Poor advice for Post-16: Why Katie & Harvey Price’s long hunt for a suitable college is far from unique

with Ruth Perry, Senior Policy Manager at Natspec

We're approaching the 31st March deadline for updated Education, Health and Care Plans for young people heading towards post-16 SEND provision. Last year, many young people were left for months waiting for confirmation of a place in further education because of local authority delays with finalising EHCPs, blamed on COVID and the redeployment of staff.

But Natspec, the association for specialist further education, says difficulties for young people starts even before plans are updated. We’ve published a "damning" report into the quality of information, advice and guidance about post-16 options offered in England and Wales to young people with special educational needs and their families. The report has recommendations for colleges, schools, local authorities and government to address the issues raised by parents relating to timeliness, availability, sufficiency and quality of the information, advice and guidance (IAG) on offer.

Natspec report reveals anger and frustration at the quality of post-16 information

When Katie Price’s documentary, ‘Harvey and me’, came out at the end of January, like many people watching, my heart went out to her. It’s such a tricky time for families with young people with SEND as school comes to an end and they have to make big decisions about the future. But alongside the empathy, I realised I was feeling angry, too. Why was she having to do so much of the research for herself, why was she so reliant on other parents for information, who was guiding her or helping her make these decisions?

At Natspec, we had just finished our first analysis of findings from a survey of parents who were at the same stage as Katie Price and her family, so we knew she was far from alone. We already had plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the quality of information, advice, guidance (IAG) on post-16 options was patchy but had decided that we needed a firm evidence base if we were going to campaign for improvements. We put together an online survey and asked various partner bodies, including SNJ, to help us get it out to parents of young people aged 15 – 25 with an EHC Plan or Welsh equivalent. 137 families responded. 

Poor support, late advice

The findings were worse than we imagined. Two thirds of parents described the overall quality of the IAG they had received in relation to post-16 options as ‘poor’. They told us where they had received support, it had often come too late to be really useful. Despite the requirement for the Year 9 annual review to include discussions on post-16, that had happened in only 10% of cases. Almost a third said that they were never encouraged to think about post-16 options. We gave respondents space to describe the impact of these late decisions and the outpouring of emotion was quite overwhelming. They spoke of exhaustion, exasperation and despair. The delay had caused stress and anxiety for whole families. One wrote:

I am stressed to the hilt with it all and have hit complete burn-out and cannot face yet more battles to get an adequate provision.. I have no fight left.’

Almost half of the parents said that their main source of information on post-16 options, like Katie Price’s, came from their own research, with schools and parent networks offering some support. Just 5% of respondents said their local authority was the main provider of advice and guidance. They had found it a struggle to access relevant information on the full range of options. One described the experience as, ‘lots of hard work for parents to find the right pathway, so little information or clues as to where to find it’.

LAs "deliberately withholding" Post 16 options information

Only a quarter of families had been offered information about several different post-16 providers. Some parents described local authorities as deliberately withholding information about certain options and steering them towards a single provider. They felt local authorities were influenced more by costs than their young person’s needs.

Two thirds of parents said that their young people were not very well supported or not supported at all to understand their post-16 options, despite the SEND reforms supposedly putting the young person at the centre of decision-making. 40% of parents thought that not much weight or no weight at all was given to their views or preferences as parents either. This parent’s response was typical of many:

The local authority was trying to get him placed in colleges that could not meet his needs and not listening to our views.

What needs to change?

We asked parents what was wrong with the current system and what needed to change. There was a great deal of consensus in their responses. They identified:

  • lack of genuinely independent, impartial advice; comprehensive information about the full range of post-16 options
  • lack of clarity about who should be providing what and when
  • lack of aspirations for young people with SEND on the part of local authorities
  • local authorities commonly adopting a default position that the local general further education college was the most suitable progression option
  • poor quality EHCPs that were not playing the part they should be in the decision-making process.

If this system is to be improved, we must listen to the voices of parents – and young people­ – and design an IAG service based on what the users actually want and need. At Natspec, we believe there is no real shortage of information, although it’s not well-collated or easily accessible at the moment. What’s missing are the professionals who can help families make sense of it and support them to make decisions that are in the best interest of their young people. 

In the full report, we have set out a number of recommendations to schools, colleges, local authorities, Ofsted and the Department for Education and Welsh government. Together, they should help us achieve a properly funded impartial IAG service in which advice is provided over an extended period of time by a named, trained person with a good understanding of the full range of post-16 options and the needs and capabilities of young people with SEND. 

Ruth Perry, Senior Policy Manager at Natspec

Text link to report

Also read:

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Ruth Perry, Senior Policy Manager, Natspec

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