Ofsted will have new legal duties to use its inspections to investigate how well schools are supporting disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN).
The pledge was announced by Ed Balls, the children, schools and families secretary.
His move followed the publication of two interim reports – on SEN statements and Ofsted inspections – by Brian Lamb, chair of an inquiry set up by the government to improve confidence in England’s SEN system.
One report reveals that a random sample of 35 Ofsted reports found 29 contained no references to SEN or disability.
The report says all Ofsted inspectors should receive training on SEN and disability.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) said Ofsted was “responding positively” to Lamb’s call for improved training.
Lamb also says Balls should use his legal powers to force councils to improve if they have failed disabled children and those with SEN. Such failures could trigger inspections of local authorities by Ofsted inspectors, he says.
His report adds: “Given the concerns we have heard through the inquiry, I would anticipate that a number of local authorities would have a triggered inspection for SEN and disability.”
A DCSF spokeswoman said Balls would use these powers if Ofsted’s new duties do not lead to improvements, but she said the government hoped “triggered inspections will not be necessary”.
The report also calls for “significant improvements” in the quality of SEN statements, with government guidance on how to write them.
The DCSF said new guidance would be rolled out next spring.
Balls also announced that parents will have a new right of appeal if they have a statement of SEN reviewed but not altered by their local authority – another of Lamb’s recommendations.
Balls said: “By making the achievements of children with SEN a top priority for Ofsted inspectors, alongside the extra funding and guidance we are giving schools, we will help to ensure these children make good and continuing progress.”
He added: “If a parent is unhappy with their child’s statement it is right that they should have more powers to appeal the local authority’s decision.”
Lamb welcomed Balls’ two announcements, and added: “My inquiry has listened to the views of parents, many of whom are happy with the support they have received, but others feel let down by the system.”
The inquiry is due to make a final “comprehensive” series of recommendations in September.
3 August 2009