The recently published report Inclusion: the Impact of LEA Support and Outreach Services (July 2005) summarises a review, undertaken by Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) of the quality of external special educational needs (SEN) support available to schools in English LEAs.

The report presents a mixed picture of support and outreach service provision, and recommends that clearer standards of practice are established and used to monitor the quality of support available to schools.

Delegation Variations in the quality and quantity of services available to schools were identified by the inspectors who noted that, ‘Pupils with similar levels of need received different levels of support depending on where they lived, which is unacceptable.’ This problem was linked to the practice of delegating SEN funding to schools, a practice common in LEAs, and aligned with government policy, but which did not always ensure that effective SEN support was provided to pupils who needed it. At the same time, many services did contribute to improving the achievement and inclusion of pupils with SEN in mainstream schools.

Delegated funding for SEN was used flexibly by some schools, but in others it was used ‘for other purposes’ and not to address the pupils with complex needs. These pupils seemed, therefore, to fall through the support ‘safety net’. Furthermore, inspectors commented that: ‘[D]elegation of funding to schools reduced the LEA’s capacity to provide targeted support for school improvement where the standards achieved by pupils with SEN were too low.’

Special school outreach services

Although LEAs have been encouraged to develop, with schools, school-based SEN outreach support in recent years, too little guidance was provided on how this should be done. Although some special schools had established outreach services, this was not always done in ways that led to the development of more coherent local provision. However, the inspectors noted that:

‘A few special schools, however, particularly those for pupils with physical and sensory impairments, had well established outreach services.’

Effective service provision Inspectors noted that the most effective support services operated within a coherent overall LEA framework of support to schools, focusing on the well targeted use of resources, avoiding service overlaps, and using written agreements to identify the nature and level of support.

Effective services also evaluated their work and sought the views of key stakeholders, including those of schools, pupils and parents. More objective analysis, for example, through the use of performance indicators, was rare, and links between pupil progress and service interventions were uncommon. None of the LEAs visited by inspectors had effective systems in place to monitor the progress of pupils after the direct intervention of support services had ended.

Inspectors made the following comment on what characterised effective services:
‘The quality of the staff and their commitment to inclusion were always crucial in delivering an effective service. Most services provided very high quality advice and support based on extensive specialist knowledge otherwise unavailable to the mainstream school.’

The inspectors conclude that outreach and support service work in LEAs would benefit from the use of common practice standards. The use of these would also contribute to the clarification of which pupils should be able to access services as a matter of entitlement, and regardless of where they live.

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