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An Ofsted report which reveals patchy post-16 support for young people with SEN 

In August 2011, Ofsted launched a report that looked at how young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities progressed from school to programmes that would help them to live independently, undertake further study, or gain some form of employment.

Between October 2010 and March 2011, Ofsted visited colleges, independent learning providers and local authority providers of adult and community learning to evaluate the arrangements for transition from school and the opportunities offered to learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities up to the age of 25. Inspectors carried out in-depth case studies for 111 learners.

Inspectors found that the local authorities’ arrangements to provide learners with a learning difficulties assessment as the basis for their transition to post-16 provision were not working effectively. Providers had received a learning difficulties assessment in only a third of the case studies, where it was appropriate. These assessments were not always timely or adequately completed, which made it difficult to plan effective support arrangements.

Very little provision was available for learners over the age of 20, and insufficient information was held or maintained by local authorities about the destinations and success of learners. At the age of 19, a different social care team in the local authority took responsibility for supporting learners. This transition from children’s to adult services, with significant variations in criteria for support, caused difficulties for learners and their parents or carers.

In the majority of the case studies, the criteria used for placement decisions were unclear, local options were inadequately explored and recommendations were not always based on an objective assessment of need. The lack of objectivity and reliance on historical links lead to significant inequities in the placement decisions.

Despite the inconsistent and largely ineffective use of learning difficulties assessments, the arrangements for transition from schools were working well in most cases. Learners valued the taster courses, link courses and familiarisation opportunities provided by many colleges and independent providers. Most learners were well supported into mainstream courses, including apprenticeship programmes. On these courses, learners with a learning difficulty and/or disability achieved as well as their peers, with success rates of around 80 per cent.

The report found that the qualification and funding systems for foundation learning introduced in September 2010 were causing concerns among providers. Inspectors found that too few practical, real work opportunities were available to learners.

The discrete foundation programmes reviewed were not effective in enabling learners to progress to open or supported employment, independent living or community engagement. Worryingly, the most effective provision such as social enterprises and internships supported by job coaches could not be funded under the foundation learning arrangements. Despite these difficulties, providers were working hard to support learners, who gained significantly in confidence and valued being treated more as an adult.

Inspectors also found that insufficient provision was available for learners with the highest level of need. Senior managers of the 12 local authorities interviewed by inspectors confirmed the historic lack of local provision for these learners. They identified the need to improve local capacity significantly in some regions so that learners had a wider range of options, including working with third sector organisations. They found that sending learners out of the local area only postponed the issues, as they still required specialist provision when they returned, and in some cases had to be taught skills of independence again.

The report recommends that providers should continue to work in partnership with other providers and third sector organisations to maximise the specialist resources in the locality, and increase the range of options for learners with the most complex needs. It also makes clear recommendations for local authorities and the Department for Education and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. The most challenging recommendations are to review the transition arrangements so that they are equitable, and to focus at foundation level on meaningful activity leading to appropriate destinations, rather than on units of accreditation

All young people should be given the opportunity to maximise their full potential. We must support their learning difficulty and/or disability, but the focus must be on ability and capacity. We must inspire ambition, and this important report has helped to highlight how we can improve the services available to young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities beyond their school years.

Case study: failure to prepare for work

The following example illustrates the way in which the foundation learning model did not benefit a learner, as the focus was on gaining units of accreditation, with no opportunity for work experience.

One learner with an autistic spectrum disorder was following a vocational preparation programme at entry level. He had been tutored at home for the two years prior to attending the college, as he had been bullied at school and had had poor attendance. He and his mother were very positive about his attendance and his social progress at the college, and these were very significant gains. However, his programme had not involved any type of work experience, even though he described his next step as starting an apprenticeship the following academic year. None of the units on his programme prepared him for an apprenticeship and he had not been invited to explore the occupational areas he might consider.

He described his recent experience with the careers service as unhelpful and he was not at all certain where he would be the following year. Although he had been able to choose units and had made progress by achieving them, it was not clear where this “pick and mix” approach was leading. The learning plan focused on achieving units of accreditation and did not identify any generic skills that he was developing as a result of taking different units, so it was not clear how he had benefited in terms of developing the skills required for employment.

Further information

Matthew Coffey is Director, Development, Learning and Skills at Ofsted, the Government’s education watchdog. The report, Progression post-16 for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, can be found on the Office’s website:
http://www.ofsted.gov.uk

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