An operational note for Her Majesty’s Inspectors and Care Quality Commission inspectors carrying out interim visits to local areas regarding their special educational needs and disabilities arrangements from October 2020.
Applies to England
On 17 March 2020, all routine Ofsted inspections were suspended due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. As part of Ofsted’s phased return to routine inspection, the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have commissioned Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to carry out a series of ‘interim visits’ to local areas from autumn 2020.
This guidance sets out the process and range of activities that inspectors will carry out for these interim visits, from inviting a local area to take part in an interim visit to sharing feedback.
The purpose of interim visits
The purpose of the visits is to:
- support individual local areas to understand the impact of the pandemic on children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and their families
- find out what has worked well for them during this time, what the challenges have been and any lessons learned
- work with the local area to identify opportunities for improvement that address the remaining challenges faced by children and young people with SEND
- highlight positive case studies and share insights nationally to promote whole-system learning
The visits will also give Ofsted, CQC and the government insights into how well the SEND system as a whole is working. They will also enable us to understand when local areas will be ready for routine inspections to restart.
The focus of interim visits
Inspectors will work with a range of partners in a local area to understand the impact of the pandemic on children and young people with SEND. Inspectors will seek to understand the experiences of:
- children and young people with SEND and their families
- area leaders
- practitioners from education, health, social care and wider services
Inspectors will focus on the main theme of children and young people’s access to the right support at the right time, including remotely where necessary. Inspectors will examine this theme, in collaboration with local area leaders, by looking at:
- co-production with children and young people with SEND and their families currently and in response to the impact of the pandemic
- collaboration across agencies to understand children’s and young people’s new, emerging or existing needs and to work out how best to support them during the pandemic
The key questions inspectors will explore with the local area are:
How have children and young people with SEND experienced the pandemic?
What has worked well in supporting them?
What have the challenges been and what did not work so well?
What are the plans for supporting these children and young people in the future?
Local areas will also have the opportunity to put forward a specific area of focus that they would like inspectors to review with them.
The legal context
Ofsted will carry out and lead these visits in response to a request from the Secretary of State for Education under section 118(2) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.
CQC will assist Ofsted under paragraph 9(1) of schedule 4 to the Health and Social Care Act 2008. If the visits involve examining the provision of NHS care to children and young people with SEND, CQC will provide DHSC with information and advice about this care in the form of national reports under section 53 of the Health and Social Care Act.
How we will select local areas for interim visits
Ofsted and CQC will not visit all local areas. We will invite a limited number of local areas to participate, aiming to cover those with different characteristics, such as geographical make-up, population characteristics and previous inspection outcomes.
We will contact local areas to invite them to take part in the visit programme. We will ask for written agreement to participate and to allow inspectors access to premises and necessary information. We will require agreement from the local authority and the clinical commissioning group(s) in each local area.
We understand that local areas may be subject to changing circumstances, such as local lockdowns. Inspectors will liaise with the local area to ensure that, whenever possible, visits can still go ahead. Ofsted and CQC are working closely with the DfE and in line with current government guidelines.
Length and timing of interim visits
Each visit will last for 2 days and will involve one Ofsted education HMI, one Ofsted social care HMI and one children’s services inspector from CQC.
They will begin in the autumn term 2020. We expect that the visits will take place across that term and spring term 2021, but the timing of the interim period will depend on:
- how local areas are responding to the impacts of COVID-19
- whether local areas are ready for area SEND inspections to restart
The visits will not overlap with the inspection cycle. The series of interim visits will end before routine area SEND inspections restart.
Before the interim visit
We will contact local areas and invite them to participate in a visit. Local areas have the right to choose not to take part in a visit.
The invitation will include information about the visit focus and how inspectors will work with local area leaders during the visit.
We will keep the invitation and the local area’s response to it confidential.
Information local areas need to share before the visit
We do not expect local areas to spend time preparing for a visit, beyond what is part of normal business for the area.
Ofsted and CQC will work with the local area to identify 4 to 6 children and young people with SEND to be part of case studies. Of those selected, 2 or 3 should have education, health and care (EHC) plans and 2 or 3 should be receiving SEND support without an EHC plan. At least 3 of the children should be receiving multi-agency support. We will select children for case studies who represent a balance in terms of their needs and a range of demographic characteristics, such as age, ethnicity and gender across all visits.
