An SEND self-audit framework

This article was originally posted in Headteacher Update 5/11/15.


How effective is your school’s overall SEND provision? Inclusion expert Daniel Sobel urges you not to wait for problems to develop, but to self-audit your SEND using the following framework.

There are subtleties in pinpointing the issues with SEND provision in a school, but I am frequently struck by problems that have been left for a significant amount of time to persist or develop simply because senior leaders have not reviewed SEND provision themselves. In the majority of cases, senior leaders simply lack expertise with SEND and do not know what to look for, or which questions to ask. This article sets out a basic framework to guide senior leaders in carrying out an MOT on SEND provision in their schools.

SEND self-audit framework

The 2014 SEND Code of Practice is a cumbersome document. However, there is a consistent theme that extends beyond particular systems and provisions. I have tried to capture it in the following questions:

Is SEND provision a major agenda item for your school? Is it central to mainstream teaching or does it remain predominantly the responsibility of the SENCO? Does aspiration to and celebration of success include SEND students? Is inclusion part of the school’s ethos and culture? Does it work? How do you know?

The following self-audit framework breaks those questions down into specific points which senior leadership teams and governors would benefit from considering on an annual basis (in communication with the SENCO).

Ofsted focuses on governance and will look at the extent and effectiveness of governor participation in SEND provision. The best way to ensure that your school meets these standards is to appoint an SEND governor. He or she should be regularly updated on provision and the minutes of such meetings should be recorded and filed.

I have grouped the self-audit questions into topics which can be taken one at a time, though best practice should bring together the various elements of SEND support.

I have suggested for each topic what outstanding practice might look like, the recurring issues we encounter in schools, and the most important questions to ask and goals to achieve.

Topic 1: Teaching assistants

Outstanding practice means that teaching assistants are:

  • Knowledgeable across a range of SEND issues.
  • Motivated and act with purpose.
  • Strategically placed to maximise impact.
  • Aware of the needs not just of students with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) but across the classroom.
  • Trained in SEND skills, including prompting, scaffolding and other “on-the-spot” differentiation techniques.

Common challenges

Teaching assistants often do not have the training to know when and how to support a student – and sometimes support in a manner that actually gets in the way of learning (see The Making a Statement Project Final Report).
Logging and record-keeping are common weak spots. Too much information goes awry and not enough useful information is farmed.

Teaching assistants need allocated time to work on this on a weekly basis and well-structured systems need to be in place with regard to how this information is stored and ultimately used. Finally, Ofsted inspectors want to see regular updates on students’ progress and other information-sharing between teaching assistants and class teachers.

Additional goals/other points to consider

  • Does the job description and training provided to your teaching assistants reflect the new SEND Code of Practice?
  • Do your teaching assistants give the school “value for money”?
  • Line-management meetings should occur at least every other week.
  • Regular liaison between the teaching assistant and home (to pass on positive feedback and follow up on issues) requires training and monitoring but is worth its weight in gold.

Topic 2: Interventions

Outstanding practice means that:

  • Interventions are specific, child-led and personalised.
  • Interventions are home-grown, issue-specific and inexpensive.
  • Staff/parents are given clear information about wave 1, 2 and 3 interventions.

Common challenges

Schools often buy expensive interventions only to find that these do not work as well as free, home-grown ones – they are less student-specific and often sit outside the curriculum. Furthermore, soft data successes are often not recorded or get lost behind hard data, creating a less positive impression of a student’s progress. Systems for long-term tracking and record-keeping cross key stage are often cumbersome, too. There should be efficient systems in place for mapping the history of students’ needs and progress.

Additional goals/other points to consider

Every intervention should have entry and exit criteria. When interventions are not successful, those involved should take time to work-out if this is because of the intervention itself, the person leading it, or an inappropriate application of the intervention to the particular cohort or student.

Topic 3: Assessment and identifying need

Outstanding practice means that:

  • A robust whole-school plan and procedure for assessing need across year groups and at regular junctions is in place.
  • Awareness of closing the gap issues and strategies in place to respond.
  • The school is able to assess students across the board, taking into account social, emotional and behavioural factors.
  • The school is responsive to the ways in which SEND intersects with other groups, including Pupil Premium, English as an additional language, gifted and talented, ethnic minority, child protection (looked-after children), attendance and lateness.

Common challenges

  • Family, social and soft data factors.
  • The misuses of expensive educational psychologists’ time.

Additional goals/other points to consider

  • Is there a policy in place for pupils joining after September?
  • How does the school become aware that a student has language acquisition or language retrieval issues. Unless there is a sophisticated and robust procedure in place these critical needs will go unnoticed.

Topic 4: The role of the SENCO

Outstanding practice means that the SENCO:

  • Facilitates, mentors and monitors the delivery of SEND support by teachers, rather than doing it all themselves.
  • Has both a long and short-term strategic view of progress.
  • Is involved on leading in both pastoral and curriculum matters.

Common challenges

SENCOs often struggle with whole-school and departmental staff development and management. They should be facilitating staff to develop understanding of their students and to adapt the curriculum accordingly.

Additional goals/ other points to consider

  • Is the SENCO financially aware?
  • Does the SENCO maintain good relationships with parents/agencies?
  • How is the SENCO supported?

Topic 5: Whole-school SEND

Outstanding practice means that:

  • We have SEND reps in departments, key phases or year groups.
  • The SENCO meets regularly with class teachers and oversees their work.
  • SEND is present in the pedagogy of the whole school and not a separate issue to be dealt with in the SEND department down the corridor.

Common challenges

SEND is often treated as the responsibility of the SENCO. It is in fact the responsibility of every staff member.

Additional goals/other points to consider

  • Is SEND part of every department’s agenda?
  • In what ways is learning personalised to individuals (no more bog-standard differentiated worksheets)?

Topic 6: Strategy and planning

Outstanding practice means:

  • Demand-led interventions.
  • Half-termly measures of impact.
  • Senior leadership role.

Common challenges

  • Financial accountability.
  • SEND remains entirely reactive and not rooted in whole-school data and planning to directly tackle areas of concern in RAISEonline or whole-school data.

Additional goals/other points to consider

  • Pupil voice and pupil-centred planning.
  • Termly reports for senior leadership team and governors.
  • Can you read, understand and interpret whole-school data and do you do this regularly?

Topic 7: Code of Practice implementation

Outstanding practice includes:

  • Information reports.
  • Parental engagement.
  • Teacher–teaching assistant liaison.
  • Implementation.
  • Quality first teaching.

Common challenges

  • Meaningful parental engagement.
  • Confusion over the EHCP application process.

Additional goals/other points to consider

  • How accessible to parents is the information report?

Topic 8: Transitions

Outstanding practice focuses on:

  • Key stage transfer.
  • Mid-phase transfer and rapid integration of mobility students.
  • Securing meaningful data prior to entry to your school.
  • Liaison with secondary schools and early planning.

Common challenges

The most challenging transitions are on and off roll, in and out of pupil referral units, cross-borough and out-of-borough. Many permanent exclusions can be traced back to problems at the point of transition.

Additional goals/other points to consider

Often it is the most vulnerable students who end up transitioning. Staff involved should be clearly aware of the impact the transition might be having on the student, and strategies to mitigate the worst of it.

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