Joe Baldwin points out failings with new arrangements for SEND learners.
While the Children and Families Act and the SEND code of practice both came into force in September 2014, the full impact for FE was not truly realised until September 2015.
This was when the first cohort of learners with education health and care plans (EHCPs) — documents which set out the special needs of a young person and the support they require — transitioned from school into colleges across England.
The code of practice devolved critical guidance from the Department for Education to local authorities.
This included freedom around the design and template of the plans and thresholds for assessment, along with the process for transforming the old special education needs statements and learning difficulties assessments into EHCPs.
In my experience this has led to a lack of consistency and clarity, which was vital in ensuring a sound framework for improving provision and outcomes within a new system.
The devolution of funding has meant that nearly all FE colleges find themselves claiming high needs top-up funding from multiple local authorities, as a result of their cross-county campus locations.
The different procedures for each local authority mean that college special needs managers have become adept at plate-spinning, to ensure each authority receives responses in their preferred method (post, email, attachments).
These must also be in line with their confidentiality and encryption protocols and use their required EHCP templates.
The SEND code of practice places significant responsibility on the role of special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO).
But the required qualification for such co-ordinators appointed after September 1, 2008, remains wholly focused on compulsory education.
In reality, the scale of many FE colleges means that their population of students with special needs is likely to be higher than in any one school.
The management and oversight of special needs learners within a school setting can also be more transparent, but this is problematic when scaled-up in FE across multiple vocational areas and potentially across campuses too.
The learners are not receiving the quality of support or provision to meet their needs
Supporting and up-skilling staff to better plan for and meet the needs of learners with SEND is challenging.
Since the reforms gathered momentum, the new changes and requirements for the FE sector have been significant.
I am confident in saying that no one within the sector could have been fully prepared for the scale, demand and resource requirements the reforms would have — even with the greatest foresight.
The few requirements which were outlined by the DfE have caused some of the biggest challenges to both local authorities and education providers.
Such requirements include a 20-week assessment timeline for delivering an EHCP.
The consultation process to request a college placement for an individual with such a plan, the subsequent response timeline, and the statutory annual review of each EHCP have generated an unprecedented amount of work.
Meanwhile, colleges are still trying to stay focused on improved outcomes and opportunities for the learner.
Ofsted’s March report on FE provision for learners with high needs, ‘Moving Forward?’, suggested that so far the Children and Families Act and the SEND code of practice have not met expectations.
The learners are not receiving the quality of support or provision to meet their needs and the postcode lottery still rife.
Putting the bureaucracy and lack of parity to one side, you have to have a learner with real needs, ambitious and aspirations.
We want to be best placed to provide them with an inclusive and supported environment in which they can thrive.
I am determined to create a culture within my own organisation which empowers all staff with the tools to understand individual needs and enables learners to progress towards leading fulfilled adult lives.