Across the country, there are over 100 specialist colleges which deliver further education and training for students with learning difficulties and / or disabilities. Since the general closure of schools and colleges in mid-March, specialist colleges have been working hard to maintain provision.
To assess the impact of coronavirus on specialist colleges, Natspec conducted two surveys: firstly examining the state of play in the week commencing 23 March (the first week of the stricter lockdown rules) and the second in early May.
The results show how the seven weeks of shutdown has affected provision both on and off-site and look to the future in terms of what impact COVID-19 will have on specialist FE provision in the longer term. The response rate was high: 70% in the first survey and 56% in the second. The survey took place before the most recent announcements about the planned re-opening of education settings from June 1, but colleges were asked how they were preparing to readmit students.
Broadly, the survey revealed that the sector is coping with the existing challenges, and the situation is improving from March. More college sites are open, and to a wider range of learners, though the majority remain at home. Senior Leaders are looking ahead on how to expand provision for more learners to return to face-to-face learning.
However, the survey also revealed significant concerns going forward to the next academic year. 31% of specialist colleges have no students confirmed to start in September, despite the Children and Families Act stating that placements should be agreed by March 31. Although this deadline is routinely missed, the COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated the situation with decision-making significantly slowed or stalled. The lockdown is making it difficult to assess incoming students, and normal procedures for transition are being disrupted.
Not only is this causing considerable stress and anxiety for young people, who are unsure where they might be for the next academic year, it also has serious financial implications for specialist colleges. Colleges are unable to plan for the upcoming year, not knowing how many students they have or what funding they will receive, and a number of colleges are reporting concerns about the financial health of their organisations.
The full write up of the survey, with comparisons between the situation in May and March, is also available to download.