What would a well-functioning further education system for young people with SEND look like?

When a system is going as badly wrong as the SEND system is for 16–25-year-olds, it’s easy to focus on all the failings. In much of our policy work at Natspec, the membership body for specialist colleges, we’ve focused our energies on pointing out the problems to government and suggesting possible solutions. I’ve shared our asks, and our disappointment in not being heard, with SNJ readers on previous occasions.

What we haven’t done up until now is describe what a high-functioning system would look like. Coming from this different angle, we’ve identified the key components of an FE system that would deliver for young people with SEND. Crucially, having now tested it out with a range of different stakeholders, we have started to build consensus around what works well.

What are the priorities for good further education for disabled young people?

Our thinking is if we can all agree on what an effective system looks like, we have a better chance of building it together. Sure, there will be disputes about how we get there, which elements are priorities, how much funding will be needed, but at least we’ll all be pulling in the same direction.

We have focused on six key areas in our vision of a high-functioning system.

1. Learning programmes

All young people will be able to find a further education course of interest to them. It will be of high quality and prepare them well for their adult lives, whatever their chosen next step, e.g. higher education, a job, being able to contribute to their local community or live as independently as possible. They will get the support they need to succeed.

2. Education and training providers

In every local area/region, there will be a mix of FE settings, including both mainstream and specialist. Young people will be able to get a place in whichever setting best meets their needs. Some young people may do part of their learning in a specialist setting and part in a mainstream setting.

3. Staff

Every FE setting will have staff who are trained to meet the needs of young people with SEND. Young people will have timely access to expert staff where appropriate. There will be enough of these staff across the country and a pipeline of newly trained staff coming through to ensure this remains the case into the future.

4. Funding

There will be a straightforward funding system that gives FE settings enough money to deliver high-quality programmes and offer the right level of support so that young people can achieve aspirational outcomes.

5. Local authorities

Staff in local authorities (LAs) will have a really good understanding of the needs and wants of young people in their area, gained by listening to them and their families. They will also know their local colleges well - and those in neighbouring areas. They will have the resource they need to plan FE provision, keeping an eye on the needs of young people coming up through the school system, so provision is in place by the time it’s needed. LA staff will be trained in person-centred decision-making so each young person gets the right FE placement for them.

6. Opportunities after college

Young people will have the opportunity to put all their learning from their FE course to good effect. There will be support and provision in place after college to make sure they can get jobs, access adult health and social care, be active in their communities, go to university or engage in lifelong learning.

What’s your vision for young people with SEND?

If you share this vision for an FE system that works well for young people with SEND, let us know by completing this short online form. We’ll then add your name to our published list of individuals and organisations who stand with us.

You could also share the vision around your own networks, encourage others to sign up to it, and bring it to the attention of local, regional or national decision-makers. Working together towards a shared vision surely gives us a better chance of getting there.

Read the Natspec 2024 Manifesto here

Also read:

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 [RP1]Link to previous SNJ articles on post-16?

Ruth Perry, Senior Policy Manager, Natspec

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