The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2019/20 – GOV.UK

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Clive House 70 Petty France, SW1H 9EX

1 December 2020

Rt Hon. Gavin Williamson CBE MP Secretary of State for Education Sanctuary Buildings Great Smith Street London SW1P 3BT

The Annual Report of Her Majestys Chief Inspector 2019/20

I have pleasure in presenting my Annual Report to Parliament, as required by the Education and Inspections Act 2006.

This report addresses the full range of our inspection and regulation both in education and care.

It is underpinned by evidence from our inspections of, and visits to, schools, colleges and providers of social care, early years and further education and skills. I also draw on findings from our research, evaluation, data and analysis this year.

Our aim is to be a force for improvement across education and social care. As Chief Inspector, it is my priority to not only report on individual providers but to offer the national picture of education and care from Ofsteds unique, independent view. This is in order, unwaveringly, to support improvement and raise standards for all children and learners in England. It has been an extraordinary year, and we have seen teachers, leaders and social workers respond admirably to the challenges they have faced. In this report, I recognise the many successes we have seen both before and since the start of the pandemic, but also direct attention to areas in which more can be done for the benefit of children and learners. I welcome the removal of the exemption from inspection for outstanding schools. In the coming years, this will allow us to even better inform parents and shine even more light on our education system.

I trust that this report will provide useful evidence to inform policies aimed at securing the very best futures for our children and learners.

Copies of this report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Yours sincerely

Amanda Spielman Her Majestys Chief Inspector

This has been an extraordinary year, in which education and childrens social care, like the rest of society, have been hugely affected by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. We have seen heroic efforts made, and I would like to thank all our teachers, social workers, childminders, leaders and everyone working in education and childrens social care for going above and beyond in the most trying circumstances, and continuing to put children and young people first.

For Ofsted, this has been a year of 2 very different halves: what we could call the pre-COVID period from September 2019 to March 2020, and the post-COVID period that followed. The picture also differs between our regulation and inspection activities: while routine inspection in the remits for which we are not the regulator paused from March, our regulatory work in social care and early years continued throughout the pandemic. This report reflects the divided year and our insights from each period, but also highlights the commonalities across time and remits. What has remained clear is the importance of our work for children and young people, whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in.

We started inspecting under the education inspection framework (EIF) in September 2019.

Our judgements of overall effectiveness remained high and largely unchanged. The concerns of some that the new framework would lead to turbulence in inspection grade profiles have not been borne out.

In early years, the profile of overall effectiveness judgements is largely unchanged, at 96%. However, there has been a slight shift to a higher proportion of providers judged good and a lower proportion judged outstanding since August 2019, reflecting that outstanding is a challenging and exacting judgement.

Nearly two-thirds of state-funded schools inspected under the EIF kept the same overall effectiveness grade as at their previous inspection. However, only 32% of the schools receiving a routine section 5 inspection (as opposed to section 8 inspections, which are not graded)[footnote 1] maintained their previous grade. Of schools whose grades changed, a similar proportion improved as declined.

Our routine section 5 inspections include key judgements as well as an overall effectiveness judgement. The quality of education key judgement is designed to be at the core of a schools overall grade, so the same proportion of schools were awarded good or outstanding for quality of education as for overall effectiveness.

Proportions awarded good and outstanding for leadership and management were slightly higher. In the majority of cases where the grade for leadership and management was different to overall effectiveness, the school was graded good for leadership and management but requires improvement overall. Just as we saw under the previous common inspection framework (CIF), the schools that are graded higher for leadership and management than for overall effectiveness are disproportionately in deprived areas. We are continuing to highlight where schools in challenging circumstances are nevertheless being well led.

Grades were substantially higher for behaviour and attitudes and personal development compared with overall effectiveness. This shows that even where the quality of education and overall effectiveness of the school may need improvement, inspectors are able to acknowledge strong work done to ensure good behaviour and personal development.

In the alternative provision (AP) sector, 85% of state-funded pupil referral units, AP free schools and AP academies were graded good or outstanding as at 31 August 2020, compared with 86% for all schools.

The proportion of state-funded special schools judged as good or outstanding is also fairly similar to the proportion for other schools.

Inspection outcomes for non-association independent schools have improved slightly. By 31 August 2020, 77% of schools were judged good or outstanding compared with 75% at 31 August 2019. However, nearly a fifth of independent schools that Ofsted inspects are not meeting the independent school standards (ISS), which they are legally required to meet.

