The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf
Promoting Excellence in Deaf Education

(available at Special educational needs and disability: Towards inclusive schools)

Ofsted has produced a very interesting document about SEN and inclusion. In many aspects, it points out that a great deal of work has still to be done. A figure often quoted by officials in Government and elsewhere is that over £5 billion has been spent on inclusion and there is doubt whether much can be seen for this so far. This document highlights where inclusion is working well and where it could work much better.

It is a very generic document but much of it is of relevance to teachers working with deaf children. Sadly, as usual there is very little reference to specialist support services although the two references included below are positive. A commonly repeated unreasonable statement also appears in this document: it states that special schools are very expensive - this is because those special schools which are particularly expensive considerably raise the average (eg special schools for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties). This is unfair and unreasonable and should be addressed in future official publications as it feeds unfair expectations of the costs of special schools for deaf children and young people. This is a claim repeated by the DfES in the recent Removing Barriers to Achievement document.

However, the document includes much interesting material which will be of use to teachers working in all phases and settings including some useful criteria for ensuring that a specific lesson is likely to be inclusive (paragraph 62) and some thoughtful comments about the lack of rigorous assessment of the progress of many children with SEN and the wide variations between schools.

Annex B provides some very useful criteria which were used in the survey visits. They are offered by Ofsted as a contribution to the process of school self-evaluation about the effectiveness of provision for SEN in mainstream schools. The main findings and recommendations are as follows:

Main findings

  • The government’s revised inclusion framework has contributed to a growing awareness of the benefits of inclusion, and response to it has led to some improvement in practice.

  • The framework has had little effect as yet on the proportion of pupils with SEN in mainstream schools, or on the range of needs for which mainstream schools cater. There has been an increase in the numbers of pupils placed in pupil referral units and independent special schools.

  • Most mainstream schools are now committed to meeting special needs. A few are happy to admit pupils with complex needs. The admission and retention of pupils with social and behavioural difficulties continue to test the inclusion policy.

  • A minority of mainstream schools meet special needs very well, and others are becoming better at doing so. High expectations, effective whole-school planning seen through by committed managers, close attention on the part of skilled teachers and support staff, and rigorous evaluation remain the keys to effective practice.

  • Taking all the steps needed to enable pupils with SEN to participate fully in the life of the school and achieve their potential remains a significant challenge for many schools. Expectations of achievement are often neither well enough defined nor pitched high enough. Progress in learning remains slower than it should be for a significant number of pupils.

  • Few schools evaluate their provision for pupils with SEN systematically so that they can establish how effective the provision is and whether it represents value for money. The availability and use of data on outcomes for pupils with SEN continue to be limited.

    Not enough use is made by mainstream schools of the potential for adapting the curriculum and teaching methods so that pupils have suitable opportunities to improve key skills.

  • The teaching seen of pupils with SEN was of varying quality, with a high proportion of lessons having shortcomings. Support by teaching assistants can be vital, but the organisation of it can mean that pupils have insufficient opportunity to develop their skills, understanding and independence.

  • Despite the helpful contributions by the national strategies, the quality of work to improve the literacy of pupils with SEN remains inconsistent.

  • Effective partnership work between mainstream schools and special schools on curriculum and teaching is the exception rather than the rule.

  • Over half the schools visited had no disability access plans and, of those plans that did exist, the majority focused only on accommodation.


  • The DfES should continue to work with schools and LEAs to ensure that:

  • the ability of mainstream schools to cater for the diversity of special needs and disability is enhanced

  • the effects of local decisions on admissions involving pupils with SEN are kept under close review

  • productive links on curriculum and teaching are made between mainstream and special schools

  • pupils with SEN in mainstream schools are able to play a full part in school life, and receive a curriculum and teaching relevant to their needs

  • schools evaluate their provision for SEN thoroughly and act on the findings to improve standards of achievement.

Key paragraphs from the report

Although the whole report repays close study, I have isolated some paragraphs which describe the background to the report and contain some key points.

The survey was based on a range of evidence. Ofsted inspections of schools have been focusing on what the inspection framework describes as ‘educational inclusion’ since 1999. These inspections, together with inspections of LEAs and monitoring visits to schools causing concern, have provided background evidence for this evaluation of school and LEA responses. The survey also drew on meetings with representatives of voluntary bodies, higher education and others concerned with the inclusion framework. (paragraph 10)

In addition, Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) made visits to 115 schools to look in detail at what schools do to raise attainment among pupils with SEN. Most of the visits were made between May and November 2003. They involved: interviews with head teachers, governors, SEN co-ordinators (SENCOs) and other staff; observation of lessons; study of pupils’ work; and discussions with pupils and parents. In the visits, special attention was given to the progress pupils with SEN made in literacy, as this is a prerequisite for much other educational achievement and helps to form a firm foundation for success in adult life. (paragraph 12)

Contrary to a common perception of a decline in special school placements, the proportion of pupils placed in special schools (including pupil referral units) has remained more or less the same since 1999. While some special schools have closed, new special schools have opened, sometimes as a result of amalgamations. The proportion of pupils in pupil referral units has risen by 25% between 2001 and 2003. (paragraph 14)

The proportion of children in special schools varies more than tenfold across LEAs. This reflects a combination of factors, including the historical pattern of provision and local commitment to educating children with higher levels of need in mainstream schools. (paragraph 15)

Since 2001, there has been a 10% increase in the number of pupils placed in independent special schools by local authorities. This trend in part reflects the difficulties that mainstream and some special schools have in meeting severe or complex needs. Many of the pupils concerned demonstrate behaviour that is challenging and some have been excluded from maintained mainstream and special schools. Although the numbers of pupils involved are comparatively small, the costs of their placements in independent schools are very high. As much as £125,000 can be spent for a residential placement in an independent school for a pupil with high levels of need. On average, each placement in such a school costs twice that of a place in a maintained special school. (paragraph 16) This is an unreferenced and probably unsustainable statement. None of these statements looks at schools for the deaf specifically which vary in significant ways from other types of special schools.

