Post-16 SEND education? It’s a postcode lottery

For most adolescents, moving into adulthood is a natural progression and the move from school to a job or to further or higher education is an expected rite of passage.

For young people with disabilities however, this is far from the norm. Further education for them needs to encompass the academic and the practical with the expert support needed for them to succeed. 

Ofsted has just published a report called Moving Forward that found that too many young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities are poorly prepared for adult life. The report explored the early implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014, which extended statutory protections for education up to the age of 25 where needed.

In the past, ineffective arrangements between education, health and social care agencies have impacted on the ability of high needs learners to successfully transition from school, to post-16 provision and to adult life. The reforms made a firm commitment to tackle this. Ofsted’s report finds that, of the local authorities and further education (FE) providers surveyed, the implementation of the Act had not been fully effective. This means the support that many of the 22,000 high needs learners received, varies considerably.

Clare Howard, CEO of the Association of National Specialist Colleges, that provide specialist further education, has written for SNJ about the report and the issues our sons and daughters may face when finding high quality learning as they approach adulthood.

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For most adolescents, moving into adulthood is a natural progression, leaving home, perhaps for university or a first job. (Although in these days of rising property prices and rents, more often the parental home is needed for far longer!)  For young people with disabilities, however this is far from the norm. The skills of independence so not come naturally to young people with learning disabilities and those with physical disabilities need much support with be able to achieve as much freedom as possible.  However, yesterday, Ofsted published a report called Moving Forward which found that too many young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities are poorly prepared for adult life.  The report, explored the early implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014, which extended statutory protections for education up to the age of 25 where needed. This covers further education and apprenticeships, but not universities.  The report investigated the impact the Act has had on the lives and prospects of learners with high needs.  In the past, ineffective arrangements between education, health and social care agencies have impacted on the ability of high needs learners to successfully transition from school, to post-16 provision and to adult life. The Children and Families Act 2014 made a firm commitment to tackle this.  Ofsted’s report finds that, of the local authorities and further education (FE) providers surveyed, the implementation of the Act had not been fully effective. This means the support that many of the 22,000 high needs learners received, varies considerably.

Clare Howard, CEO of the Association of National Specialist Colleges

The new Ofsted report highlights the “postcode lottery” of practice and support across the country for young people with disabilities and learning difficulties. 

For parents of teenagers with disabilities and learning difficulties, the survey reflects what many have experienced - that more needs to be done to ensure young people with disabilities receive appropriate information about their FE choices and are able to access education that suits their needs.

Ofsted visited 17 providers, including four specialist colleges and spoke to 1,600 young people between January and March last year. They found that many young people, particularly those with more complex or profound learning difficulties or disabilities, had received “insufficient information” about the full range of opportunities to them.

Ofsted is critical of the advice given to high-needs pupils by schools and local authorities and the lack of detail available to post16 providers about the pupils they take on.

The report warned that schools and local authorities, often recommended a post-16 provider within easy reach and where they had established relationships, rather than “considering individual learners’ educational and support needs, interests and aspirations”.

The report highlights a number of concerns about arrangements, including:

  • nearly half of the providers visited not having adequate strategies, experience or expertise to support their learners with learning difficulties or disabilities
  • specialist, impartial careers guidance found to be generally weak, with 16 of the 20 local authority websites reviewed failing to provide sufficiently detailed information
  • too many learners on programmes that do not lead to further learning, employment or independent/supported living
  • slow progress by high needs learners in English and mathematics
  • poor recording of learners’ progress, meaning many are not achieving their full potential

 The Ofsted report reinforces what the Association of National Specialist Colleges (Natspec) has been advocating. Too often learners and their families are not aware of the full range of choices available and we want local authorities to provide more detailed information on provision and that they should focus on the individual needs of learners, rather than recommending the nearest provider.

It comes more than three years after Ofsted warned, in its August 2012 report on progression of high-needs learners, that schools, local authorities and other agencies did “not work together sufficiently well to ensure that learners were adequately prepared for transition between school and post-16 provision”.

However, Ofsted praised specialist independent colleges and providers which offered a more holistic support and ensured there was a strong emphasis on life skills and real workplace experience. It stated that established independent specialist colleges inspected had good access to specialists including speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. They had developed excellent links and were skilled at combining the services they provided for different learners to save staffing costs.

Natspec members have reported many examples of the issues young people with disabilities and their families are facing. One student with challenging behaviour and complex health needs was progressing well in a residential college in the North West, giving him new opportunities to learn and giving his family the chance to focus on their other children whilst also being confident his care and education needs were being met. Mid way through his first year, he was told that the place would not be available for the second year and he was sent back to his family, who then had to give up work to care for him, including getting up several times in the night to move him due to his condition. The breakdown in the placement had led to massive strain on the family who now face continued uncertainty about his long term future.

Meanwhile, another student in the North East was encouraged to attend a mainstream college for part of the week. The therapists at his specialist college had been able to ensure that problems with his arm and hand movements were alleviated so that he could take part in learning activities. However the mainstream college did not have the staff to give him the support he needed, and his timetable did not allow for his health needs to be met alongside his education.