Failings in leadership and management were the most likely indicator for independent schools declining in their overall effectiveness.

In further education and skills (FES), the proportion of providers judged good or outstanding has not changed, remaining at 8 out of 10. The best-performing provider types were community learning and skills (CLS) providers and 16 to 19 academies (though numbers here are small).

Independent learning providers (ILPs) had the lowest proportion of good or outstanding judgements. Sixty-four per cent were graded good, and 10% outstanding. Sixty-one per cent of colleges were graded good, and 18% outstanding.

Adult learning programmes were one of the most successful provision types offered in FES providers this year, while provision for learners with high needs[footnote 2] had the highest proportion of outstanding grades at 12%. Apprenticeships were one of the least successful provision types, with too many judged inadequate (10%).

In FES, effectiveness of leadership and management and quality of education were the 2 key judgements with profiles most similar to overall effectiveness. In common with schools, in providers with overall effectiveness judgements of less than good it is not uncommon to see positive recognition in other areas, such as behaviour and attitudes and personal development. In addition, almost half of FES providers inspected in 2019/20 were receiving their first full inspection. The judgement profile of these new providers is very similar to the profile across other providers. The biggest difference (although based on small numbers of inspections) was in personal development, where 67% of new providers received a good or outstanding judgement compared with 74% of other providers. Judgements about behaviour in new providers (76%) were also slightly lower than in other providers (81%).

When we introduced the EIF, we said we would evaluate its implementation and impact. We have been evaluating implementation since September 2019 and we will be publishing the findings in early 2021. This will be based on what we have learned from the inspections we carried out from September to March 2020.

An important aim of the EIF is to focus inspection on what the evidence tells us makes providers most effective. The EIF therefore introduced a bigger emphasis on curriculum quality. This is something that has been much discussed in the sector, particularly over the last 3 years or so, and I am pleased that Ofsted has played a leading role.

We can continue to do so by using our evidence from the first 2 terms of inspections under the EIF to highlight the elements of curriculum quality that distinguish good and outstanding providers from others. Our evidence shows the importance of a rich and well-sequenced curriculum that leads to good results, taught by well-trained and well-supported teachers and their early years counterparts. In weaker providers, we often see a focus on tests or qualifications, which can lead to narrowing of the curriculum.

To inspect the curriculum, we carry out deep dives into subject areas. So far, we have made over 11,000 deep dives in different subjects in state-funded schools. We will do research on individual subjects, and will publish subject reviews for all 14 national curriculum subjects over the next 2 years. In the meantime, we have looked at the evidence from a sample of existing deep dives as well as our inspection reports to draw some conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses of curriculums in general.

In state-funded schools, our analysis shows that the curriculum in outstanding schools tends to be:

In our research, we found that these different elements of curriculum design were strongly related to each other. They are underpinned by an understanding that progress happens through learning the curriculum, rather than being a function of testing and assessment, and that assessment is not an aim in itself, but is linked to the curriculum progression model. A strong curriculum is underpinned by clear central aims and accountability, but also recognises that individual subjects require different approaches to sequencing and assessing content, and therefore avoids a one-size-fits-all approach.[footnote 3]

The best possible curriculum will still fail if not taught well. A common characteristic of outstanding schools is that they have really well-trained and experienced teachers who have strong subject and pedagogical knowledge, and who feel valued by senior leaders. The lessons they deliver build on prior learning and are underpinned by formative assessment in order to discover and address misconceptions and adapt lessons as they go.

Subject knowledge among teachers is critical. Our research found this is more of a challenge in primary schools, where teachers have to teach across the curriculum, but also in some secondaries when teachers have to teach out of subject because of staff shortages. In schools that scored highly on curriculum quality in our research, leaders made sure teachers received high-quality professional development to develop subject knowledge in their own subject.

In the outstanding schools seen this year, pupils know more and remember more, and this is reflected in their attainment. There continues to be a strong correlation between inspection outcomes and Progress 8 scores, though this has never been as high as is commonly assumed.