Meeting the challenge by adapting the curriculum and teaching methods, as well as, sometimes, adapting accommodation and equipment, can be a struggle. Schools which admitted pupils with physical and sensory difficulties had generally found it easier to adapt their practice. Inclusive practice for these groups has been developing over a longer period, often helped by support services and sometimes helped by well-established special schools with good outreach services. (paragraph 27)

Much effective work has been done by SENCOs and specialist support services to develop staff awareness through training and information about classroom strategies. The best examples of training had included a focus on pupils’ personal and social development and on creating a classroom ethos which acknowledged and valued differences. LEA support services, including educational psychology, sometimes provided helpful courses on the management of behaviour and on inclusive practice more generally. (paragraph 28)

Many, though not all, pupils defined as having SEN certainly fall within the lowest-attaining groups in terms of performance in National Curriculum assessments and 16+ examinations. Some pupils with SEN, including those with physical and sensory impairments, are of average or high attainment and make good progress in their learning. (paragraph 34)

Comprehensive data about the performance of children with SEN remain difficult to obtain, so that schools lack national benchmarks against which they can measure the performance of their pupils. Many schools have difficulty setting targets and knowing what constitutes reasonable progress by pupils with learning difficulties or disabilities. Few LEAs have effective systems for monitoring progress for pupils with SEN. Data provided by most LEAs are not in a form which allows schools easily to compare how well they are doing with the lowest-attaining pupils when compared with other schools. This weakens the drive to challenge underachievement. (paragraph 35) An excellent justification for our Survey and need for on-going data collection about deaf children.

While curriculum adaptation remains limited in most primary schools, some good practice is emerging. For example, in one school in an area of significant social disadvantage, multi-agency working was embedded in classroom practice. Social workers and therapists worked together with teachers and assistants to agree the reasons for difficulties and to identify strategies to improve the progress the pupils made in their learning. As a result, the balance of time allocated focused more strongly on the individual pupils’ targets for development. They spent less time on some subjects in order to fit in a range of other provision including: language and communication programmes; a range of therapies; counselling; and anger management sessions. (paragraph 55)

Over recent years there has been a significant change in schools’ approach to staffing in order to support pupils with SEN, with a trend towards employing teaching assistants and other non-teaching staff and away from specialist teachers. The majority of pupils with SEN in mainstream schools are receiving such support in class. Often the lower-attaining pupils are grouped with a teaching assistant who is expected to ensure that pupils engage with the tasks. In nearly all the lessons observed, teaching assistants supported the lowest-attaining pupils. Teachers in such lessons commented that these pupils would make little progress without that support and had come to rely very heavily on it. (paragraph 71) The role of such teaching assistants is invaluable because of communication and access difficulties experienced by many deaf children in mainstream classrooms although at the same time it is vital not to underestimate the importance of specialist teachers including in supporting and guiding those teaching assistants.

School policy on inclusion has become dependent on this level of resourcing. In some cases it was having two negative effects: it reduced the extent to which the teacher planned tasks so that pupils with SEN could undertake them successfully; and it often meant that pupils had too few opportunities to work independently. In over half of lessons seen, the explanations and activities were well matched to most pupils’ needs, but pupils with SEN depended on teaching assistants to break the tasks down further so that they could participate. In these lessons the focus of the teachers’ planning was on how the pupils with SEN could be kept engaged, rather than on what the pupils needed to learn next. There was not enough stress on how to improve their understanding and skills. This was a common reason why a significant number of pupils with SEN made too little progress, despite good teaching for the majority of the class. (paragraph 72) One reason for this is the inexorable pressure of the curriculum, examination/SATs requirements and league tables which demand that mainstream teachers drive forward in a way that may not be conducive to good inclusive practice causing tensions between the two. The role of specialist teachers and, under their guidance, teaching assistants therefore is crucial to support deaf children in these classes.

The response from schools was different in relation to support for schools’ work with individual pupils. Eight out of ten schools found LEAs supportive in finding ways to include pupils more effectively. They generally appreciated the advice of specialist support services and found it helpful. (99)

Ofsted’s 2003 report, Special educational needs in the mainstream, based on studies of effective practice for pupils with a variety of difficulties, summarised the factors which helped to bring about and sustain that practice. The key factors which help schools’ efforts to be inclusive were defined as:

  • a climate of acceptance of all pupils, including those who have distinctive needs

  • careful preparation of placements, covering the pupils with SEN, their peers in school, parents and staff

  • the availability of sufficient suitable teaching and personal support

  • widespread awareness among staff of the particular needs of pupils with significant special needs and an understanding of practical ways of meeting them in classrooms and elsewhere

  • sensitive allocation to teaching groups and careful modification of the curriculum, timetables and social arrangements

  • the availability of appropriate materials and teaching aids and adapted accommodation

  • an active approach to personal and social development, as well as to learning, especially to lessen the effects of the divergence of social interests between older pupils with SLD and, sometimes, those with ASD, and their peers

  • well-defined and consistently applied approaches to managing difficult behaviour

  • assessment, recording and reporting procedures which can embrace and express adequately the progress of pupils who may make only small gains in learning and personal development

  • involving parents as fully as possible in decision-making, keeping them well informed about their child’s progress and giving them as much practical support as possible

  • developing and taking advantage of training opportunities, including links with special schools and other schools providing for a similar group of pupils with SEN. (paragraph 82)

Paul Simpson, Secretary

October 2004