuous targets of abuse.

They were subjected to:

  • Being mocked and mimicked ( hand flapping and the use of ear defenders)
  • Name calling such as spastic, retard, autistic freak, weirdo, mong and Billy no mates
  • Constant verbal abuse, threats of violence, harassment, ASB and criminal damage to vehicles that belonged to them
  • Driven at and hit by vehicles
  • Caused alarm and distress

Social housing

We moved to Taunton into social housing for security. Our immediate next door neighbours also social housing tenants (a school teaching assistant and town Chaplin) orchestrated all the hate within the street which was aimed at the members of the family with autism. More and more residents became involved in their malicious campaign to bully us out of our home.

Although the social landlords states they had Zero Tolerance Policy against ASB and hate, they offered no help or support and took no action against the perpetrators. They even leaked all our personal and sensitive data to the perpetrators.

They classed it as low level neighbour hood disputes even though no complaints had been made against my family.


Over two years we had well over 100 police logs of hate related incidents and crime. None of which were followed up with any type of action.

Police would not accept it was disability hate crime despite plenty of evidence. Instead they ignored it and neglected us allowing incident s to escalate and become more frequent.

There was a huge barrier between ourselves and the police. The police had no compassion or understanding of autism.

The police accused my autistic husband and son of

  • Unapproachable
  • Demanding
  • Abrupt
  • unable to have a “proper” conversation
  • Aggressive

And could not understand why communication cards were a way of them communicating.

My husbands social worker and autism specialist for Somerset offered the police and housing specialist training to enable them to communicate better and understand. This was declined.

Impact on the whole family

The constant neglect of the police had a huge impact on the whole family especially the autistic members of the family. It affected mental well being and triggered and exasperated other conditions. Harry has been particularly affected. He gave up his football career, was unable to sit his exams and suffers now from PTSD and severe anxiety and depression. He feels the police have failed us. He has had suicidal thoughts and practically wrote his car off due to have the feeling of no self worth and there being no justice in the world. Harry felt extremely let down and had no respect for the police.

Present and future

Since the attack the whole family felt so unsafe we relocated to another county. This has been a huge challenge living in unfamiliar territory and routines broken and changed.

In October 2018 Avon and Somerset police wrote to us and stated that they would be filing the report on the assault and taking no further action. This was a huge shock as there was CCTV evidence and the male admitted his crime. He even bragged about it on social media and stated he couldn’t wait to finish him off.

We have made numerous complaints to IPCC none were upheld even with evidence of police discrimination, lies and fabrication. Instead police accused us of fabricating incidents, staging incidents and not engaging with the police. Police wrote us admitting inconsistencies within dealing with our incidents and despite promises of putting a plan in place to protect us by the chief inspector, none of it was followed though.

We are of the opinion the Police covered up for each other and are doing the same now. They caused our autistic son of being the protagonist in the assault and there deserved what he got.


Please help get our story out there so another family do not suffer what we have. WE WANT JUSTICE. A vile bully has got away with his crime. Please help us get the police to re-investigate this crime and allow our son to continue with his life and restore his faith in society!

By Penny Bracken