SEND strug­gles

SEND stu­dents face anx­ious wait over fund­ing for places at spe­cial­ist col­leges

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - EDITORIAL - Ju­lia belgutay

The fight for those with dis­abil­i­ties to re­ceive FE fi­nan­cial sup­port

ALI­CIA JACK­SON is ex­cited about start­ing col­lege in Septem­ber. The vis­ually im­paired 19-year-old has more rea­son than most to look for­ward to com­menc­ing her stud­ies at the Royal Na­tional Col­lege for the Blind (RNC): this is the cul­mi­na­tion of a two-and-a-hal­fyear bat­tle to ob­tain fund­ing from her lo­cal author­ity, which re­sulted in her spend­ing a year out of ed­u­ca­tion. “I just wanted to learn – and they wouldn’t let me,” she says.

Jack­son is far from alone. Na­tional spe­cial­ist col­leges across Eng­land say that the move to put lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in charge of special ed­u­ca­tional needs and dis­abil­ity fund­ing has re­sulted in count­less de­lays and dis­putes, as the fam­i­lies of young peo­ple, some with the most se­vere phys­i­cal and learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties, try to per­suade cash-strapped au­thor­i­ties to pay for them to at­tend (see box, be­low).

The SEND Code of Prac­tice says that 31 March is the dead­line for de­ci­sions to be made for stu­dents trans­fer­ring from sec­ondary school to a spe­cial­ist col­lege; the trans­fer of stu­dents be­tween post-16 in­sti­tu­tions should “nor­mally” be fi­nalised by the same date.

But ac­cord­ing to Nat­spec, the mem­ber­ship body for spe­cial­ist col­leges, this dead­line is reg­u­larly missed. It emerged at Nat­spec’s re­gional meet­ings dur­ing June and July that just one in 10 places at mem­ber col­leges had been con­firmed. And this week, less than a month from the start of term, one col­lege told Tes that it was still wait­ing for 53 per cent of its in­take for 2017-18 to be fi­nalised.

‘Re­ally up­set­ting’

For Jack­son, the long wait for her fund­ing to be ap­proved was “re­ally up­set­ting”. And for the col­leges con­cerned, the pro­longed pe­riod of un­cer­tainty poses dif­fi­cul­ties for bud­get­ing, staffing and plan­ning.

“We have to plan the cur­ricu­lum and timeta­bles, and have the sys­tems in place for each in­di­vid­ual learner,” ex­plains RNC prin­ci­pal Mark Fisher. “That means our plan­ning goes right to the wire.” The fact that many stu­dents live on the col­lege’s Here­ford cam­pus makes the sit­u­a­tion dif­fi­cult enough, with­out the added pres­sure caused by late fund­ing de­ci­sions, he adds.

Of the 93 stu­dents that the col­lege ex­pects in Septem­ber, around a quar­ter were this week still await­ing a de­ci­sion from their lo­cal author­ity.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Lucy Proc­tor ex­plains that many stu­dents have to be “re­built” once they ar­rive. “If some­one has been Neet [not in ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment or train­ing] for a year un­nec­es­sar­ily, you need ex­tra time,” she adds. “Peo­ple should not have to spend their life sav­ings on a so­lic­i­tor to bat­tle for the right place for their child.”

How­ever, Nat­spec chief ex­ec­u­tive Clare Howard has some sym­pa­thy with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. “They are com­pro­mised: they have a statu­tory obli­ga­tion to as­sess young peo­ple with SEND, write Ed­u­ca­tion Health and Care Plans [EHCPS], and then com­mis­sion pro­vi­sion from a lim­ited pot of fund­ing.

“There is silo-think­ing in terms of bud­gets, and a lack of recog­ni­tion that in­vest­ing in the ed­u­ca­tion of young peo­ple with SEND in­creases their chances of gain­ing em­ploy­ment and their ca­pac­ity for in­de­pen­dence later, thus re­duc­ing their fu­ture need for sup­port and their re­liance on adult ser­vices and the ben­e­fits sys­tem.”

At Am­bi­tious Col­lege, a day col­lege in Lon­don for young peo­ple with autism and com­plex needs, the places of just eight learn­ers out of 60 had been con­firmed by the 31 March dead­line. It was fi­nal­is­ing ar­range­ments with 16 dif­fer­ent au­thor­i­ties.

Not know­ing how many stu­dents the col­lege will en­rol causes sig­nif­i­cant dif­fi­cul­ties, says prin­ci­pal Viv Berke­ley. “We have to busi­ness­plan – we can­not carry staff we don’t have stu­dents for,” she ex­plains.

Ring-fenc­ing fund­ing for stu­dents need­ing spe­cial­ist fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion would “help enor­mously”, she adds.

Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’S chil­dren and young peo­ple board, says that while coun­cils are “work­ing hard” to sup­port stu­dents, they are also hav­ing to cope with “im­ple­ment­ing a com­plex set of re­forms which have been set by govern­ment at a time of lim­ited re­sources and ris­ing de­mand”.

“We were clear from the out­set that the SEND re­forms in the Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies Bill were sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­funded and that more needed to be done to en­sure fund­ing was made avail­able,” he adds.

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