The needs of learners with SEND must be identified earlier and more effectively through person-centred planning, says Annamarie Hassall
At the start of this month, Ofsted warned about the “cliff-edge” of provision for post-16 learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The words were an uncomfortable reminder that education support is unfairly complicated outside the school gates, despite the herculean efforts of educators, parents and carers, and the sheer determination of young people.
It is widely known that children and young people have big decisions to make at age 16 and 18. But those learners with more vulnerabilities than their peers, including young people with SEND and learning differences, can find themselves in a position of heightened uncertainty about their future pathway at an even earlier age.
And Ofsted’s revelation that there are “serious weaknesses” in students’ transition between school and college or even employment should remind us of the huge challenges they face.
It’s not surprising to hear that a number of young people and their families feel they are not receiving the level of support they require. They are not following a direct pathway or being pointed in the right direction, leading to confusion as they miss out, further reducing their confidence levels behind those of their peers.
The pathways to adulthood are all too limited and much too variable. And as if this wasn’t enough, the government has identified that the new digital skills qualification has the potential to negatively impact learners with SEND.
It is time for a rethink! Assistive technology solutions are available and a curriculum based on inclusive teaching and language can be created.
Finally, hearing stories of young people routinely arriving at college with an out-of-date education, health and care plan is deeply concerning. How can we talk of improving the current SEND system if the building blocks are not fully implemented?
Most worrying of all, it indicates a lack of support for an individual at key transition points. How confident could anyone feel in the validity of such an assessment, or the relevance of the stated needs?
Young people and their families quite frankly deserve better.
For many learners with SEND, their ambition is to live an ordinary life and to have choices just like their peers. That means having options in their local community and having the support to navigate education and training pathways.
So, what is the solution?
The problem cannot be sorted overnight. At Nasen, we seek to tackle the barriers to equity in education and promote inclusion in education settings.
At the top of my list I would place collaboration and training across the professional divide, uniting those working in all phases of the education system.
At the top of my list I would place collaboration across the professional divide
I have yet to meet anyone working in education who does not want to do the best they can for learners. The issue is not with educators per se, it’s the system that throws up barriers. Bridging that divide is key.
The needs of learners with SEND must be identified earlier and more effectively through person-centred planning. Standard frameworks and common language need to be used and then shared with the educators and providers along their education pathway.
We also need to invest in a common continuous professional development short module for the wider workforce, especially those working with 16-18-year-olds that promotes inclusive attitudes and ambition for learners and builds on the excellent work of colleges and providers. It can also create the channels for effective communication across the sectors.
The way that information is shared also needs to be simplified and to enable agency for a young person, along with ease of sharing between relevant agencies.
We should focus on having a mandatory strategic role for each local authority area, accountable for ensuring all learners with SEND have good, local options, all the way to age 25.
Our learners with SEND deserve equality in the education system. From classroom to college, let’s act now to prioritise our young people at a vital stage.
Together we can address the potholes on the pathway to adulthood.