Clare Howard looks at whether councils’ local offers are meeting their responsibilities to young people with SEN
Transition from school to college and into the adult world can be a difficult time for all young people, and particularly for those with SEN and disabilities. Some of them will have been in the same school from a very young age; moving to a more adult education setting with an eye to future employment or more independence in their living arrangements can feel like a very big and daunting jump.
The Children and Families Act in 2014 set into statute the concept of “preparing for adulthood”, together with planning for transition from Year 9 onwards. Yet when the majority of young people in Year 9, with and without SEN, have little or no idea what they want to do when they become adults, how can we ensure they receive effective advice and guidance, and give them all the appropriate post-16 options? The right choice at 16 or 19 can be critical in determining long-term life chances and the wellbeing of young people with SEN.
The local offer
Enshrined within the Children and Families Act was the requirement for each local authority to produce a local offer. This should provide “clear, comprehensive, accessible and up-to-date information about the available provision and how to access it.”
For post-16, the local offer must include information about:
- the full range of post-16 education and training provision
- apprenticeships, traineeships and supported internships
- programmes to assist children and young people in preparing for adulthood
- arrangements for travel to post-16 provision.
This year, Natspec undertook a review of the local offer websites of 56 local authorities to discover whether the information is comprehensive and accessible and meets the requirements of the legislation. This article presents the findings of the review, together with some top tips for navigating local offer websites.
According to the SEN Code of Practice, the local offer “must include provision in the local authority’s area. It must also include provision outside the local area that the local authority expects is likely to be used… This could, for example, be provision in a further education college in a neighbouring area or support services for children and young people with particular types of SEN that are provided jointly by local authorities. It should include relevant regional and national specialist provision, such as provision for children and young people with low-incidence and more complex SEN.”
But are local offers this comprehensive? We found that many did not include provision outside the area, and even provision inside the local authority area was sometimes missing, particularly specialist colleges. More than a third of local offers did not include all specialist colleges and sometimes even the mainstream colleges were difficult to find. Information about work-based learning, apprenticeships or supported internships is not generally listed at all.
When searching for comprehensive post-16 information in local offers, here are some key points to consider:
- Don’t limit your search to “education” as often this takes you to schools rather than colleges. Try searching under “post-16”, “further education” or “preparing for adulthood”. Some websites use other terminology such as “transition to employment”, which also includes options for training for independence.
- Sometimes you will find that general FE colleges or mainstream options are listed in one part of the site, and specialist colleges in another part. For example, specialist colleges are sometimes incorrectly placed in an external community directory, or under adult care or support services.
- Local offers that do not include specialist colleges sometimes publish the “S41 list” instead; this is a list of independent schools and colleges that have been approved by the Secretary of State and are therefore subject to the same duties as all other schools and colleges under the Children and Families Act. You should check the S41 list for specialist colleges that might provide different options and specialisms to those listed in the local offer.
Clear and accessible?
The Code of Practice also states that “Local authorities must involve children with SEN or disabilities and their parents and young people with SEN or disabilities” in planning and publishing the local offer. Councils must also involve schools and colleges, including specialist providers.
Unfortunately, this consultation is not always in place and as a result, some local offers are fiendishly difficult to navigate. The review of local offers found:
- poorly formatted design, with large pictures in the background hiding text or making it very difficult to read
- poor menus with long pop-up lists which require dexterity to hover over part of the menu to select another section, and if you slip off it at any point you need to start again
- unclear headings on the local authority’s website making it difficult to find the local offer in the first place
- missing links or “file not found” error messages
- filters in large directories that return hundreds of entries that are not always relevant, such as a “post-16” filter that returns all adult education or a “specialist services” filter that returns everything from playgroups to colleges, and befriending services to charities.
Many of the local authorities are working to improve their sites, and there is always a feedback button for you to make comments about the ease of navigation or the quality of information on the site.
As well as the local offer, you can get advice and guidance from your local SEN and disabilities Information, Advice and Support Service (IASS). This is a statutory function of local authorities and provides support to children and young people with SEN and their families.
About the author
Clare Howard is the Chief Executive of Natspec, a membership association for organisations which offer specialist further education and training for students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.