The right choice at 16 or 19 can be critical in determining the long-term life chances and wellbeing of young people with SEND. The 2014 Children and Families Act set into statute the concept of “Preparing for Adulthood”, together with planning for transition from Year 9 onwards. Each local authority is required to produce a ‘local offer’ which details the support available for children and young people with SEN and disabilities in its area.
With a significant majority of parents reporting that the quality of advice they receive generally for post-16 options is “poor”, it is essential that this specific element of the system works well.
But do Local Offer websites work? Are they “clear, comprehensive, accessible and up-to-date” as required by the Code of Practice? Do they provide not just information about the available provision, but also how to access it?
At Natspec, we’ve been reviewing Local Offer websites for several years, and this year’s review found little has changed since an Ofsted thematic report way back in 2016 found that over three quarters of the websites it reviewed “failed to provide sufficiently detailed information”.
The Local Offer – comprehensive?
For post-16, Local Offer websites must include information about the full range of post-16 education and training provision, including apprenticeships, traineeships and supported internships, programmes to assist in preparing for adulthood and arrangements for travel to post-16 provision.
The Code of Practice states that it “must include provision in the local authority’s area. It must also include provision outside the local area that the local authority expects is likely to be used […] It should include relevant regional and national specialist provision, such as provision for children and young people with low-incidence and more complex SEN.”
But are Local Offers this comprehensive?
We reviewed 67 websites in August and September 2022 and found that many did not include provision outside the area, and even provision inside the local authority area was sometimes missing. Only 56% mentioned all provision within the area, and only 53% listed out of area colleges.
For young people requiring more specialist provision, we looked specifically at whether or not 112 specialist colleges were mentioned within their own area Local Offer website. Only 68 (60%) were listed, leaving young people living close to the other 44 with no information about their options.
In some cases, even the mainstream colleges were difficult to find. Information about work-based learning, apprenticeships or supported internships is not generally listed at all.
Local authorities generally include a feedback button or similar, to add information or update where needed. This is an improvement on previous years, when many were notoriously difficult to navigate. But should it have taken this long?
Clear and accessible?
The Code of Practice also states that “Local authorities must involve children with SEN or disabilities and their parents and young people with SEN or disabilities” in planning and publishing the Local Offer. Local authorities must also involve schools and colleges, including specialist providers.
Unfortunately, this consultation is not always in place and as a result, some Local Offers are fiendishly difficult to navigate. In our review, we found:
- poorly formatted design, with large pictures in the background hiding text or making it very difficult to read
- poor menus – long pop-up lists which require dexterity to hover over part of the menu to select another section, and if you slip off it at any point you need to start again
- unclear headings from the LA’s website to find the Local Offer in the first place
- missing links or ‘file not found’ error messages
- filters in large directories that return hundreds of entries that are not always relevant – for example a post-16 filter that returns all adult education or a ‘specialist services’ filter that returns everything from playgroups to colleges to befriending services and charities.
Once again, many local authorities are working to improve their site, and there are now some good examples of recently redesigned websites that address many of the points above.
What needs to happen?
The SEND Green Paper highlighted that there has been a lack of accountability for the 2014 reforms. This is one area which should be simple – and not costly – to get right. There are some straightforward actions LAs can take to help parents and young people navigate their options. These include:
- Making it clear on the site where to find post-school information. It is much easier to navigate when menus include terms like ‘further education’ or ‘school leavers’ or ‘post-16 options’ rather than more opaque language like ‘transition’ or ‘preparing for independence’ or simply just listing everything together under ‘education.’
- Ensuring that all types of college are in the same part of the website. Some Local Offers listed general FE colleges or mainstream options in one part of the site, and specialist colleges in another part, sometimes incorrectly placed in an external community directory, or under adult care or support services for example.
- Listing specialist provision by name, in addition to using the link to the government’s Section 41 list. Whilst the Local Offer must include this information, this is a long and uninformative list of independent schools and colleges that have been approved by the Secretary of State and are therefore subject to the same duties as all other schools and colleges under the Children and Families Act. It tells the public nothing about the provision itself and does not explain where they are located.
Local authorities that we have contacted with suggestions have begun to implement some of these simple changes. If you work with young people or families that are struggling to navigate Local Offer websites, use the feedback facility to help improve this important information tool even more.
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