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Schools ‘putting off’ SEND pupils face more Ofsted scrutiny

Ofsted will ramp up its scrutiny of schools accused of “putting off” children with special educational needs (SEND) from applying for a place, its chief inspector has said.

Sir Martyn Oliver told school leaders today that “off-rolling is wrong, but it can come in many forms, including putting children or families off before they even apply”.

“So, there will continue to be consequences for schools that push children out.” 

Questioned by Schools Week on what Ofsted will do, Oliver said where they “hear cases” or “receive notifications” and complaints from parents, “we will ask leaders about those questions and we will follow them up sensitively, but we will ask those questions”.

“We’ve always done that but it’s something that I want to pay even more attention to going forward without crossing into the role of the [Local Government and Social Care] ombudsman who looks after admissions.”


Oliver said councils had “insights” on when children moved school, moved to elective home education or were missing education. 

Ofsted also looks at national and local data on the proportion of children with SEND and education, health and care plans, and “where we see schools out of kilter, we do want to ask leaders why that might be the case”.

He said there “might be very good reasons locally” for this. 

Oliver ‘troubled’ by off-rolling

Ofsted is currently conducting its “Big Listen” consultation, and Oliver said some leaders had reported schools telling parents they were “not best suited to meet the needs of their child”, though he acknowledged this can sometimes be “genuine”. 

But “where there are leaders who are perceived by their local schools to say that another school has the best provision for SEND students then that troubles me greatly.

“A child with an education, health and care plan, their parents have a right to choose their school and to go to the top of the list. It’s mostly people with special needs where we hear it the most.”

DfE research previously found that while some schools had “legitimate” reasons for saying they could not meet the needs of pupils with EHCPs, a “minority” of schools and trusts used “inappropriate and unlawful practices” to “avoid” admitting these children.

Schools “subtly” dissuaded parents by claiming they could not meet their child’s needs, the research found. But it happens “overtly” too, with some schools refusing admission.

A Schools Week investigation last year dug into inclusivity in mainstream schools. Basic data on how many EHCP pupils a school has can be problematic, as a low number could mean a school offers early support and that a statutory plan isn’t needed. 

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