Outstanding secondary schools inspected under EIF had an average Progress 8 score of 0.6, good schools an average score of 0, schools judged as requires improvement a score of -0.4, and inadequate schools a score of -0.7. These averages are very similar to what we found under the CIF in 2018/19. We can see the same pattern in primary schools, where outstanding schools have an average reading, writing and mathematics score of 82, good schools 65, schools judged as requires improvement 54 and inadequate schools 48. This is again similar to what we found last year under the CIF, and demonstrates that a strong curriculum leads to strong outcomes.

Primary schools judged as requires improvement sometimes focused extensively on teaching reading, writing and mathematics at the expense of other subjects in the curriculum, even for pupils who had the capability to tackle a wide range of subjects. This limits pupils ability to thrive in secondary school, where they will encounter a range of subjects. This effect will be especially profound for disadvantaged pupils, who are less likely to be able to draw on resources at home to fill in gaps and broaden their knowledge.

In a minority of secondary schools, our EIF inspections continued to show that not all children were receiving a full and appropriate curriculum. In some inspections, we identified and reported on one or both of the following aspects:

When people think of the curriculum, they often think of the national curriculum. However, we also inspect providers that have a specialist curriculum or that are not required to follow the national curriculum, and offer alternatives. The same principles of good curriculum design apply.

AP schools provide education for pupils who have left mainstream school. The curriculum in AP schools often includes a blend of academic and vocational subjects. Most AP schools need to achieve a balance between investing time in helping pupils to improve their behaviour and offering a curriculum with sufficient breadth.

The most successful AP schools take time to understand pupils specific needs at the point of entry (from their previous school or college). Leaders then formulate a curriculum that is matched to those needs. The curriculum is often strengthened where APs collaborate with partner schools, whether within a school trust or with partners such as their local authority or with leaders from other strong settings. This joined-up work can raise aspirations and give the AP school clear benchmarks for its pupils to aspire to. This type of collaboration also offers support for staff in training and development. Subject expertise can be a problem in AP schools, and linking with partner schools can mitigate this.

In state-funded special schools, we similarly find that the most effective schools have an ambitious curriculum that prepares pupils well for the future. The best special schools attend to both content and sequencing of the curriculum in all subjects. The best primary special schools systematically build pupils knowledge of phonics and promote a love of reading. Special schools judged less than good and those that are declining show weaknesses in both.

FES provision offers specialist curriculums based on the knowledge and skills needed for particular vocational routes, as well as often offering A levels. Given their highly specialised nature, we have found that FES providers have sometimes thought more deeply and for longer about curriculum sequencing and content than schools.

In most FES providers, the curriculum is carefully sequenced and builds on learners existing knowledge and skills. Large providers, such as general further education colleges, sixth-form colleges and some ILPs, tend to provide a well-considered curriculum with clear progression routes through levels to employment. Smaller providers and local authority providers often plan their curriculum offer to meet the needs of specific groups of learners, specific industries, and/or their local communities.

However, providers judged less than good often do not have a sufficiently ambitious curriculum for their learners and apprentices. The emphasis tends to be on achieving qualifications and the curriculum does not prepare learners and apprentices to gain the wider knowledge and skills required for work or their next steps. In outstanding providers, learners consistently achieve valuable qualifications, but do so through a rich and sequenced curriculum.

Overall, provision in FES is weakest in apprenticeship provision, where 1 in 10 providers are judged inadequate. This is clearly too large a number. We found that apprentices who receive training through apprenticeship standards tend to experience a more tailored and broad curriculum compared with those on the legacy apprenticeship frameworks. Nearly a quarter (24%) of providers that received new provider monitoring visits this year had at least one insufficient progress judgement. In many cases, this was down to weak leadership and a lack of co-development of the curriculum with employers.

We introduced the EIF in prison inspections in February 2020, and have made 4 prison inspections so far. The key issues affecting education in prisons are poor management of quality in education, skills and work and slow progress with improving the provision since the previous inspection. Only a third of prisons inspected since September 2019 deliver an appropriate curriculum to meet the needs of their prisoners. In many cases, the number of activity spaces available in education, skills and work is insufficient for the number of prisoners, or spaces are poorly allocated and used. Prisoners with additional learning needs receive insufficient support and the range of education, skills and work activities that vulnerable prisoners can access is poor.

Overall, these early findings from EIF inspections are encouraging. In the vast majority of schools, early years providers and FES providers, curriculums are well developed, thought through and implemented. Providers offering specialist curriculums can be more variable, sometimes either matching their offer well to the needs of learners or failing to have expert staff teaching well-considered plans.