The report makes a number of recommendations to government, local authorities and FE providers to help improve the standard of support or high needs learners. These include:

  • the government producing a national set of data on learners’ destinations to allow for the impact of provision and the Children and Families Act to be measured
  • local authorities putting in place arrangements to enable education, health and care providers to work effectively together to provide support for learners
  • providers ensuring staff have the relevant expertise and specialisms to support learners with high needs

We agree wholeheartedly. The Children and Families Act was aspirational in its ambitions. It was all about joined-up thinking - about cohesive education, health and care planning from 0 to age 25 

According to a report by law firm Boyes Turner, the implementation of the new reforms have cost the taxpayer nearly £0.5 billion, yet young people and their families report they still have to fight the system to gain the right support and education. 

We all need to work together to achieve the ambitions of the act and ensure young people with learning difficulties and disabilities reach their true potential.

Tania Tirraoro
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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
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  • Joanne Dowen

    After my sons accident and subsequent traumatic brain injury in year 11 at school I requested an EHCP needs assessment (march 2016) which was immediately refused due to the school having no history of his difficulties. (They knew of his accident in Dec 2015) I requested letters from my sons neuro consultant and paediatrician who both supported and wrote to the school insisting that an ed psych assessment should be done to ensure support in place prior to his transition to FE in September. The school denied him this assessment as they claimed they had already allocated all remaining funds to another pupil who was starting at the school in September. I sent copies of the specialists letters to children’s services who reversed their decision to do a needs assessment. This process was lengthy and exhausting considering how much rehab and support my son was still receiving following his accident. He was predicted c/d grades across the board (pre existing dyslexia) but attained only f/g grades which were achieved because of his school exam assessment grades gained pre accident. Had he attempted linear exams post accident he would most likely have attained no qualifications at all.
    The college were made aware of his accident and his difficulties (which are complex) in May 2016 when an application was submitted by the schools careers advisor. I later completed the online additional needs form in very great detail and when my son was asked to attend an interview I spoke with a member of the additional needs team in detail about my sons difficulties (his levels of self awareness regarding his additional needs is still poor and a significant aspect of his brain injury).
    In September my son attended a detailed neuro rehab assessment which established that his comprehension is that of a 10yr old and his numeracy capability is 9yrs.
    I was aware that these areas had been affected and I made clear reference to this when discussing my concerns with college and children’s services but the college insisted that their internal literacy and numeracy tests had shown no difficulties and they had not allocated him any additional support in either of these areas.
    Only after I arranged a meeting with the SENCO, neuro team and my son did it become clear to the SENCO that my sons needs are amongst the most complex that she has ever dealt with.
    Only after seeing the results of the detailed assessments did the county ed psych decide he would write up his recommendations (after his Christmas break of course). Having decided in August that he would not assess my son but would instead wait for the detailed 2 day assessment results from the CCPNR which came in December.
    So, my son has now been allocated a TA in class. He has not been introduced to her. He has been given an award for attendance and been publicly praised for not needing any support. (Reverse psychology which I feel is designed to discourage my son who has chosen to pursue one of the traditional male building trades, from asking for help). He is very open to suggestion since his accident and this combined with his poor self awareness leaves him vulnerable to manipulation.
    His current course is just 1 year in length and becoming more challenging as time goes by. The mandatory english and maths are overwhelming for him so far and likely to get worse as the year progresses. We are still waiting for the outcome of an EHCP needs assessment requested in March. The system is too slow and under resources. Transition from school to college is non existent. The school SENCO retired in September 2016 and no detail has been sent to the college despite my son having 50% additional time and a reader in his exams. Despite him being under speech and language, neurology, psychology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, community paediatrician and renal specialists at the time of transition. And despite his accident occurring on the pedestrian crossing outside of school and the head teacher being in constant communication with us throughout his time in critical care.
    The lack of ownership and communication between schools and colleges is vast and the way parents are treated by colleges is outrageous. Students are actively discouraged from asking their parents for assistance and colleges refuse to communicate with parents unless a student has very complex communication problems. All information provided by me as his primary career has been ignored, he has been left to his own devices and allowed to wander off site when and as he pleases with no concern for his safety. He is impulsive, emotionally liable and has a low attention threshold.
    My son should have support systems in place to help him into adult life and independence, colleges and local authorities are denying this and in my experience they are setting them up for failure.

    • Dear Joanne, thanks for your comment and I’m so sorry you and your son are having to go through this. I’m sure you have already taken steps to speak to the college principal and the SEN area manager. Have you contacted the IASS (parent partnership) for your area for support? Do you have an ehcp yet? If not, I should get in touch with IPSEA or sossen for advice immediately.

      • Joanne Dowen

        Hi Tania
        I did go to ipsea in the first instance for advice when the school denied Anne’s psych assessment. They felt that it was a difficult case because my son is unaware of his limitations and tells people everything is okay (while also presenting a huge smile).
        I understand that IPSEA are not able to advise for FE and that I would need to go to the DAA. I am still waiting to hear back from the LA about the EHCP and they are still waiting for the ed psych report. Haven’t contacted parent support yet as i have found them to be lacking in understanding and knowledge on so many levels. If I need to appeal I understand that I will have to speak to them. The LA have been slow and in my opinion, obstructive in responding.

        • Just out of interest, were you offered an independent supporter by the LA when you applied for the ehcp? Or told about them by anyone else?

          • Joanne Dowen

            I was given quite the run around by the LA (Norfolk) who initially advised me when I telephoned for an update, that the panel had decided not to assess.
            This was later reviewed following further submission of evidence from the consultant and on 19 May I received a further letter advising that after careful consideration it had been decided to carry out an assessment. In that letter I was advised of the SEND Partnership and advised of the Cambridge families mediation service and support from Scope. In your experience, will it help speed up the process if I contact parent partnership at this stage?