Press release: High needs learners are not always receiving the support they need to reach their potential

The 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. In the past, ineffective arrangements between education, health and social care agencies have impacted on the ability of high needs learners to successfully transition from school, to post-16 provision and to adult life. The Children and Families Act 2014 made a firm commitment to tackle this.

Ofsted’s report finds 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 the providers visited not having 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

Commenting on the report’s findings, 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 highlights 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, is also highlighted as a positive example of a provider working with an external employer to provide its learners with beneficial internship experience.

The report makes a number of recommendations to government, local authorities and FE providers to help improve the standard of support or high needs learners. These include:

  • 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

Notes to editors

  1. Read the report, Moving Forward? How well the further education and skills sector is preparing young people with high needs for adult life.
  2. High needs learners are defined as young people aged 16 to 25 with learning difficulties and/or disabilities who require additional support to help them progress and achieve. Learners will receive additional funding for support, typically from specialist staff providing education, health and care services.

  3. For the report, inspectors visited 17 FE providers, and interviewed staff, parents and learners. They also collected the views of around 1,600 learners of high needs via an online questionnaire and sampled the inspection reports of 9 independent specialist colleges.

  4. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

  5. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 03000 130415 or via Ofsted’s enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am – 6.00pm Monday – Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.
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