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SPECIAL NEEDS

As a past and future head teacher and current HMI, Janet Thompson knows what Ofsted is looking for when it comes to SEND, reports Steve Smethurst

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“T

here can be no buts.” That’s the blunt message from Janet Thompson, Ofsted HMI and national adviser for SEND. It comes as she prepares to step down from the inspection body and return to headship this September in order to put theory into practice. “I can’t say this often enough: Ofsted doesn’t want to hear ‘ah, but’,” she says. “It has to be ‘ah, yes.’ And what you absolutely do not want to hear is: ‘Well, what can you expect from them?’ when referring to any students.” After 10 years with the inspection body, Janet has little patience with excuses: she wants to see a widespread raising of aspirations and expectations for SEND students. “Raising aspirations is absolutely crucial,” she says. “But my big message for senior leadership teams is that it’s about doing better for everyone. “Inspection is primarily about evaluating how well individual pupils benefit from their school. We test schools’ response to individual needs by observing how well they help all pupils to make progress and fulfil their potential.” What Ofsted is looking for, she says, is ‘expected progress’, which will take into account starting points. She urges

LF readers to look at the gap between SEND and non-SEND in their school – for example, whether there are attainment and progress gaps. “We expect rigorous moderation of the assessment of pupils’ attainment levels and target setting,” she says. “We also expect effective support arrangements to show that the rate of progress has increased and that the gap is narrowing. “Plus, regular review of the quality of support arrangements with respect to pupil outcomes, and changes made where they are not effective.” Support arrangements have come in for a lot of criticism (see box, page 43) and Janet has seen many examples where there is room for improvement. “We don’t want to hear a teacher say ‘Oh, that’s her group,’ when referring to a teaching assistant. “The teacher has to be aware of what’s going on. It’s part of the teacher’s job to monitor the effectiveness of the other adults. “I saw one adult recently acting as a scribe to a group of Year Five students, but she was doing the writing upside down from the children’s perspective. It’s little things like that. “What we also often see is teachers introducing a concept and other adults interpreting for SEND – but those who struggle to grasp concepts need to

be working with the most able teachers. What we don’t want to see is the weakest teachers working with the weakest students. Ofsted will not be impressed.” There is big difference between being busy and actually learning, she adds. “They may be on task and engaged, but are they learning? “Reading, writing and maths are the key to inspections. But how often do you go into lessons and listen to conversations between support staff and students? “As you listen to the dialogue, [ask yourself] are they being taught how to learn or how to complete a task?” She advises that teachers should have a thorough and detailed knowledge of all their students’ abilities and needs, and that students should look to the teacher for their main learning and to the support staff for ‘informed support’. In one school, a Senco who had worked on levels and learning styles tracked five students across all their lessons to see if the work was being used. She found that around half the teachers used these strategies, and the other half didn’t. “You need to check and see if they are being used and dip into sessions. If they are not being used, why not?” CONTINUED ON PAGE 42 ➧

expectations MARCH/APRIL 2013 ● LEADERSHIP FOCUS

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