Ofsted recently published a thematic report on how FE is preparing young people with high needs for adult life.
It highlighted a worrying lack of progress with supporting them on to the right training courses, says Kathryn Rudd.

The question mark at the start of the title for the Ofsted thematic report — where it asks if the situation is ‘moving forward?’ — immediately raises alarm bells.

Based on the 2012 survey, called ‘Progression post 16 for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities’, which highlighted issues with transition arrangements, this new report clearly signals there’s still a postcode lottery for young people with disabilities in FE.

We applauded the Children and Families Act, and the values it enshrined around aspiration and choice. However, choice isn’t just around access to what’s available, it’s about knowing what is available.

The report recognises the provision of specialist, impartial careers guidance to learners with high needs was “generally weak”.

Young people and their families “frequently stated that they had received insufficient information about the full range of opportunities available to them,” it said.

National Star’s survey of more than 1,600 parents in 2015, further identified 30 per cent of parents said they had been actively discouraged or stopped from finding out about other options (than the one they were presented with).

A huge majority of parents — 87 per cent — had no idea how local authorities were making decisions about their child’s future.

While their peers without disabilities are encouraged to access a range of different institutions specialising in different subject and vocational areas through developments, such as university technical colleges and the area review agenda, people with disabilities often only have the option of a provider within easy access.

Yet although there is a real need for all provision to be high quality, we must also recognise some young people with disabilities may require a different resource, expertise, curriculum or peer group, which may not necessarily be available at the provider down the road.

There is a danger we will make skewed decisions

Or that they may wish to move away from home because they want to gain skills to become more independent.

Young people with disabilities are not one homogenous group who need one size fits all provision.

Therefore, it is imperative they have information about all their options and we don’t make decisions for them post-16.

It doesn’t matter if young people choose a school sixth form, training provider, a GFE or an independent specialist college — what matters is that a provider offers high quality provision which sets them up to achieve their goals post-college.

As Ofsted highlighted, in ‘Moving Forward?’, there is currently a “lack of reliable performance and destination data”. So we currently can’t tell whether a provider is effective or provides value for money.

Unfortunately this isn’t a new concept.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office in 2011, stated that “giving the correct support to young people with special needs could help them lead more independent lives and reduce longer-term costs to the public purse”.

Yet he warned a lack of understanding of the relationship between needs, costs and outcomes could lead to students not getting the right support, and risk compromising value for money.

There are many reasons why this hasn’t happened — terminology, different data sets requested from different providers, and that it’s far easier to measure inputs than outcomes, are just a few.

But without this knowledge, there is a danger we will make skewed decisions.

We only measure the number of students gaining qualifications, but don’t take into account if those qualifications are preparing them for adult life.

We only measure the short-term cost of a placement, without considering long-term outcomes to the learner and public purse.

It’s vital to ensure young people with disabilities and their families have access to information and guidance to make informed decisions for their future.

It’s also imperative for local authorities to have access to data which demonstrates provider effectiveness and long-term value for money.

We also need to provide those young people with impartial guidance and develop a way to measure those outcomes.

Otherwise, it’s shortchanging the young person and public purse.

Read more about Ofsted’s report: ‘Moving forward? How well the further education and skills sector is preparing young people with high needs for adult life’ here.