As mentioned above, over the coming year, we will be looking more closely at individual subject curriculums in schools, and we will be doing in-depth subject reviews once we return to EIF inspections. The aim of these reviews is in part to provide information that can help subject leaders to further develop their subject curriculum. We will publish these over the next 2 to 3 years. In this report, however, we are able to comment in depth on early reading in the light of EIF evidence already gathered.

If we want to ensure that our children flourish, we need to help them make the best possible start. It should be the first priority of every primary school to make every child a proficient reader. Reading is not only the key to the curriculum and an essential life skill, it is also a protective factor: poor reading leads to later low attainment across subjects and to poor behaviour and self-control.[footnote 4] Phonics and early reading are the foundation for later success.

Fortunately, how to make sure children are proficient readers is one of the best evidenced areas in education. The simple view of reading, which finds that reading comprehension is a function of decoding skills and understanding of words meanings, has extensive scientific grounding.[footnote 5] We also have a very strong body of knowledge on how to teach the crucial decoding skills, using systematic synthetic phonics instruction.[footnote 6] This is why our inspections prioritise both the teaching of decoding skills and language comprehension in Reception and key stage 1. It has also been a theme of our work in the last few years, through Annual Reports and research.[footnote 7]

We have not been alone in our efforts. Many educators and researchers have been pushing at this door for a long time, and government has put in place a range of useful initiatives over the past 10 years: the introduction of the phonics screening check in 2012; the requirement to develop pupils phonics knowledge in the key stage 1 national curriculum; and the 43 million investment in primary English hubs to build a network of excellent phonics teaching in every region. There was an improvement in our ranking on reading in the international PISA tests between 2015 and 2018. England now outperforms the OECD average by 18 score points.[footnote 8]

It is therefore pleasing and unsurprising to see that leaders are increasingly prioritising early reading. Most schools we inspected this year, including those judged to be good or outstanding, had recently reviewed their curriculum for early reading. Some schools are taking specific action to improve early reading, for example by identifying the need for a phonics or reading lead who leads and/or teaches in either early years or key stage 1. In early years and key stages 1 and 2, there is growing attention to how regularly adults read to children, immersing them in a range of stories, rhymes, poems and non-fiction. Leaders rightly recognise that this will develop pupils language comprehension and instil an interest in reading for both purpose and pleasure.

Schools are also placing greater emphasis on the teaching of phonics. Phonics is frequently being taught from the start of Reception. Many schools have either introduced a new approach to the teaching of phonics or have made changes to improve the consistency of phonics teaching. Many have recently purchased sets of new books that are decodable.

However, it is extremely important that reading books closely match pupils phonics knowledge. Schools should be using a structured phonics programme that has decodable reading books in a sequence that carefully matches the lettersound correspondences that children have learned. Otherwise, pupils will be expected to guess words for which they have not learned the lettersound correspondence and will miss out on opportunities to practise their decoding skills. This guessing game can be very dispiriting for young children, particularly those at the lower attaining end or with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), and in fact can put them off reading altogether.

In outstanding schools, leaders instil a sense of urgency in teaching the lowest attaining 20% of pupils to read, at both key stages 1 and 2. They do not settle for phonics screening check results that are in line with the national average or explain pupils poor progress by their background. In outstanding schools, books match sounds. This means that children build confidence and fluency from the very beginning of learning to read. Teachers read books aloud to pupils who cannot yet read them and they do not expect struggling readers to read books that include words they cannot read. The teaching of phonics is rigorous and is done by staff who have been trained to use the method well, which ensures that they choose appropriate activities so that pupils get lots of practice and keep up with the expected pace of the programme.

The phonics/reading leader in a school has to have expertise and experience in teaching phonics and be given dedicated time to fulfil their role. But all staff need a thorough understanding of the schools chosen phonics programme. Well-trained staff can spot any child who has not secured the intended learning and provide extra support so that these pupils get additional practice in the specific aspects of phonics they are struggling with.

Of course, phonics just unlocks the code to becoming a reader. In the outstanding schools we have seen this year, once children are reading accurately and confidently, teachers use their deep knowledge of childrens literature to guide childrens independent reading choices. This heightens childrens enthusiasm for reading and starts to instil the love of reading we want to see in all schools.

