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Cornwall's New Year surprise

The period since Christmas has been an interesting one for us in Cornwall. On 23 January I received the call from Ofsted informing me that the Cornwall local area was being inspected under the new Oftsed/CQC SEND inspection framework. This, as always, creates a frenzy of activity as deadlines are met to provide data and information required through Annex A and the framework. The additional pressure was that we were only the second authority to be inspected under the new framework so there was little information available on how it worked and what it meant in reality.

My reflection a month away from that three week intensive inspection activity is that it is a tough inspection and framework that requires careful management and excellent relationship skills. The team was made up of local authority staff but also ICB colleagues and our Parent Carer Forum. The team worked tirelessly together and in person over that three week period.

The inspection began with a period of virtual meetings with partnership leaders, parents, children and young people, and practitioners. The inspection then involved five days with inspectors on site in Cornwall. A technical issue at the early stage was how inspectors could delve randomly into cases whilst having the right practitioners in front of them. This often meant a cast of practitioners prepared but turned away from the meeting as the cases were chosen by inspectors. This was an interesting and different approach, although it sometimes left staff feeling excluded and frustrated. As the inspection progressed we gave a clear message that “you may not get into the room to discuss your case, be prepared for this.”

The sampling of visits was small although 17 visits took place over the four main days and 33 meetings, including case holder meetings. So, it was intense. The Keeping in Touch meetings were very important to us, and again we attended as an extended team. The weave of the findings was at times difficult to follow and triangulate to where the evidence for a Key Line of Enquiry (KLOE) was coming from which meant that, at times, it was difficult to address the concern or answer it. The relationship with findings in the Keeping in Touch meetings and Feedback meetings also did not flow easily which is a difference to ILACS inspections. For us it was imperative that we kept notes of all these meetings and kept taking inspectors back to the Partnership Self Evaluation.

The Feedback session was interesting and attended by the great and good including people with SEND in their titles, although many of whom had not necessarily been on the journey with us over the last three years or even during the inspection. My observation was that these were possibly not the right people and whilst we had representation from our Parent Carer Council and ICB, the main people with skin in the game and who are held to account continues to be the local authority. If it is truly a Local Area Partnership inspection it should include representatives from our early years providers, LA maintained schools and academies. It is only by working together and being accountable together that we can fully achieve the best outcomes for our children and young people with SEND. I would commend Heather Sandy’s Blog from last week ‘Let’s Focus on Inclusion’ which highlights the tensions in the system that we are being inspected on. Good Luck to anyone going through the inspection now – we are a select cohort at the moment.

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