Education and training provision for young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities is variable and does not always help them to gain employment or live independently, a report by Ofsted has claimed.

Ofsted’s report, ‘Progression post-16 for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities’, found opportunities beyond school for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities varies considerably between local areas. There was insufficient provision available for learners with the highest level of need, and the current placement system resulted in significant inequities in the provision available for learners with similar needs.

Inspectors visited 32 colleges, independent learning providers and local authority providers of adult and community learning to evaluate the arrangements for transition from school and the opportunities offered to learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities up to the age of 25.  They found that the local authorities’ arrangements to provide learners with a learning difficulty assessment as the basis for their transition to post-16 provision were not working effectively. Providers had received a learning difficulties assessment in only a third of the case studies, where it was appropriate.

These assessments were not always timely or adequately completed, which made it difficult to plan support. The report also found that the qualification and funding systems were causing concerns among providers of post-16 learning. The main concerns were about the design of foundation learning, which was introduced in September 2010. Too few practical, real work opportunities were available to learners and activities were only funded for three days a week. This did not allow sufficient time for practical activities in realistic settings. Additionally, the discrete foundation programmes reviewed were not effective in enabling learners to progress to open or supported employment, independent living or community engagement. Worryingly, the most effective provision such as social enterprises and internships supported by job coaches could not be funded under the foundation learning arrangements.

Elsewhere, the criteria used for placement decisions were not always clear, local options were not adequately explored and the recommendations were not always based on an objective assessment of need. Evidence from the focus groups and case studies showed that when learners reached age 19, the changes in the arrangements between children’s services and adult services created additional difficulties. Insufficient advice about personal budgets, the requirement to pay fees and uncertainty about benefit entitlements were identified as potential barriers to participation.

Her Majesty’s chief inspector, Miriam Rosen, said: “Decisions about the best kind of provision for individuals should be based on their individual needs. Young people need to be provided with meaningful programmes that enable them to progress to apprenticeships, employment, greater independence, further learning or community engagements.”

Jill Davies, research programme manager of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, agreed that opportunities for young people with learning disabilities are limited. “In an education culture that is focused on results, access to courses can be extremely variable, leading to some young people facing discrimination. As a result, many young people with learning disabilities can miss out on taking courses because it has been assumed that they are unable to sit exams, or there is a belief that the course isn’t ‘appropriate’ for them. “Young people with learning disabilities do not get the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers when it comes to work experience and employment. It is essential that we raise the aspirations of children with learning disabilities, their families and teaching staff to focus on finding a job after leaving school.”