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AoC - Students with SEND in Further Education

Liz Maudslay from the Association of Colleges provides insight into some of the important differences between school and college provision for students with SEND.

Provision in further education for students with SEND

Further Education caters for a very large number of students with a range of special educational needs and disabilities. Current numbers in England are approximately 64000 students with EHC plans, and a further 240000 who have some identified SEND but no EHC plan.

SEND post 16 students are rightly considered in general guidance documents for all children and young people with SEND. However it is the belief of the Association of Colleges and of Natspec (the National Association for Specialist College Provision) that it is not sufficient simply to add the phrase ‘and colleges’ but also to distinguish the many ways in which college provision differs from that of schools.

Main differences in provision

There is no National Curriculum in colleges and SEND students might be enrolled on a wide range of academic or vocational courses. A minority of students with more complex SEND will attend an Independent Specialist College however many young people who have been at a special school will continue their education in a General Further Education college. A proportion of students will attend a specially designed learning programme for students with learning difficulties which will include English and maths at an appropriate level as well as independence, social and employment skills.

Some colleges run full or part-time specialist provision for young people aged 14-16 for whom the schools system has not been appropriate. Some colleges also have dedicated provision for 16 year olds who have been in Alternative Provision or had some kind of disrupted education experience.

Further Education colleges tend to be much larger than schools and cover a far wider geographical area with many of them taking students from several different Local Authorities.

Attendance is not necessarily full time five days a week. Specialist courses for students with more complex learning difficulties tend to be three or four days a week in college but often providers will arrange for non-college days to be filled with voluntary agency support or work experience.

All SEND students will be able to take part in a wide range of extra curricula activities with specialist staff and equipment.

As students move into adulthood the relationship between college staff and a student’s parents can be different from that of schools

What additional support is there for students with SEND?

Colleges do not use the designation SENCO although they will have a SEND support department with expertise in a variety of specialist areas e.g. specific learning difficulties, autism, sensory impairment. SEND students receive additional support on a one-to-one basis where appropriate. Programmes for students with more complex learning difficulties will have a high staff student ratio and also employ Learning Support Assistants.

Differences in Funding

Unlike schools Further Education has no designated ‘SEND support’ funding. High Needs Funding in Further Education is divided into Element 1 – the base rate for all students which in colleges is less than it is in schools; Element 2 – limit of £6000; and Element 3, high needs top up funding. Colleges only receive the £6000 Element 2 funding if a student is seen to require Element 3. Of the 64000 students in Further Education who have an EHC plan only 31000 receive High Needs Funding. Any additional funding both for these students and for the very large number of SEND students without EHC plans comes out of the college Disadvantage Fund. While being quite a generous fund this money also has to cover supporting re-sits in English and maths GCSE, mental health support and several other areas of college support making it hard always to give sufficient support to all SEND students.

DfE SEND Review and policy asks in relation to FE

There is currently an important DfE SEND Review happening. Some of the issues which the Association of Colleges and Natspec hope this review will address include:

•    That the significant differences between further education and schools should be formally acknowledged and addressed rather than further education being shoe-horned into a schools based system.
•    That there should be dedicated and objective Advice and Guidance support for young people and families as they move towards the end of their time at school
•    A review of transition from school to college and post college, and implementation of procedures which might improve it – e.g. young people having a dedicated person who can see them through the process from Year 9; improved procedures for transfer of information for all SEND students from mainstream schools; support for transition from college to Higher Education, employment, or independent living. 
•    Funding opportunities for colleges to give targeted support for young people making the transition from AP to college
•    Greater standardisation of procedures between different Local Authorities in terms of post school High Needs Funding
•    Structures which allow more flexibility for sharing resources and expertise between specialist and mainstream colleges.