A recently published review of external SEN support for schools in England highlights variations in both the quality and quantity of services across the country. The review, carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) also makes a number of recommendations, describes features of effective practice and outlines standards that can be used to identify and develop such practice.

Inclusion: the Impact of LEA Support and Outreach Services reports on a review of the quality of external special educational needs (SEN) support for schools and provides an analysis of good practice based on visits by HMI to six LEAs and reports from the inspection of schools and LEAs in 2003 and 2004. The report focuses mainly on LEA support services and outreach services from special schools, but refers to other agencies where they work alongside LEA managed provision.

Key findings The report identified the following key findings:

  • Support and outreach services promoted inclusion and improved the life chances of many vulnerable pupils.
  • In the most effective support services, all staff were thoroughly committed to inclusion and it pervaded all aspects of their work.
  • Support service staff were particularly valued where they brought knowledge and skills usually unavailable in a mainstream school. Specialist teachers were most effective when they demonstrated effective strategies for others to observe.
  • Other outreach and support service staff provided important information and a thorough understanding of particular special needs or disabilities, making a major contribution to pupils’ progress.
  • Help was not always available when and where it was needed. Services in some LEAs overlapped, resulting in unnecessary tensions between agencies and inefficient use of resources.
  • Insecure funding arrangements made long-term planning difficult for many services.
  • The delegation of funding for support services had a negative effect on the provision for some pupils with SEN. It diminished the capacity of many LEAs to monitor the progress of pupils with SEN and reduced the range and quantity of specialist staff available to provide advice and support.
  • The best services worked in partnership with LEA school improvement services to analyse data and target their resources where the standards achieved by pupils with SEN were too low.
  • In general, LEAs did not measure the impact of support services on pupils’ progress and attainment and they lacked agreed standards against which the performance of staff and the service as a whole could be evaluated. Information was seldom gathered about the progress pupils made after support ceased. (Inclusion: the Impact of LEA Support and Outreach Services, p3)

Recommendations The review also makes recommendations for improvements at national, local authority and service levels, noting that: The DfES should:

  • consult on generic standards for the delivery of support and outreach services
  • consider what steps should be taken to minimise the differences across the country in the services available to schools.

LEAs should:

  • minimise the overlap of provision and promote partnership working to ensure that the purpose of their current services is clear
  • target resources strategically where the standards achieved by pupils with SEN are unacceptably low
  • promote the inclusion of groups of pupils through commissioning specific services to ensure that suitable advice and support are available where and when they are needed
  • ensure both special and mainstream schools know what services are being delivered and, where appropriate, how much they cost
  • consider, wherever possible, delegating the funding for support services to suitable special schools within a region in order that they can deliver the service to mainstream schools on an outreach basis
  • use their powers more effectively to monitor SEN pupils’ progress to ensure that schools access specialist support for pupils with the most complex needs
  • identify long-term funding arrangements which allow services to plan ahead.

Heads of support and outreach services should:

  • develop the capacity to deliver services commissioned by LEAs and other agencies
  • work in partnership with other services to target resources efficiently
  • monitor the impact of their services during and after their involvement to ensure the pupils make good progress
  • ensure staff continue to develop their specialist teaching skills in order to coach and support others effectively.

Conclusion The first of the recommendations listed above points to the need to develop, through consultation, common ‘good practice’ standards for use across the country. As a contribution to this process an annex to the report includes a set of four standards developed for use in the HMI review. These are presented as standards for the evaluation of support and outreach services and premised on a commitment to strengthening inclusion. The standards, presented as follows, are also underpinned by supporting criteria.

  • The service has a clear purpose which takes into account other provision in the area and the needs of particular schools and pupils.
  • The service has suitable staff to deliver a high quality service.
  • Services are led and managed to promote change within schools.
  • Pupils and parents are fully involved in the development of services.

At a time when moves to greater school autonomy are often advocated (by many schools and by government), on ideological and educational grounds, it is good to see a report emphasising the value of effective SEN support services.

Inclusion: the Impact of LEA Support and Outreach Services (HMI 2452) can be accessed at: www.ofsted.gov.uk.