Too few young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities progress from school to complete programmes of learning in post-16 settings. A recent longitudinal study reported that an estimated 30% of young people who had a statement of special educational needs when they were in Year 11, and 22% of young people with a declared disability, were not in any form of education, employment or training when they reached age 18 in 2009 compared with 13% of their peers. Current figures from the Labour Force Survey show for quarter 1 of 2011 that 41% of men and 43% of women designated longer-term disabled were economically inactive.
Between October 2010 and March 2011, inspectors visited 32 providers to evaluate the arrangements for transition from school and the quality of provision for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities up to the age of 25. They conducted 111 detailed case studies of learners in a range of settings including colleges, independent providers of work-based learning and local authority providers of adult and community learning. Inspectors observed discrete provision for groups of learners who were mainly studying programmes at foundation level (pre-GCSE). They also assessed the quality of additional support provided for individuals on a range of education and training courses up to level 3 (A-level equivalent), including full-time and part-time vocational programmes and apprenticeships. In addition inspectors held two focus groups with key stakeholders prior to the fieldwork and, during the period of the survey, two further focus groups at a national conference for teachers and other specialist staff working in the post-16 sector. They also met with representatives from national organisations, and conducted structured telephone interviews with senior managers in 13 local authorities and in nine colleges involved in projects for these learners.
Since 2008, local authorities have been required to carry out multi-agency assessments for pupils with statements of need or in receipt of support, prior to their transition to a post-16 provider. Inspectors found that these arrangements were not working effectively as providers had received a completed learning difficulty assessment in only a third of the case studies where one should have been made available to them. These assessments were not always timely or adequately completed, and did not form a reliable basis on which to plan support or an appropriate programme of learning. In the learning difficulty assessments evaluated by inspectors, 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. Independent providers of work-based learning were rarely considered or recommended by local authority personal advisers and in some cases, colleges had been asked to complete the assessment on behalf of the local authority. The colleges visited had comprehensive arrangements for induction and initial assessment, the results of which were used well to support learning. Independent providers of work-based learning and local authority providers of adult and community learning were able to assess the learners who attended, but overall, their range of specialist staff was more limited. All the providers visited were making good use of networks and partnerships to improve their specialist capacity to support learners with a wide range of needs. Where learners had made the transition to the post-16 sector and were enrolled on programmes appropriate to their needs, the case studies evaluated by inspectors showed that the provision of additional support enabled learners to engage productively in their studies and to make good progress. Learners on discrete foundation programmes were generally successful in achieving units of qualifications at entry levels and in preparing for progression to further study. However, the programmes reviewed by inspectors were too narrowly focused on accreditation and were not effective in enabling learners to progress to open or supported employment, independent living or community engagement. Examples of good teaching and learning were seen in all the settings visited. Common to the better sessions observed was an inclusive approach which built on learners’ identified capabilities and previous learning. Teachers and support staff in the less effective lessons, however, did not have high expectations of learners and did not build on previous learning.
Too little is known about the destinations of learners once they leave post-16 provision. A more systematic national approach to the collection and analysis of data about learners’ destinations would help to ensure that limited public resources are deployed effectively to support learners in making a successful transition to adult life.