LEA Ofsted

Shambles - Our education service has no direction, no leadership and no strategy. It’s a wonder that schools get good results.

This was the headline in the Gloucestershire Echo on Wednesday 9th January commenting on the report by Ofsted and the Audit Commission into Gloucestershire LEA. We must start by congratulating the vast majority of Heads, Governors and Teaching Staff in the County on the excellent job they have all done in maintaining and improving standards over the last few years despite the problems at Shire Hall.

Whilst we were not surprised by many of the findings within this report, some of the criticisms seem to be slightly unfair and misdirected. Councillors are singled out for the main criticism, but whilst the lack of a clear political direction maybe at the root of many of the problems, in this vacuum the Senior Officers of the LEA have been driving policy and many of the major problems are in areas that should be their direct responsibility.

Councillors are rightly taken to task over funding issues, but while there is a clearly documented case within the report for even greater criticism of Government funding, this is not made. It is reasonable to illustrate low education funding by reference to funding for other services, but it is quite uncalled for to question the councillor’s commitment to the education service. We have had our differences with Peter Clarke and co. over policy issues, but we would not cast aspersions on their commitment.

Similarly, it is quite reasonable to take them to task over the poor quality of overall strategy documents, but why is poor management and the lack of effective performance management the fault of elected lay representatives. They employ highly paid administrators to run the department, they should be expected to manage it effectively. We have consistently found it difficult to get any useful figures out of the administration on the affect of policy decisions or to justify assertions they have made and we imagine councillors face the same problem. Perhaps they have been lax in pruning the dead wood.

We were not expecting much on the Special Schools issue. The Audit Commission were the instigators of the SEN Review and we are not surprised that they continue to press for action. We are delighted that the report recognises that this has been a total shambles and that the key stakeholders have no confidence in the proposals. We are also delighted that it endorses our main criticism, namely that the SEN Development plan totally fails to show that it would enhance special needs provision within the county. Why then are councillors criticised for being reluctant to implement it. Surely, any criticism should be for proceeding cautiously despite the obvious short comings. Let us hope we can now work together on a plan that can command wide spread support and address the needs of these children.

Rogues Gallery

Left Dr. Stephen Huggett and right Tony Saunders, the principal architects of the SEN Development Plan of which Ofsted said, “Most serious of all, although the documentation makes constant reference to inclusion and facilitating access, it fails to show how its proposed changes will raise the standards of achievement for pupils with special educational needs.”

Will they do the honourable thing?

Equally worrying, was that January also saw the publication of the Ofsted Report on the Wiltshire LEA. Many times we have heard former Director of Education, Roger Crouch and Stephen Huggett extolling the virtues of inclusion in Wiltshire. What did Ofsted think? Wiltshire’s strategy for Special Educational Needs is unsatisfactory.

Almost every area of SEN provison comes in for severe criticism except the Special Schools of which it was said, There are increasing numbers of examples of good outreach work from special schools. Most damningly it was noted, The LEA is not at present providing satisfactory support to schools to help raise the attainment of pupils with special educational needs. In two-thirds of schools visited the support provided was unsatisfactory, in no school was it good. Is this what we want in Gloucestershire?

If anything Swindon LEA got an even worse report on its SEN provision, There is no coherent written strategy for special educational needs and discussions with headteachers and special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) reveal an almost universal lack of knowledge of the LEAs overall intentions for the future of SEN provision. Although there are several initiatives and developments that are intended to contribute to improving the quality of SEN provision, these are not stated as part of a coherent and comprehensive strategythat is easy for schools to understand.

The chaos is illustrated by the paragraph, Schools are uncertain about the role of the learning support and the support arrangements from the special schools team and how these relate to the development of inclusion in mainstream schools. There is currently a vacancy for a teacher in charge of the service, the establishment of which is six teachers and an advisory teacher for dyslexia. The work is almost entirely with primary schools, with each teacher having a group of schools. Most primary schools have an allocation of learning support time, supposedly determined in relation to their need. Schools were unable to explain the basis for their allocation, and the inspection failed to ascertain what factors are considered and what weightings are attached to them. Increasingly, learning support teachers have seen their role as more concerned with assessing pupils to determine their difficulties and providing advice and training to teachers, rather than working with individuals and groups of pupils. Monitoring is done by an annual satisfaction sheet completed by the school. The LEA is considering delegating to schools the funding for learning support, thus enabling schools to determine whether and if so how much of this they need.

Just which neighbouring LEA’s are doing well in SEN? Well Ofsted said of Worcestershire, The provision of special educational needs (SEN) is satisfactory, and in many aspects good. Its strength is in its quality rather than quantity, and current developments show that it is on track to improve further. The LEA has a convincing strategy for SEN provision, which is carefully interwoven into the eight priorities of its EDP.

Of course Worcestershire, like Gloucestershire has a relatively high proportion of Special Schools. There are moves to greater inclusion, but these have been well planned with the necessary resources being put in place within mainstream schools. Standards in schools also benefit from effective SEN provision, and from the LEAs generally well-focused support for improving behaviour and attendance at school.


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