Radical re-working needed for the high needs further education system

Students in classroom

The high needs system for further education is not working and requires a radical shake-up, council and college leaders say today in a new report.

The report, commissioned by the Local Government Association, the Association of Colleges and Natspec, the membership body for specialist colleges, highlights that the system is overly complicated, resulting in young people, their parents, councils and colleges facing challenges which have a detrimental impact on those students in further education with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

It finds that key elements of the current systems are not working for those that have to use them. Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans are not sufficiently up to date and ‘further education’ in focus; statutory deadlines are being missed; arrangements for the transition from school to further education are delayed, and may not take place at all; administrative burdens on both councils and colleges are high; and there are too many disputes about placements. Part of the problem is that there is too little long-term planning of post-16 high needs provision.

The research identified areas of good practice in the 10 local authority areas and 28 providers that were studied; these are included in a series of recommendations that could be actioned within the current system by other councils and providers.

However, the report also suggests that a more radical re-working of the whole system is required, including changes to the funding model so that councils can plan provision more effectively for young people within their local area, involving both mainstream general further education colleges and specialist colleges in the process, and that funding can be transferred straight to the providers in a much more timely and direct way.

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“The current high needs further education system is falling short of its potential, creating unnecessary tension and red tape for councils and colleges, while struggling to effectively support young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

“While there is evidence of current good practice by councils, an overhaul and streamlining of processes are needed to improve the system for local authorities and colleges in order to improve the experience and aspirations of students. This has become more urgent due to the huge increase in size and complexity of the task faced by councils and providers in supporting young people with SEND with funding not keeping up with the rising demand for support.”

Liz Maudslay, Association of Colleges’ Policy Officer for SEND, said:

“AoC very much welcomes the findings and recommendations of the acl research report. Further education colleges have always welcomed the vision of the SEND Reforms of 2014 but have also recognised that for these reforms to be effective there is a need for significant changes to implementation processes. We particularly welcome the fact that this report was jointly commissioned by AoC, Natspec and LGA as it is only by close collaboration between colleges and local authorities that positive changes can come about.”

Clare Howard, CEO of Natspec, said:

“This is the first piece of research into the high needs system which has looked at further education in such detail. The detrimental effects of the system on all young people are amplified for the small number with the most complex needs, who require more specialist provision. We welcome the recommendations that specialist colleges should be more involved in planning provision with local authorities, that decisions should be made earlier, and that young people should be more supported with transition.”

Notes to Editors