Too many FE students with disabilities or learning difficulties are failing to gain the qualifications they need to get a job or continue their education, a new study claims.
Ofsted's report on post-16 progression says there is "insufficient provision" for learners with the most severe disabilities, after they make the transition from school to colleges and other FE providers.
While the institutions were found to be "working hard to support learners", many local authorities failed to carry out statutory assessments of all students who need extra support.
Learning-difficulty assessments should be carried out before young people switch to post-16 providers, but inspectors found they had only been completed for one in every three students with a disability.
"These assessments were not always timely or adequately completed, and did not form a reliable basis on which to plan support or an appropriate programme of learning," the report says.
Acting Ofsted chief inspector Miriam Rosen said: "Decisions about the best kind of provision for individuals should be based on their individual needs.
"Young people need to be provided with meaningful programmes that enable them to progress to apprenticeships, employment, greater independence, further learning or community engagements."
The report was drawn up after inspectors visited 32 colleges, independent learning providers and local authority providers of adult and community learning.
It found considerable variations between the opportunities available in different local authority areas, and "significant inequities" in work placements available for students.
"In the examples seen, the criteria used for placement decisions were not always clear, local options were not adequately explored and the recommendations were not always based on an objective assessment of need," the report adds.
FE providers also expressed concerns about foundation learning - qualifications lower than a grade C at GCSE - and complained that there were too few "practical, real work opportunities" for students, and that activities were only funded for three days a week.
"This did not allow sufficient time for practical activities in realistic settings," the report says. "The discrete foundation programmes reviewed were not effective in enabling learners to progress."
Ofsted also found that learners received reduced support after the age of 19, meaning they were burdened with "insufficient advice about personal budgets, the requirement to pay fees and uncertainty about benefit entitlements".
Rupy Kaur, disabled students' officer at the National Union of Students, described the report's findings as "extremely concerning".
"Getting the statutory agencies to work together as well as with post-16 providers is clearly a challenge, but one which must be resolved to ensure that disabled young people get the support they need in order to access the course of their choice," she said.
"It is extremely concerning that their research found that only a third of providers had received a completed learning-difficulty assessment for new disabled young people and that assessments were not always timely or adequately completed."
Deborah Ribchester, 14-19 policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said the report recognised "the excellent work taking place in colleges for students with learning difficulties andor disabilities".
She added: "However, the report shows that two-thirds of colleges do not receive learning difficulty assessments from the local authority, and where these are received they are often lacking in detail and arrive too late to assist colleges.
"Colleges have therefore developed their own well-established systems of initial assessment and induction for these students."