The devolution of provision for learners with special educational needs and disability (SEND) has created a postcode lottery in the levels of funding and support offered by local authorities, providers have warned.
The Association of Colleges (AoC) is calling for additional government guidance to be published to clarify how funding for 16-25 learners is allocated.
High-needs funding was devolved to local government in 2013-14, at the same time as the introduction of a new assessment system and funding formula. In addition to normal course funding, the new formula also involves top-ups that are negotiated on an individual basis in accordance with each learner’s education, health and care plan (EHCP).
These plans, which follow a needs assessment, outline the learner’s special educational needs, as well as the special educational provision required to support them, and the name and type of education setting.
Disparities in support and funding
When combined with budget pressures on local authorities across the country, this has led to huge disparities in the support and funding available to students, colleges argue.
According to the AoC, about a third of colleges recruit students from six or more local authorities. Roughly 18,000 high-needs students aged 16 to 25 attend FE colleges, and the AoC estimates that the total income this brings to the sector is about £200 million.
Liz Maudslay, the AoC’s policy manager for students with language and learning difficulties and disabilities, said that the main difficulty for colleges was the lack of clarity and consistency from local authorities
“There is inconsistency between local authorities in who gets allocated an EHCP and who is eligible for high-needs funding,” she said. “Different local authorities have different procedures and paperwork, which creates an increasing workload for staff where colleges work with more than one local authority.”
Leeds City College principal Colin Booth said that dealing with multiple authorities was “very challenging” for colleges. “The real challenge is that there is widely differing practice between local authorities across the country,” he added.
The Royal National College for the Blind caters for visually impaired learners from across the country, so is more vulnerable to variation between different local authorities than most. Its 85 learners hail from 50 or so local authority areas.
“The burden of bureaucracy and the costs are enormous,” said Lucy Proctor, the charity’s director of communications.
This is an edited version of an article in the 3 February edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.