Before the visit takes place, Ofsted will request from the local area a sample list of children and young people with EHC plans. We will also request a sample of children and young people receiving SEND support.
Ofsted and CQC will select 2 or 3 children for case studies from each list and will work with local areas to agree the sample. Local areas should obtain consent from parents/carers and/or young people to take part and before sharing any personal data.
We will invite the children and young people selected for case studies, and their parents or carers, to meet with the inspectors during the visit. These meetings can be face to face, over the phone or online, in accordance with what best suits the participants and relevant COVID-19 government guidance.
In order for inspectors to get a wider picture of how children and young people with SEND and their families have experienced the pandemic, inspectors carrying out the visit will also request the local area’s support with arranging:
- an online survey (provided by Ofsted) to be sent to all parents/carers of children and young people with SEND
- an online survey (provided by Ofsted) to be sent to all young people with SEND over the age of 16
- discussions with education, health and social care professionals relating to the children and young people selected for case studies
Inspectors will review information provided by the local area before the visits. This will include information requested about the children and young people selected for case studies.
Inspectors will work with area leaders to set up meetings and discussions in a way that is appropriate for their circumstances. This may include activities and meetings carried out online, taking into account health risks to children and young people and their families, professionals and inspectors.
During the visit
Structure of the visit
Inspectors will confirm the timetable for the visit with the local area before arriving on site.
They will first meet with leaders from the local area, including leaders from education, health and care. Following this, inspectors will meet with the children and young people selected for case studies, and their families. They will also meet with the professionals who support each of these children and young people. Inspectors will also use evidence gathered through the 2 surveys.
When serious issues of concern are identified – for example, a failure to follow child protection procedures and/or a child is discovered to be at immediate risk of significant harm – inspectors will notify a senior officer as soon as possible. They will ask the senior officer to provide a written response to the inspector’s concerns, using a form provided. The inspector who raised the concern and the lead inspector will evaluate the response and share their evaluation with the senior officer. The lead inspector and senior officer will sign the form to confirm that both have seen the final version and that the review process has been completed.
The form includes the opportunity to indicate if we have concerns that a child is at risk of significant harm because they are not receiving a service or not receiving the right service.
If inspectors remain concerned, Ofsted and/or CQC will consider whether it is appropriate to take further action. This could include, if appropriate, inspectors referring individual children’s or young people’s cases to the local authority or requesting an inspection of the individual service or provider in line with Ofsted’s or CQC’s statutory and regulatory duties and powers.
If inspectors identify wider serious concerns, they will also notify a senior officer as soon as possible. Ofsted and CQC will consider this information and it may lead to further activity, including inspection. Ofsted and CQC will follow the process set out in paragraphs 12 and 21 of the local area SEND inspection framework.
Feedback to local area leaders
We will share feedback on our observations with local area leaders verbally during the visit, at appropriate points and at the end of a visit in a final meeting. The local area may choose to invite DfE and NHS England SEND advisers to this meeting to enable them to offer further support, if applicable.
After the visit
Summary of key findings
Following the final feedback meeting, local areas will receive a summary note (example template below). There will be no judgements or recommendations in the note.
Ofsted and CQC will not publish these notes on their websites and will not ask local areas to do so. Ofsted and CQC will maintain the confidentiality of these notes as far as possible.
We will also share summary findings from each visit confidentially with the DfE’s SEND adviser and NHS England’s SEND adviser. These advisers may then choose to offer further support to the local area based on the findings.
Ofsted and CQC will share the learning from these visits in national reports with the aim of promoting whole-system improvement. We will publish interim reports during the period of the visits, with a final national report likely to be published in spring 2021.
These reports will keep the participating local areas anonymous. They will include case studies from local areas. We will only name local areas in the reports if they agree. No report will include any personal information about an individual child, young person, parent or carer.
We will publish reports on Ofsted’s and CQC’s websites. We will not require local areas to publish reports on their website.
Conduct and complaints
Inspectors must uphold the highest professional standards in their work and treat everyone they encounter during visits fairly and with respect and sensitivity.
Inspectors must at all times adhere to the code of conduct for inspections.
Any concerns and complaints during the visit will be handled in line with Ofsted’s complaints policy.