teacher 2Too many young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities leave education poorly prepared for adult life, an Ofsted report has found.

Ofsted’s report, Moving Forward?, explores the early implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014, and the impact it has had on the lives and prospects of learners with high needs. It found that, of the local authorities and further education (FE) providers surveyed, the implementation of the Act had not been fully effective. As a result, the support that high needs learners received, at the time of the fieldwork, varied considerably. The report highlights a number of concerns about arrangements, including:

Nearly half of providers visited did not have adequate strategies, experience or expertise to support their learners with learning difficulties or disabilities

Specialist, impartial careers guidance found to be generally weak, with 16 of the 20 local authority websites reviewed failing to provide sufficiently detailed information

Too many learners on programmes that do not lead to further learning, employment or independent/supported living

Slow progress by high needs learners in English and mathematics 

Poor recording of learners’ progress, meaning many are not achieving their full potential.

Ofsted’s deputy director for further education, Paul Joyce, said: “Last year there were over 22,000 young people with high needs attending FE providers in England. It is disappointing that our report has found that provision for such learners varies so considerably between local authorities and providers, and that more progress has not been made since Ofsted flagged concerns about this back in 2012.

“Despite the concerns that our report has highlighted, inspectors did see some strong performance from councils. In the best examples, local authority staff use their long-standing experience to commission provision for learners which supports individual needs. However, too many staff in other authorities lack this expertise, resulting in poor quality of support for high needs learners.

“It is imperative that local authorities and providers work together to collect and analyse information on learners’ progress and achievements. Only then will they be able to implement necessary improvements and ensure learners get the additional support they need to achieve their potential and prepare them for adult life.”

In the report, Ofsted highlighted Sheffield Lifelong Learning as a good practice example of a provider working to tackle the barriers high needs learners may experience and how to successfully support them in reaching their potential. 

The National Star College, Gloucestershire, was also highlighted as a positive example of a provider working with an external employer to provide its learners with beneficial internship experience.

Ofsted’s report makes a number of recommendations to government, local authorities and FE providers to help improve the standard of support for high needs learners, including:

The government producing a national set of data on learners’ destinations to allow for the impact of provision and the Children and Families Act to be measured

Local authorities putting in place arrangements to enable education, health and care providers to work effectively together to provide support for learners

Providers ensuring staff have the relevant expertise and specialisms to support learners with high needs.

Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of Ambitious about Autism, welcomed the report: “This report shines much-needed light on the gaping hole in quality further education provision for young people with autism and other disabilities. We had high hopes for the Children and Families Act, but the challenges of the current high needs funding system, set alongside the broader cuts local authorities are facing, mean we are a long way off delivering the 0-25 system of support we all want to see.

“Our Finished at School campaign found that fewer than 1 in 4 young people with autism go on to any education at all beyond school, and this report suggests that very little progress has been made. We hear all too often from families of young people with autism who simply have no place to go when they finish school.

“We fully support the report’s recommendations to publish improved destination data, improve specialist careers advice for young disabled people and ensure staff in the FE sector have the relevant expertise. It was also disappointing to read many of the study programmes lack meaningful work experience placements as this weakness has been cited before. We urge the government to ensure the proposed new system for funding high needs learners recognises the current gaps in funding for new and growing FE providers. 

“We look forward to working with the government and our partners to improve post-school education for young people with autism, so that all young people with autism get the chance they deserve to learn, thrive and achieve.”

Ambitious about Autism is also launching ‘Employ Autism’ – a national campaign to transform the employability of young people with autism by improving their transition from school and college to work. Find out more at: www.ambitiousaboutautism.org/employ-autism