by Ruth Perry, Senior Policy Manager
Today sees the launch of an exciting new joint AoC / Natspec project which brings together 22 further education colleges (general and specialist) to explore how partnership-working could open up new opportunities for young people with SEND.
The 2014 SEND Reforms were all about putting the young person at the centre and designing provision to meet their needs. In the further education sector, we have made great strides in personalising programmes of learning with many young people being offered bespoke programmes to support their preparation for adulthood. But there is only so much a single education provider can offer. What if an individual young person’s learning programme could benefit from the range of options, services and expertise available within a local area? Would that result in a better-quality experience?
With these questions in mind, AoC and Natspec have launched an exploratory project to identify how partnership-working involving different types of college might benefit learners with SEND. From over 70 applications, we have selected 11 partnerships from across England to help us test out ways of breaking away from the binary choice between general and specialist provision currently faced by young people and families – and by local authority commissioners.
From September 2021 to June 2022, the partnerships, each comprising at least one GFE and one specialist FE college, will work together to explore how closer collaboration could enrich the learner experience, while making more efficient use of resources. They will be figuring out what needs to be in place to make partnerships work effectively and which aspects of the current system would need to change in order to facilitate more of these partnerships. They will be weighing up the relative merits of sub-contracting and joint commissioning arrangements, and considering co-location, the development of specialist hubs, and shared staffing, facilities and CPD.
All of the projects have been tasked with exploring how partnership-working could improve outcomes for learners with SEND. Many of them are addressing issues that will be familiar to anyone working in SEND in FE:
- How can a GFE access sufficient specialist expertise in a cost-effective way to support learners with more complex or low-incidence SEN?
- How can a specialist college offer a broad enough range of vocational options to enable individual learners to develop their skills to match their career aspirations?
- How do we best provide for young people needing the Level 2/3 provision offered by a GFE, but unable to cope with the busy, large-scale college environment?
- What is the best setting for a young person who needs some aspects of specialist provision but possibly not a whole programme? Or a special-school leaver who will be ready for a general FE place in six to 12 months’ time if sufficient confidence-building work can be done?
- How could we make residential experiences as a context for developing independence skills available to more young people with SEND, rather than to just the very small minority in full-time residential placements?
We will be sharing findings from the individual partnerships as they grapple with these issues, including at the December 2021 AoC SEND Conference. By the end of July 2022, we hope to have some examples of effective partnership-working to guide the work of others. Equally importantly, we will be presenting a set of recommendations about the systemic changes needed to support partnership-working to key stakeholders such as the Department for Education, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Childrens’ Services.
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