Four things to know from Ofsted’s careers review in specialist colleges

Watchdog criticises local authority non-compliance with SEND learner transitions to FE and training

Watchdog criticises local authority non-compliance with SEND learner transitions to FE and training

Specialist colleges are providing varying quality of careers guidance to SEND learners amid a lack of support from local authorities and gaps in communication with parents and employers, Ofsted has found.

The findings, published today, come from a 2022 mandate from the Department for Education for Ofsted to review careers provision in specialist settings.

Inspectors visited four specialist colleges, three pupil referral units and five special schools during the 2023 summer term.

They found mixed results in the careers guidance strategies in SEND colleges, integration of careers education into the curriculum and the support received from local authorities.

Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver said: “Good careers guidance can help address social inequality by teaching children and young people with SEND about the full range of options available and how they can make the most of them. These children deserve the kind of high-quality advice that opens the doors to ambitious and interesting experiences that help them choose their next steps. 

“It’s great to hear that many specialist settings are working with children and their families to make sure these transitions are as aspirational and positive as possible.”

Here are four key take aways from Ofsted’s review:

Local authorities ‘distressing’ families with incorrect transition paperwork

Ofsted criticised local authorities for not always giving families and education providers enough support for learners transitioning into further education, training or employment; something that is part of their statutory guidance.

The watchdog said there was a “great deal” of regional variation in how well local authorities carried out their duties.

“There were some cases where the local authority did not confirm school/college places within agreed timescales, or sent out incorrect paperwork related to transitions,” the report said.

“This was distressing for families and children and young people, and providers’ staff had to invest significant time and resource in resolving these problems.”

Local authority officers that Ofsted interviewed cited “system-wide issues”.

“They said it can be particularly challenging to find specialist provision, especially after the learner has turned 19. They also expressed concerns about the numbers of level 1 and 2 college courses being reduced and said there were not always sufficient suitable places in providers to meet learners’ needs,” Ofsted said.

Concerns of BTEC options for SEND learners

Ofsted found that all providers felt there had been a reduction in the number of options for learners with SEND. Providers were concerned about the potential drop in the number of BTECs amid the government’s level 3 and below review and a move towards apprenticeships or T levels.

One learner told Ofsted: “I like [the] BTEC but [they’re] getting rid of it.”

The review also found barriers for some learners as some courses required formal qualifications in maths and English.

“Providers felt that these courses were too academic for some young people,” the report said. 

“Employers in our focus groups also saw this as a barrier, particularly for young people who want to do apprenticeships. It may be more appropriate for some learners to continue to study for maths and English while undertaking further study, and this is often what happens,” it added.

‘Varied’ integration of careers into the curriculum

Through interviews with local authority officers and focus groups with stakeholders, Ofsted found the effectiveness of careers guidance in the curriculum was varied across providers.

“In the best providers, it prepared learners for next steps. In others, it was less effective,” they said.

The review cited one SEND college which did not provide any dedicated lessons on work readiness until the final term of the year before learners were due to progress. 

“This was because of a lack of planning and strategic thinking about careers guidance from leaders, who also were not prioritising helping learners to understand the importance of next steps, including getting a job,” inspectors explained.

Meanwhile, one specialist college featured life skills in “every aspect” of the curriculum that would prepare them for work.

Inspectors praised the providers’ provision of work-related training to all learners, whether on academic, vocational or mixed pathways.

The report said: “The college developed links with local businesses, for example a hair salon, to provide external work placements. It also created in-house working environments, for example a café/restaurant, where learners could get experience of the workplace. Learners studied English and mathematics in the classroom and while doing work-based training.”

They added that planning for careers guidance was ad hoc and unstructured in two SEND colleges they visited.

“They did not monitor or measure the impact of their guidance,” inspectors critiqued. 

“In one of these providers, learners had very little knowledge of possible next steps, such as apprenticeships, supported internships or higher education. Additionally, parents did not receive any formal communication about what their child or young person had been doing outside of EHC plan review meetings.”

Employers lacked support from providers

The review said that some employers did not have the knowledge or confidence to give learners with SEND high-quality work experience. 

“Some felt that they did not get enough support from providers, to enable them to deliver high-quality experiences,” it said.

Providers used a mix of internal and external work placements, depending on the individual needs of the learner and availability of external placements. 

In a few SEND colleges, inspectors found that work experience placements led to paid employment, which was also confirmed in Ofsted’s inspection evidence review. 

“However, not all providers in our sample were ensuring there were enough opportunities for learners to experience the workplace,” it added.

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