Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by The Association of National Specialist Colleges (E 106)


Education Bill: response from Natspec

Natspec is the membership association for independent specialist colleges and currently represents all YPLA funded colleges and a further 10 FE units or sixth forms in special schools.

The 3,800 students with learning difficulties or disabilities at Natspec colleges have a wide range of ambitions and aspirations, just like their peers. Colleges use their specialism and inter-disciplinary expertise to provide personalised learning and hands-on experience to challenge students, to inspire them and to nurture the skills for active participation in the wider community.

Natspec colleges create a model of inclusion that works for each individual. They offer innovative and creative solutions, using technology where appropriate, to promote real independence . Learners are at the centre of specialist college life, getting involved in all stages of their learning programme , celebrating their achievements and influencing their whole college experience.

Natspec welcomes the opportunity to respond to this bill. Our comments relate to issues that will impact on young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities in post-16 provision, and where appropriate, in independent specialist colleges.

Clause 3: Power of members of staff at further education institutions to search students

Natspec welcomes the parity of approach between schools and colleges. However, we have some concerns that young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities may not always be clear about what is or is not appropriate, so we would wish to ensure that all possible steps are taken to ensure that they understand the relevant laws.

It is important to put in place safeguards for both staff and students, especially if working with young people presenting challenging behaviours. It is crucial that these young people are dealt with in line with any behavioural management plan that is in place. GFEs may need to ensure that policies and procedures regarding interventions must also take account of the potential safeguarding issues that might arise when applied to young people and adults with SEN/LDD. Whilst schools and specialist providers are used to ensuring this synergy, others may not be so secure in doing so. It may be helpful for guidance to be provided.

Clause 13: Restrictions on reporting alleged offences by teachers

We are disappointed that these restrictions do not also apply to teachers in further education and specialist colleges, and cannot understand why teachers in colleges should not be subject to the same degree of protection. Teachers in colleges work with young people from the age of 14 and may also work with vulnerable young people and adults. We made this point in our initial response to the Learning and Skills Safeguarding Stakeholder group.

Clause 27: Careers guidance in schools in England

We welcome the requirement for independent, impartial advice for all young people from the age of 14, which covers the full range of available options. The importance of this for young people with SEN and disabilities and their parents is highlighted in the consultation ‘Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability’.

However, we have concerns that there may not be enough qualified and knowledgeable staff available to achieve this, particularly at a time of reduced resources in Local Authorities. In addition, the impact of the All Age Careers Service is not yet clear. It is therefore imperative that this proposal is monitored to ensure that there is indeed equitable access to impartial careers guidance for all young people in schools, including those with SEN and disability.

Clause 41: Inspection of further education institutions: exempt institutions

We are concerned that this exemption does not apply to independent specialist colleges, as this does not give parity either for providers or learners. At present, ISCs are inspected on the same cycle as other FE providers, and also receive regular monitoring visits. A number of ISCs have been judged to be outstanding and we believe it is unfair that they are not being treated in the same way as other outstanding providers.

We understand that this may be due to the potential vulnerability of their learners – if this is the case, and as more learners with learning difficulties and disabilities are attending local FE colleges, we would hope that all providers working with this group of learners would be treated in the same way. We note that in over 70 inspections of GFEs undertaken in the current inspection round, only one has had a full inspection of their LLDD provision. This does not provide potential learners or commissioners with accurate information about the quality of the provision.

We acknowledge the importance of measures for ensuring that outstanding providers remain outstanding and the power for inspection to be undertaken if circumstances change. The criteria for regulating risk and for instigating inspection must be transparent and clear, and in particular risk assessments must ensure the wellbeing of potentially vulnerable learners.

Clauses 62 - 64: Abolition of the Young People’s Learning Agency for England

We have concerns that the sector has to cope with yet another change in funding and administrative arrangements, so we hope the change will be managed smoothly. We would want to continue to have good access to the staff in the new funding agency. The YPLA Board has played an important role in listening to college views

We note that the new Education Funding Agency is to be responsible for the direct funding of all 16-19 provision. We would welcome this being applied across the board and to include students with learning difficulties and disabilities, where we understand there is still a proposal to route this one funding stream through LAs. Where colleges (specialist or general) take learners from a number of different LAs, this is potentially a very complex and bureaucratic approach. Therefore we firmly believe that funding for this group of learners, whether in general FE or Independent Specialist Colleges, should remain the direct responsibility of the Education Funding Agency as is the case currently with the YPLA.

Clause 65: The apprenticeship offer

We welcome the increasing opportunities for apprenticeships and agree that this is an important route for many young people. We welcome the inclusion of young people with learning difficulties and disabilities in the offer group. However, we are not sure that the new duty on the Chief Executive of Skills Funding to prioritise funding for apprenticeship training for the specified groups will necessarily achieve the desired outcomes, as many young people with LDD will find it difficult to secure an apprenticeship in the first place.

Additionally, we are aware that the route into apprenticeships is challenging for many young people with LDD, who may struggle to meet the entry criteria. We welcome the work being undertaken to find alternative approached to demonstrating ability, such as the use of web-based portfolios, but we know that many students will require access to pre-apprenticeship programmes or further vocational and employability training and we would wish to see a greater range of opportunities being available to them.

March 2011