Ofsted report on learners – NIACE responds

23 August 2011

NIACE welcomes the publication of the Ofsted report Progression post-16 for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities with its focus on learners’ transition from school to post-16 settings and the provision on offer in these settings. Yola Jacobsen, NIACE Programme Manager, discusses the findings of the report which was published on Tuesday 23 August 2011.

To begin with, it is important to acknowledge, and build on, the strengths observed by Ofsted in the provision which was visited as part of this review. These included good additional support for learners on mainstream programmes, including Apprenticeships, and comprehensive arrangements in colleges for learner initial assessment and induction. All types of providers visited as part of the review had good partnerships and networks that improved their capacity to offer specialist support, and examples of good teaching and learning were seen in all of the settings.

However, the Ofsted review also highlights issues that have been of concern to the sector and to NIACE for some time. For NIACE these issues have come to light most recently through:

  • involvement in the cross-government Getting a Life programme supporting post-16 education and training providers in the development of person-centred reviews and approaches;
  • a survey carried out by NIACE earlier this year that asked providers about Foundation Learning and the use of the Rarpa process, and the impact on provision for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities of changes in the Skills Funding Agency’s fee remission policy; and
  • two consultative seminars that formed that basis of NIACE’s response to the DfE Green Paper Support and aspiration: a new approach to special educational needs and disability.

The Ofsted review found that transition arrangements for people with learning difficulties and or disabilities to post-16 provision are not effective on several levels: poor or sometimes no learning difficulty assessment is evident; lack of personalised, relevant information, advice and guidance to inform the transition to post-16 education; and insufficient local provision for individuals with profound and multiple learning difficulties. Providers have raised all of these issues and more concerning transition with NIACE over a period of several years. Restricted budgets and cuts particularly in the Connexions service continue to make transition planning difficult. There are reports of providers with new ‘flexibilities’ not developing or maintaining provision for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, based on cost.

NIACE also has concerns about the appropriateness of Foundation Learning for those individuals whose do not progress incrementally in their learning. Ofsted found that Foundation learning caters well for learners whose main goal is to progress to level 2 provision or higher but for learners for whom this is not the main aim; Foundation Learning narrows the curriculum due to the focus on accreditation. Providers have reported to NIACE that this means that learners are being placed on inappropriate courses that do not meet their learning needs or aims. This is great waste of learners’ potential and the system is letting these learners down. This is further compounded by funding arrangements that restricts learning programmes to a maximum of three days per week.

This review also found that there are reductions in provision for adult learners due to budget cuts. This was a finding of the NIACE review carried out earlier this year and there was great concern expressed by providers of further reductions in services as a direct consequence of the changes in fee remission for provision funded by the Skills Funding Agency.

The Ofsted recommendations to improve transition made to the DfE, BIS, Local authorities and providers are welcome. They complement the plans detailed in the DfE Green paper Support and Aspiration. The Ofsted report also contains recommendations to improve the quality of post-16 education provision which include: more meaningful programmes on Foundation Learning so learners progress into apprenticeships and employment; funding arrangements that do not “significantly disadvantaged learners who are not on ‘active benefits'” and local and national monitoring of outcomes of provision to evaluated its effectiveness.

NIACE supports these recommendations and others made in the report. If they are accepted and acted upon they will provide a strong basis on which to improve the quality of the provision itself and of the transition to, and progression through, post-16 education for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.