However, this is not the case everywhere. There is still work to do to ensure that all children get the teaching they need to become proficient readers. Phonics programmes are not being implemented consistently well in all schools. Where schools use a phonics programme that is not supported by resources, including books and sufficient guidance for staff, this often leads to greater inconsistency and a lack of rigour in the teaching of phonics. These schools also find it more difficult to make sure that books are well matched to pupils phonics knowledge and that staff gain sufficient expertise in the teaching of phonics. Lower-attaining readers are not always receiving the right type or amount of support to help them catch up quickly. There are too many lost readers in key stage 2 who are suffering from a legacy of poor phonics teaching. This is particularly noticeable in Years 2, 3 and 4 when struggling readers have often fallen further and further behind their peers. These pupils progress is hindered by limited practice or practice not being related precisely to the gaps in their learning. In turn, this means that not only do they then struggle with reading, but they consequently also have difficulty accessing the full range of curriculum subjects in key stage 2 and beyond.

In early years, teachers in the most successful schools and school nurseries put talking at the heart of their curriculum. They help children talk about what they are doing and learning throughout the day, in each area of learning. Early reading itself is built on a foundation of language and communication.

Our inspection evidence shows that providers in the registered early years sector recognise the importance of the curriculum for communication and language so children have the skills they need for the future. Outstanding providers are exceptionally skilful in developing childrens communication and language, for example through skilful questioning and animated storytelling.

Our new initial teacher education (ITE) inspection framework aims to reinforce our focus on phonics and address the remaining issues in phonics teaching, by ensuring that all inspections of primary and early years ITE include a focused review of early reading and phonics.[footnote 9] The framework requires that for primary provision to be rated good, training has to ensure that trainees learn to teach early reading using systematic synthetic phonics, and that trainees are not taught to teach competing approaches to early reading. Trainees should be taught the importance of providing pupils with enough structured practice to secure fluency in both reading and numeracy work.

Over the past few years, we have highlighted the plight of stuck schools. These are schools that have not had a rating of good or outstanding for 13 years, going back to 2007.

Before we introduced the EIF, there were 415 stuck schools. This year, we have looked at how many of those remain stuck, what our inspection evidence suggests about their characteristics and what it suggests about those that have become unstuck.

Under the EIF, just under half of stuck schools that were inspected improved to good. This supports the conclusions of our January 2020 research report Fight or flight? How stuck schools are overcoming isolation,[footnote 10] which concluded that no school should be written off, and that every school could improve to good if leaders concentrated on improving a small number of key things, starting with behaviour and high standards of teaching and learning. Unstuck schools had also typically benefited from strong support from a multi-academy trust (MAT).

So far, 27% of the 415 original stuck schools have been inspected under the EIF (110 schools). Fifty-three schools had improved to good at their most recent inspection and 57 had not. Fourteen of the 23 inadequate schools moved up to a judgement of requires improvement this year, but are still stuck as they are not yet good.

A number of factors distinguished schools that had improved, as shown in Table 1. It is no surprise that the schools that improved did so through planning an ambitious curriculum for all, focusing on phonics in primary schools and supporting staff to be experts in their subjects. All schools have the capacity to improve, but those that have struggled for a while should focus on getting basic processes around curriculum, behaviour and quality of teaching right.

Table 1: Characteristics of stuck and unstuck schools

Helping protect vulnerable children and young people is one of the most important parts of our work. Vulnerable children are those whose needs are such that they require additional services from their local authority, such as children needing help and protection, those under the care of the local authority and those with an education, health and care plan (EHCP). We focus on this group of children through our inspection and regulation of social care providers, inspection of local authorities, regulation of early years providers and inspection of SEND arrangements. In addition, our education inspections emphasise the importance of high-quality provision for children and young people with SEND.

I will come on to the impact that disruption caused by COVID-19 has had on these children in the final section of this commentary. But there are also continuing systemic issues around our collective oversight of these children, partnership working in their interests and the capacity of the market to deliver what they need.

Our inspections of childrens homes, under the social care common inspection framework (SCCIF), show that the vast majority of homes (80%) are currently good or outstanding. In instances where we have required childrens homes to act and improve, this is most commonly to address weak leadership and management, and to improve the safety and protection of children.

