National survey launched: Are SEND Further Education students getting the choices they deserve?

As you may know, the new Education, Health and Care plan extended the right to statutory protection for a young person's special educational needs up to, if needed, the age of 25. Also included are their health and social care needs as well as the right to a personal budget if they wish.

If a young person already has a Learning Difficulty Assessment, the switch to EHCP isn't automatic as it is for those with statements. The student (supported by their parents/carer/college) must request a transfer to the new system which will include a new assessment and they will play a central role in producing their personalised plan.

Many of these young people may have or need a place at a specialist college to learn a broad range of skills to ready them for the world at large. While the new SEND system is still very new and teething problems are inevitable, there are concerns that things are not quite as they should be in this 16-25 sector.

Today we have a guest post* from Kathryn Rudd OBE, The Principal of National Star College and Chair of the Association of National Specialist Colleges (Natspec) to explain more in her own words.


K Rudd
Kathryn Rudd OBE
Principal, National Star College

It has been three months since the much heralded Children and Families Act came into being. As a specialist further education college we totally support the Act’s aspirations to create a joined-up approach to education, care and support backed up by comprehensive and independent, advice and guidance. The Act introduced a single joined-up system for children with SEN from 0-25.

Education, health and social care departments are to work more closely together and new Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans will replace statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments. As part of those changes local authorities must publish a Local Offer which includes all the provision and support available in their local area and beyond. But in reality is that what is really happening?

We are deeply concerned that this aspirational Act is not being implemented effectively and that young people and their families have less control and information than they did under previous legislation. Every student who comes to National Star – or any specialist college – has a story to tell. It is usually one that involves fights, appeals, and sheer determination of behalf of the parents. Especially if the best option for that young person involves an out-of-county college.

One mother, whose daughter started college in September, spent more than 600 hours in her campaign to get the right option. It involved organising multi-disciplinary meetings, legal advice and finding the specialists who would prove the need. The claim was that the new Act and the Local Offer would ensure that parents have the information they need to make informed choices. Section 41 was to legally oblige local authorities to list all the possible education options – in county and out of county.

Research by the National Association of Specialist Colleges shows that isn’t happening. The association has found that 30 out of 38 Local Authorities did not include information or links about specialist colleges. That is why we have launched a national survey.

We want to talk to young people, parents and carers to find out what is actually happening for young people making the move into further education - whether they are receiving the right support, whether they have access to the right information and whether they are aware of their entitlements.

This survey is an opportunity to have your say and influence practice moving forwards. It takes just a few minutes to complete.

students demo
Specialist College students making their voices heard

We have just started the survey and want to hear from young people and their families to find out about the options you have been told about and the support you are receiving. This is your chance to inform policy and tackle some of the issues young people with disabilities are facing to attend the college that they believe best meets their needs and gives them the best chance of achieving their goals in life.

The majority of parents who have already completed the survey say they have not been given information about colleges not maintained by the local authority. Many have considered specialist further education colleges but are not able to get over the barriers put in their way.

One parent wrote: “There is no choice in reality. I have looked at independent provision locally but it feels almost pointless as the LEA just push local college as the only option.” Another parent wrote: “I have been informed that my son will be offered a place at local college UNLESS they say they can't meet his needs. The message loud and clear is that there is little point looking elsewhere as you won't be allowed to go there if local community college offering a reduced course say yes ( and they say yes to practically everyone.)” Please find a few moments and complete our survey on *National Star have also kindly donated to our SNJ Academy fund.

Tania Tirraoro

One comment

  1. Katie@anaglyph32

    The truth is post 16 local SEN provision varies so much across the country. I hope the DfE/HMI does more to focus on SEN provision in local colleges now the new legislation is in force.

    My advice to parents is to make sure you get down to the nitty gritty in your son/daughters year 9 and year 10 transitions meeting within the EHCP review. Why? because both you, LA and the potential colleges need a long enough lead in time – especially if you are making a request for provision that might be turned down. It has been known for local colleges to really go the extra mile if they have long enough to plan ahead. There are lots of excellent examples of colleges being inclusive, supportive and proud of their SEN offer.

    Remember the post 16 part of the new legislation is one which some local authorities said to DfE would be quite challenging for mainstream colleges who have never had to manage the statement/EHCP process before (because the statement used to cease on 16 unless a specialist college was agreed). The new legislation means the LA and local colleges also need to plan even more closely on SEN budgets.

    More importantly, college representatives need to attend school EHCP review meetings so you can satisfy yourself on what their offer looks like. For some colleges, attending more meetings will be challenging. Make sure the SENCO has ensured their attendance.

    If your son/daughter’s educational provision as stated in the EHCP in Years 9/10 also closely matches the post 16 SEN Offer available locally, be warned; the LA is pretty much duty bound to refuse specialist college when it comes to the Y11 review especially if your son/daughter has been making steady progress under that provision.

    Assuming the local college has a suitable course , what you need to ascertain early on is whether that provider buys in regular specialist SEN staff or employs staff with the relevant SEN expertise of a type that is available to your son/daughter now in their secondary school. If the local college do not/cannot provide this, you should request it as part of the plan. If they cannot plan for it, you should have a strong case for requesting specialist provision. Hope this helps.

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