What can students with SEN expect from their college?


The requirements on colleges to support students with SEN

The SEN and disabilities Code of Practice (CoP) points out that post-16 education and training is diverse and includes: school sixth forms (mainstream and special); sixth form colleges; general further education (FE) colleges; 16 to 19 academies; special post-16 institutions; or vocational learning and training providers in the private/voluntary sector. They provide a range of learning programmes and vocational qualifications at all levels. For this article, I am focusing on colleges (I dealt with schools in a previous article).

What are a college’s duties regarding SEN provision?

Colleges have a duty to have regard to the CoP and to:

  • cooperate with the local authority (LA) on arrangements for young people with SEN; this is a reciprocal duty
  • admit a young person if the institution is named in an education health and care (EHC) plan – unless it is unsuitable for their age, ability, aptitude or SEN, or if to place the young person there would be incompatible with the efficient use of resources or the efficient education of others
  • use their best endeavours to secure the SEN provision that the young person needs – whether or not they have EHC plans; this does
  • not apply to students on higher education (HE) courses, such as at university.

What are their duties to identify SEN?

Colleges should be involved in transition planning and schools and colleges should work together to smooth that transition. Colleges should give all applicants a chance to declare a learning need/disability/medical condition that may affect their learning. If a student makes a declaration, the college should discuss with them how they would provide support. Any screenings and assessments should be differentiated and proportionate to the likely SEN. If needs only emerge after a programme has begun, teaching staff should work with specialist support to identify SEN. The CoP also points out that it should not be assumed that a student has SEN just because they have lower attainment levels than peers. It should also not be assumed that students working on higher-level courses do not need SEN provision.

What SEN support is available in college?

The CoP states that the college must use its “best endeavours” to put appropriate support in place, after discussion with young people, and support should be aimed at promoting independence and enabling the young person to make progress towards employment and/or higher education. Support should be evidence-based. The CoP also states that colleges should take a “cyclical” approach to assessing need, planning and providing support, then reviewing and evaluating that support, so that it can be adjusted if necessary.

How do colleges assess what support is needed?

The CoP advises that where a student is identified as having SEN and needing SEN support, colleges should bring together relevant information from a number of people, including the school, the student, those working with the student and any screening assessment the college has carried out. This should then be discussed with the student (who should be supported by a parent or advocate, if necessary). This may identify the need for a more specialist assessment from the college or others.

How do colleges plan and provide support?

Plans for support should be developed with the student and meet their aspirations. They should be based on reliable evidence, provided by people with relevant skills and knowledge and progress should be reviewed. SEN support can include:

  • assistive technology
  • personal care (or access to it)
  • specialist tuition
  • notetakers
  • interpreters
  • one-to-one or small group learning support
  • habilitation/independent living training
  • accessible information (such as symbol based materials)
  • access to therapies (such as speech and language therapy).

What funding is available?

All colleges are provided with resources (based on a national funding formula for core provision) to support students with additional needs, as well as additional funding for students with SEN. This funding is not ring-fenced. Colleges are not expected to meet the full costs of more expensive support, but are expected to provide support that costs up to a nationally prescribed threshold. The responsible LA should provide additional top-up funding, if the cost of provision required exceeds the nationally prescribed threshold, or if it maintains an EHC plan. Colleges are funded by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) for all 16 to 18-year-olds and for those aged 19 to 25 who have EHC plans. Colleges are funded by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) for all students aged 19 and over who do not have an EHC plan. Funding is complex, so differing rules may sometimes apply and I advise caution and research in these situations.

What are the duties regarding record keeping and reviewing support?

Colleges should keep a student’s record of support updated to inform discussions about SEN support’s effectiveness, their progress towards specified outcomes and any planned next steps. Colleges should ensure data is recorded accurately and in a timely manner, to provide the student (and, if necessary, their LA) with regular information about progress. The effectiveness of support and its impact should be reviewed regularly, which may lead to changes – whether or not there is an EHC plan (which must be formally reviewed annually). Colleges should also keep under review the “reasonable adjustments” they make under the Equality Act 2010.

Is there any other expertise within and beyond the college?

Colleges should ensure they act inclusively with students with SEN or a disability and have appropriate expertise within their workforce. Colleges should also ensure they have access to specialist skills and expertise, for example through partnerships with other agencies and/or by employing people directly. They should have a named person with oversight of SEN provision to ensure coordination – like a SENCO in schools – or where curriculum and support staff can go if they need help or advice. Colleges should also ensure they have access to external specialist services and expertise, for example, educational psychologists, child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), specialist teachers, therapists and support services. Where, despite taking relevant and purposeful action to identify, assess and meet the needs of the student, they are still not making expected progress, the college or young person can request an EHC needs assessment.

Is there careers guidance for young people?

The CoP states that colleges are required to secure access to independent careers guidance for all students up to and including age 18 and for 19 to 25-year-olds with EHC plans.

Do colleges have any disability discrimination duties?

Colleges have duties under the Equality Act 2010 to not discriminate against, harass or victimise disabled young people and they must make reasonable adjustments to prevent them being placed at a substantial disadvantage. This duty is also anticipatory: it requires thought in advance as to what disabled young people might require and what adjustments might need to be made to prevent disadvantage. Colleges also have wider duties to prevent discrimination, to promote equality of opportunity and to foster good relations.

Further information

Douglas Silas is the Principal of Douglas Silas Solicitors and runs the website:

He is also the author of A Guide To The SEND Code of Practice [updated for 2016/17], which is available for all eBook readers:

The advice provided here is of a general nature and Douglas Silas Solicitors cannot be held responsible for any loss caused by reliance placed upon it.

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SEN law
Douglas Silas Solicitos


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