There has been a significant rise in the number of requirements we have made in leadership and management. We see homes without strong leadership that make poor decisions for children and staff, who are also unsupported. Two-thirds of the requirements include reference to the poor quality of care, particularly in relation to the impact on children. For example, requirements have been made to ensure that managers and staff regularly review the quality of one-to-one work with children and the progress children make as a result of these interventions. Requirements have also been made in relation to managers using ideas and suggestions from children and young people to improve their care.

To improve the protection of children, we make requirements in relation to the skills of staff, their understanding of their roles in protection and their ability to take effective action. This includes requirements for staff to understand risk assessments and crucially how to manage risk to keep children safe.

The experiences and progress of care leavers are central to our inspections under the framework for inspecting local authority childrens services (ILACS). The ILACS inspections carried out before March reinforced familiar messages. In the strongest local authorities, young people had access to a good range of high-quality accommodation. Personal advisers went the extra mile to keep in touch and provide support. The views and feelings of young people are taken seriously and make a real difference to plans for their future and to wider service planning. Crucially, young peoples emotional well-being was an absolute priority. All practice was underpinned by corporate parents who had demonstrably high aspirations and ambition for their children and young people.

We were pleased to see examples of such strong practice in a rising number of local authorities, but important challenges remain, including, most commonly, the availability of suitable accommodation. In a small number of local authorities, difficulties in securing access to emergency accommodation for young people were particularly concerning.

Children with SEND are also a major focus of our work. Providing a quality education for these children is, of course, vital and we address this in a number of ways:

The combined evidence from these inspections clearly shows some serious weaknesses in SEND provision overall. The governments forthcoming SEND review is an opportunity to address some of these failings.

Our area SEND inspections point to a lack of a coordinated response from education and health services in many local areas. Accountability is unclear: there is generally a lack of understanding about who is responsible for what between organisations, resulting in fractures in the way professionals in services work together. In many cases, the goal of creating a child-centred system is not being fully met. Area arrangements for identifying, assessing and meeting children and young peoples education, health and care needs are frequently slow. Too often, families are left feeling dissatisfied with their experience of area SEND arrangements because the quality of services and support fall short of what was envisaged in their childrens EHCPs.[footnote 11]

More positively, in some of the areas we re-visited, parents and carers had been given meaningful involvement in planning and decision-making. The role of the parentcarer forum featured prominently in the most successful areas, and leaders had understood that co-production meant working with families as equal partners. This is something to build on.

We also see a range of quality in SEND provision in schools, which we look at during inspections under the EIF. Good practice for these children is the same as good practice more generally, and the same important principles of curriculum design and behaviour management apply here. In outstanding schools, staff are skilled at identifying, assessing and meeting the needs of pupils with SEND, and pupils receive good support and achieve well. In schools judged as requires improvement or inadequate, our inspection reports often note low expectations, an unambitious curriculum and weaknesses in the support provided for pupils with SEND.

Some of our most vulnerable young people end up in alternative provision, as discussed above. Our inspection evidence shows that there are many good or outstanding AP providers in which pupils experience an appropriate curriculum and achieve well.

However, all too often, providers do not do enough to make sure that all pupils attend school regularly. In some cases, pupils were only in school for a fraction of the time that they should have been. This leaves them at risk of criminal exploitation as well as of educational underachievement.

Furthermore, vulnerable pupils in AP need consistency but often do not get it because of staffing turbulence. In almost half of providers, staffing instability was a significant issue, especially among leaders. In some cases, pupils do not successfully make the transition into post-16 settings. The governments AP transition fund seeks to support AP schools with this.

I have talked in previous Annual Reports about unregistered and illegal provision being one of the most concerning issues in our sector at the moment. We are continuing to uncover these unsafe and unsuitable places. I have long called for legislation in these areas, but it has been slow to arrive. I must again emphasise how urgent it is for government to make this a priority.

This year, we continued our enforcement activity against unregistered schools. Since the last reporting year, our work has led to 3 further sets of convictions. One noteworthy case exemplified the risks associated with unregistered schools. Children were left unsupervised. The premises were inappropriate, with children sharing facilities with adults unconnected to the school. Children were sent home early to disguise the settings true hours of operation, without parents being at home. In the light of the seriousness of the concerns about the education offered and about childrens safety, the Chief Magistrate of England and Wales imposed an unprecedented custodial sentence. This helpfully reinforces the message that illegal schools face severe consequences, especially when they put childrens safety at risk.

