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New Ofstead report on Children with Special Education Needs

Too few young people with learning difficulties and disabilities progress from school to complete programmes that will help them live independently, undertake further study, or gain employment.

An Ofsted report published today, ‘Progression post-16 for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities’, found that learning opportunities beyond school for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities varies considerably between local areas. There was insufficient provision available for learners with the highest level of need, and the current placement system resulted in significant inequities in the provision available for learners with similar needs.

Ofsted inspectors visited 32 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 found that the local authorities’ arrangements to provide learners with a learning difficulty 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 support.

In the examples seen, the criteria used for placement decisions were not always clear, local options were not adequately explored and the recommendations were not always based on an objective assessment of need.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Miriam Rosen, said:

‘Decisions about the best kind of provision for individuals should be based on their individual needs. Young people need to be provided with meaningful programmes that enable them to progress to apprenticeships, employment, greater independence, further learning or community engagements.’

Providers were working hard to support learners. All of the post-16 providers visited had their own well established systems to provide learners with an initial assessment. But these procedures were freestanding and had not been integrated with local authorities’ arrangements for learning difficulty assessments so the benefits of reducing duplication and improving sharing of information were lost.

The report found that the qualification and funding systems were causing some concerns among providers of post-16 learning. The main concerns raised were about the design of foundation learning, which was introduced in September 2010. Too few practical, real work opportunities were available to learners and activities were only funded for three days a week. This did not allow sufficient time for practical activities in realistic settings.

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.

Evidence from the focus groups and case studies showed that when learners reached age 19, the changes in the arrangements between children’s services and adult services created additional difficulties. Insufficient advice about personal budgets, the requirement to pay fees and uncertainty about benefit entitlements were identified as potential barriers to participation.

Local authorities have a statutory responsibility to carry out learning difficulty assessments for all young people who require them from the point of leaving school up to the age of 25. However, inspectors found that the local authorities’ arrangements to provide learners with a learning difficulty assessment as the basis for their transition to post-16 provision were not working effectively.

Too little is known about the destinations of learners once they leave post-16 provision, particularly once they reach the age of 19 or 20. The local authorities and funding agencies visited do not have systematic procedures to collect this data to monitor how well provision supported progression.

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