SEND colleges slam ‘unwieldy’ English and maths resit reforms

Dropouts likely to increase and stress made worse for vulnerable learners, leaders warn

Dropouts likely to increase and stress made worse for vulnerable learners, leaders warn

Specialist colleges have warned the government that its controversial English and maths resit reforms are an “unwieldy demand” for SEND learners and could increase dropout rates.

An overwhelming majority of SEND colleges (91 per cent) in a new survey published today by the National Association of Specialist Colleges (Natspec) have condemned the “dictated hours” announced last month.

Under the new rules from 2025, post-16 providers must teach students a minimum of three hours a week of English and four hours of maths if they failed to achieve a pass in the subjects at GCSE, or risk losing funding. Teaching must be “whole class” and “in person”.

Students with special educational needs and/or disabilities and an EHC plan, who are assessed as unable to study towards either GCSE, functional skills or stepping stone qualifications, can be made exempt from the condition. 

However, these students must be individually assessed, there should be no blanket exemptions and colleges “must make every effort to enable students to study approved qualifications” before assessing them as exempt.

SEND leaders have added their voice to furore from general FE college bosses, saying that the move will be “counterproductive”, increase dropouts, reduce learner attendance, lead to additional stress and take time away to develop vocational and vital social skills for vulnerable learners.

Natspec’s survey involved 46 of its members who currently teach 1,536 students English and maths, the majority of whom study functional skills (68 per cent) or stepping stone qualifications (20 per cent).

The results show that for 63 per cent of English students and 65 per cent of maths students currently study fewer guided learning hours than the new increased minimum.

For many, current guided learning hours for the subjects are around 1.5 hours per week, according to the report.

One respondent said that “the new guidelines will cause a huge amount of behavioural and staffing issues”, while another highlighted that they would “impact on other areas of the curriculum, such as learning skills for employment and independent living, which are the primary aims of the courses the learners have enrolled for”.

Another surveyed college said: “Good functional skills development and enhanced communication skills are absolutely essential, but if learners have not achieved after 15 years of classroom provision through school and FE it seems unhelpful for both learning and motivation to bring in such an unwieldy demand.”

‘Unmanageable’ for the most vulnerable learners

Meanwhile, 81 per cent of respondents said that the requirement for “stand-alone, whole-class, in-person teaching” would have a negative impact on some or all students, citing the importance of a “person-centred approach and flexible teaching methods”.

One respondent said learners would not be able to cope with being in larger groups, as they find it distracting and overwhelming, “which has an impact on everyone’s learning and safety”.

One small SEND college said the change would ultimately impact their funding from the ESFA “due to learners likely needing one-to-one or very small group sessions which costs more”.

Clare Howard, chief executive of Natspec, said: “The findings from our survey highlight the negative consequences of the Department for Education’s recent condition of funding rule changes on students with SEND. These are made all the more frustrating given the lack of consultation with Natspec and other key stakeholders in the education sector.

“I am pleased that the department is now consulting with the sector and I hope that listening to the collective expertise of FE organisations and colleges will lead to more inclusive policies which acknowledge the nuanced needs of students with SEND.

“Moving forward, it is imperative that any policy affecting such vulnerable learners is shaped by thorough engagement with those who understand their needs best.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our Maths and English Condition of Funding changes, backed by significant new funding for colleges, will help make sure all young people get the English and maths skills they need to progress in work and life.

“We are continuing to work with the sector on implementation including how to maximise the benefits for students with SEND.”

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