High needs system for further education is not working

A new report from the Local Government Association has claimed that the high needs system for further education is not working and requires a radical shake-up.

The report, commissioned by the LGA, the Association of Colleges and Natspec, the membership body for specialist colleges, highlights that the system is overly complicated, resulting in young people, their parents, councils and colleges facing challenges which have a detrimental impact on those students in further education with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

According to the research, key elements of the current systems are not working for those that have to use them. Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans are not sufficiently up to date; statutory deadlines are being missed; arrangements for the transition from school to further education are delayed, and may not take place at all; administrative burdens on both councils and colleges are high; and there are too many disputes about placements.

The report says that part of the problem is that there is too little long-term planning of post-16 high needs provision. It suggests that a more radical re-working of the whole system is required, including changes to the funding model so that councils can plan provision more effectively for young people within their local area, involving both mainstream general further education colleges and specialist colleges in the process, and that funding can be transferred straight to the providers in a much more timely and direct way.

Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The current high needs further education system is falling short of its potential, creating unnecessary tension and red tape for councils and colleges, while struggling to effectively support young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

“While there is evidence of current good practice by councils, an overhaul and streamlining of processes are needed to improve the system for local authorities and colleges in order to improve the experience and aspirations of students. This has become more urgent due to the huge increase in size and complexity of the task faced by councils and providers in supporting young people with SEND with funding not keeping up with the rising demand for support.”