Colleges are doing a largely good job in their work with students who have profound and complex needs, according to HMIE.
The quality of programmes was generally of a high standard, there was a wide range of school-link arrangements, teaching staff were highly committed and skilled, and accommodation was appropriate.
But, after 30 teaching sessions in nine colleges, the inspectors concluded that practice was not always perfect. Although they paid tribute to staff, their report said it was often the enthusiasm and expertise of one or two individuals who made the difference, and this was often difficult to replace when these staff left.
Colleges also needed to do more to set out the entry criteria spelling out the skills required of learners, most of whose needs are variable and who suffer from sensory loss, physical disabilities, autism and disruptive behaviour.
While these students had specialised learning and support plans, few colleges developed them and targets for progress were often too long-term. The inspection noted, too, that "some colleges were not clear how their programmes should be structured to develop learners' educational needs as opposed to their social needs".
The HMIE report urges colleges to communicate more effectively with parents and carers. Managing the relationships with external agencies also proved to be a challenge, with concerns being expressed in colleges about transport, personal care and individual learning support needs. Supported employment opportunities were often lacking.
Graham Donaldson, the senior chief inspector of education, commented: "This challenging area of work is vital to the role of Scotland's colleges in serving their communities."