The implementation of the Children and Families Act has led to increasing numbers of young people aged 19-25 with Education Health and Care Plans, and partly as a response to this, the number of specialist colleges (categorised as Special Post-16 Institutions or SPIs by DfE) has also increased, with local authorities looking to organisations within their area to open new post-19 SEND provision.
But are they all required, and how best should they be planned and organised to ensure all young people attending access quality education and training that helps them achieve their aims?
Natspec recognises the need for a diverse range of specialist post-16 provision, and its membership very much reflects that, with organisations of many types playing a valuable role in meeting the needs and raising aspirations of young people with learning difficulties and disabilities. We support any organisation setting up new provision, but believe that new colleges should only be established where there is an established need, where existing colleges have been involved in the planning process, and where those setting up the college have an understanding of FE in terms of its approach, culture, leadership and governance.
The focus needs to be on creating an appropriate, adult learning environment that prepares young people for the next stage in their lives.
Our new research paper sets out the four key principles that are essential to underpin any new provision:
- careful consideration of the optimum number of specialist FE providers and their geographical spread
- planned to fill gaps rather than duplicate existing colleges, with a comprehensive supply and demand analysis undertaken to determine if, and why, new provision is necessary, and consultation with existing providers to see if gaps can be met through outreach work, satellite sites, flexible placements or other alternatives
- provision to be age appropriate and of high quality, with a philosophy of a curriculum based on preparing for adulthood
- a marked difference between a school or a care setting and the new college setting in terms of ethos, mind-set, policies, procedures, attitude, aspiration and sense of purpose. Moving to college should be key transition, helping young people prepare for adult life and giving them an opportunity for a fresh start.
Download the research to read more about our findings on the most important considerations of setting up new provision, from curriculum planning and delivery, quality teaching and learning, community partnerships and employer links, staff recruitment and development, and the governance, ethos and culture of a specialist college.
We all want to provide the best outcomes for young people with SEND, but without careful, cross agency planning we run the risk of diluting specialism and fragmenting the sector to such an extent that young people do not receive the specialist teaching and multi-disciplinary approach that is required to give them the best start to their adult life.