The high needs system for further education is not working and requires a radical shake-up, council and college leaders say today (3 Dec) 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.

judith blake 100x100Cllr 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. FE 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.”

Looking behind, beneath and beyond the behaviour

School leaders and education experts gather today (Thursday 3 December) at a virtual conference on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. The conference, held by school leaders’ union NAHT, has the theme ‘looking behind, beneath and beyond the behaviour’.

Marijke Miles, chair of NAHT’s SEND council and head of a special school in Hampshire, said:

“Behaviour is always about need. It's about communicating a need – usually an unmet one. Our jobs as educators is to try to understand that need.

“It is often too easy to be seduced by terms like ‘no excuses’ and ‘zero tolerance’. Instead, we need to look behind the behaviour at what might be its cause and what it is telling us to arrive at a resolution.

“At this time, more than ever, all educators need to sharpen their wits, brighten their intellectual torches, block out the din of zero tolerance agendas and cheap soundbites, and reaffirm their personal values around the right of every single child to be treated with optimism, curiosity and compassion. Regardless of their behaviour.”

The ‘Leading on SEND Across All Schools’ conference will offer a wide range of expert perspectives and experience to provide new ways in which to view and understand behaviour, alongside the opportunity to listen, reflect, debate and explore the issues.

Ms Miles continued: “We hope the day will give leaders the confidence, conviction and capacity to set the tone and guide the practice for all children in their setting – to be the best leaders for our learners.”

As well as workshops on a wide variety of practical topics, the conference will feature key note speeches from Marijke Miles; learning and behaviour consultant Fintan O’Regan; Professor Adam Boddison, chief executive of nasen (National Association for Special Educational Needs); and Joe Cook, a musician and poet with learning disabilities from Birmingham who works in schools, community centres and pupil referral units delivering music and creative writing lessons and workshops.

Methodology: Research for the reportArrangements for planning, commissioning, funding, and supporting provision for post-16 high needs students, was undertaken by acl consulting between February and October on behalf of the LGA, the Association of Colleges & Natspec. Copies of the report are available on request.

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