Even when the outcome is not a prosecution, children benefit from settings addressing poor health and safety and safeguarding practices after inspectors uncover and report on them. As a result of our referrals to other agencies with enforcement powers, unregistered institutions have removed obvious fire risks, fixed filthy and dangerous premises and carried out more rigorous recruitment processes. We believe that improvements have been made in more than two-thirds of cases where we have reported such concerns.

Children also benefit from previously unregistered settings that register after our interventions. It is crucial that children receive their education in places subject to some oversight. Children are also more likely to move to registered providers when unregistered schools close following our interventions.

While we have made significant progress in tackling unregistered schools, there is no room for complacency or inaction. Thousands of children in unregistered schools are still out of reach because of weaknesses in legislation and in our investigative powers.

I particularly want to highlight the use of unregistered AP. Most secondary schools inspected last year make use of at least one AP provider, and we know that some of these providers are unregistered. Just over a third of AP settings in turn commission the services of other providers, many of which are unregistered. In these sub-contracted arrangements, there is often a lack of clarity around who is monitoring unregistered AP. It is not always plausible that the original school can do so effectively: for example, in one case a single school had sent children to 16 registered and unregistered AP providers. In another case, over half of the pupils nominally attending an AP school were actually being sent to another AP setting. Schools and local authorities need to do much better to understand which AP settings are registered.

We are pleased that government has taken steps towards resolving these issues. In particular, we fully support the proposal to close the legislative loophole that allows unregistered settings offering an extremely restricted curriculum to evade registration as a school. We also welcome the constructive engagement on equipping Ofsted with the tools to investigate suspected unregistered schools as thoroughly as possible. We urge government to ensure that this momentum is not lost, and to take meaningful further action as a priority.

We have growing concerns about unregistered childrens homes. The sufficiency issues we see in many areas may be leading to greater use of unregistered provision. It is hard to be exact, as the lack of a definition of care in the legislation means it is not sufficiently clear which services require registration. In the absence of a clear definition, some providers operate childrens homes without realising they are doing so. We have seen children being placed in other arrangements in settings that we consider require registration.[footnote 12] Some providers interpret the existing exemption in the childrens homes regulations to their advantage. For example, some providers are misusing the 28-day exemption intended for holidays and sports trips to accommodate children in a succession of short placements, denying them stability.

Revisiting the exemptions or explaining their purpose more clearly in care planning guidance would help the sector. More generally, there is an issue with the legislation: in particular, the Care Standards Act 2000 is out of date and the legislation does not support creative solutions or allow new service models to develop.

Our investigations into unregistered care suggest that a small number of companies are purposely setting up short-term arrangements to avoid registering as childrens homes. Whatever their intentions, they are filling a gap in current provision. Without further investment in the sector, this gap will remain. We have been proactive in visiting premises that are not registered but are providing care and accommodation to children the definition of a childrens home. In these circumstances, the provider is acting unlawfully and we try to get it to register or to cease operating. In addition, we contact the placing local authority with the expectation that it has an appropriate plan for the child to move on and/or is actively encouraging the provider to register. If unlawful activity continues, we have powers to prosecute the offender.

What is clear from our work on provision for vulnerable children, whether in SEND, AP or social care, is that where our oversight is weakest (as in unregistered providers) or accountability is least clear (as in area SEND), the problems we find tend to be greatest. All children deserve high-quality education, care and health provision. We need the tools to make sure they get it.

Protecting the most vulnerable children and young people requires partnership and coordination. No one can do it alone. Strong partnership working is a feature of good provision in both social care and area SEND inspections. When education, health and social care providers work together effectively, we see better outcomes for children and young people.

Partnership working needs to go beyond good intentions and conversations at leadership level. It is about effective exchange of information between partners, and about taking joint responsibility for the welfare of children and young people through work on the ground. In good partnerships, information-sharing and an understanding of responsibility and accountability lead to rapid action.

However, the picture that emerges from our joint targeted area inspections (JTAIs) in social care and our area SEND inspections is mixed. In some of our previous JTAI reports, such as on neglect of older children or child sexual abuse in the family environment, we have been critical of a lack of effective partnership working.[footnote 13] The domestic abuse JTAI report showed that probation services do not always contribute to safeguarding children.[footnote 14] The JTAI report on child sexual abuse in the family environment also showed that practice was too often police-led and not child-centred, often with no involvement from health services.

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