For many young learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), accessing quality, impartial careers advice and information on available options is by no means straightforward.
According to the Ofsted report Moving Forward? (bit.ly/OfstedMovingForward), published earlier this year, 16 out of 20 local authority websites that were reviewed failed to provide sufficiently detailed information for children, young people and their families.
The report concludes that young people with high needs in schools should have better access to specialist, impartial advice and guidance, and that local authorities should provide “consistently fair” commissioning of FE and skills places for learners with SEND, irrespective of their location or condition.
Last month, more than 100 learners with SEND, along with teachers and staff members, gathered outside Parliament to campaign for better access to careers information. Here is what some of them had to say.
‘Students want to be valued’
Sian Punshon, personal tutor at Linkage College, Lincolnshire
All I want is for students to go to the education provision that’s best for them. You shouldn’t have to fight for it – it shouldn’t be all about money. At the end of the day, we should all be treated like equals; we all have rights. Just because you’ve got a difficulty or disability, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be educated, integrate into society, gain paid employment and live independently.
I’d like big organisations like Microsoft to get on board by realising that these learners are totally focused on what they’re doing. They’re dedicated to their work, and any other problems that they’ve got, they’re beginning to manage. They are far more employable than a lot of regular students who go to normal colleges. They want to learn, they want to be valued and they need to be given that opportunity.
‘We need national funding’
Mark Fisher, principal of the Royal National College for the Blind
Too often, people aren’t given information on all available educational options for cost reasons, because the funding allocation for local authorities is tight and local authorities will push people towards the cheapest option – not what’s best for that individual.
The best thing for that individual is having all their needs met. It isn’t just the academic side, it’s their personal and social development, too, and their preparation for adulthood. We firmly believe that there should be national funding for people with SEND. If there was a national funding allocation and proper skill sets in each local area to support young people, this would be sorted. It could be done without spending a massive amount of money.
‘The government must stop and listen’
Alex Johnson, student at National Star College in Cheltenham
The main message that we are sharing is the need for the government to stop and listen. It has got to a point where we are petitioning for something so simple: information to make the right choices.
We don’t need to go through form after form. The fighting for local authority funding takes months and months. Today we are just saying can we stop all this? And why don’t ministers reform the system? We will come out and protest every year if we have to. We do need reforms and, as long as I’m around, I will make sure we get this sorted.
‘Schools can’t cater for us’
Tiri Hughes, student at the Royal National College for the Blind
Disabled people in the country have a problem, and that problem is that mainstream schools often can’t cater for us or can only cater for us to a certain level, which doesn’t allow us to achieve our full potential. Yet local authorities and the government want to keep people with disabilities in schools that are closer to where they live, because it’s cheaper than sending them to specialist education.
A lot of people with disabilities struggle socially in schools because their peers don’t understand their disability. At our college, we learn to cook without burning ourselves because none of us can see very well. This is not something you can do in mainstream education. But it’s so difficult to get funding and it’s so difficult to find out that these places exist.
So many young people I speak to don’t even know they have the option to go to specialist education. What we want to see is for all the information about specialist settings to be shared, and for it to be mandatory for disabled people to be informed about their choices by an impartial careers adviser.
‘We’re in a catch-22’
Maisey McAdam, student at the Royal National College for the Blind
When you’re blind, there are so many barriers. You don’t get told about specialist provision unless you ask, and if you don’t know it exists, then you can’t ask. We are in a real catch-22 because we can’t go to a mainstream college – because they can’t provide for us – but they can’t reject us on the grounds of being disabled.
Luckily, I got funding for the Royal National College for the Blind, but a lot of people don’t because it costs about £120,000 for three years. They’re big fees and local authorities, as you can imagine, are reluctant to be handing out that kind of money.
Since coming to the college, I can’t even describe how amazing the staff have been. I’ve come so far. I was really, really shy when I started. I wouldn’t talk to anybody and I was very anxious all the time. But I’m such a different person now. I would never have dyed my hair pink two years ago! Now I just think, “Who cares what other people think?” It’s the staff who have taught me that.
‘No one looks at their needs’
Kathryn Rudd, principal of National Star College
Young people simply aren’t getting the information they need. They might get a bit of information from their school, but Ofsted’s recent report showed what a lack of information exists.
Students have to go to their local school, their nearest college or the one that the school may have a link with. No one is actually looking at their needs, their aspirations and which college best suits them.
One of our parents spent 600 hours trying to find information and fighting for a place for their child. I’m really concerned because that’s a woman who’s well-informed. What’s happening to young people who haven’t got that kind of advocacy going for them?