Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Progression beyond school is variable for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities

Too few young people with learning difficulties and disabilities progress from school to complete programmes that will help them live independently, undertake further study, or gain employment.

An Ofsted report published today, ‘Progression post-16 for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities’, found that learning opportunities beyond school for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities varies considerably between local areas. There was insufficient provision available for learners with the highest level of need, and the current placement system resulted in significant inequities in the provision available for learners with similar needs.

Ofsted inspectors visited 32 colleges, independent learning providers and local authority providers of adult and community learning, to evaluate the arrangements for transition from school and the opportunities offered to learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities up to the age of 25.

Inspectors found that the local authorities’ arrangements to provide learners with a learning difficulty assessment as the basis for their transition to post-16 provision were not working effectively. Providers had received a learning difficulties assessment in only a third of the case studies, where it was appropriate. These assessments were not always timely or adequately completed, which made it difficult to plan support.

In the examples seen, the criteria used for placement decisions were not always clear, local options were not adequately explored and the recommendations were not always based on an objective assessment of need.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Miriam Rosen, said:

'Decisions about the best kind of provision for individuals should be based on their individual needs. Young people need to be provided with meaningful programmes that enable them to progress to apprenticeships, employment, greater independence, further learning or community engagements.'

Providers were working hard to support learners. All of the post-16 providers visited had their own well established systems to provide learners with an initial assessment. But these procedures were freestanding and had not been integrated with local authorities’ arrangements for learning difficulty assessments so the benefits of reducing duplication and improving sharing of information were lost.

The report found that the qualification and funding systems were causing some concerns among providers of post-16 learning. The main concerns raised were about the design of foundation learning, which was introduced in September 2010. Too few practical, real work opportunities were available to learners and activities were only funded for three days a week. This did not allow sufficient time for practical activities in realistic settings.

The discrete foundation programmes reviewed were not effective in enabling learners to progress to open or supported employment, independent living or community engagement. Worryingly, the most effective provision such as social enterprises and internships supported by job coaches could not be funded under the foundation learning arrangements.

Evidence from the focus groups and case studies showed that when learners reached age 19, the changes in the arrangements between children’s services and adult services created additional difficulties. Insufficient advice about personal budgets, the requirement to pay fees and uncertainty about benefit entitlements were identified as potential barriers to participation.

Local authorities have a statutory responsibility to carry out learning difficulty assessments for all young people who require them from the point of leaving school up to the age of 25. However, inspectors found that the local authorities’ arrangements to provide learners with a learning difficulty assessment as the basis for their transition to post-16 provision were not working effectively.

Too little is known about the destinations of learners once they leave post-16 provision, particularly once they reach the age of 19 or 20. The local authorities and funding agencies visited do not have systematic procedures to collect this data to monitor how well provision supported progression.

Notes to Editors:

1. The report Progression post-16 for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities can be found on the Ofsted website at www.ofsted.gov.uk.

2. For further information on the studies mentioned please refer to the Department for Education analysis of the Youth Cohort Study and Longitudinal Study of Young People in England: The Activities and Experiences of 18-year-olds: England 2009, in Support and aspiration: a new approach to special educational needs and disability, DfE, 2011; and the Labour Force Survey Historical Quarterly Supplement.

3. 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 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 assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

4. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 6899 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.

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