The number of specialist post-16 providers for SEND students has rocketed by more than two-thirds over the past six years.
The number of funded providers has increased from 59 in 2012-13 to an estimated 100 this September.
This year alone, 18 new providers entered the market, according to Natspec, the membership association for organisations that offer specialist FE and training for students with learning difficulties or disabilities.
Sector leaders fear that these new centres are often being created without reference to existing provision, and are frequently very small. With many attached to schools, they can also lack the necessary focus on vocational training in an adult environment.
A 'fragmented' sector
Natspec chief executive Clare Howard said: “There are examples of students and families being told they will not be funded for vocational or independent-living programmes at existing specialist colleges, and that they must attend new provision instead.
“The impact on the specialist post-16 sector is that it is becoming fragmented, with a larger number of very small providers, risking inefficiencies, poorer use of resources and diluting much-needed specialisms.”
One of the specialist providers to have felt the impact of increased competition is the Communication Specialist College in Doncaster. In the last year, student numbers dropped from 94 to 85.
The proliferation of providers for a limited pool of students could even put the very future of the specialist post-16 college at risk, according to assistant principal Stacey Betts. She added: “If you don’t support us, we will no longer be here.”
This is an edited version of an article in the 19 October edition of Tes. 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