Special Needs Education ‘Uneven’

Standards in education for students with learning difficulties in further education is “uneven”, Ofsted says. It found 18 of the 22 colleges it visited lacked expertise in assessing students’ capabilities. This made it difficult to measure their progress.

Learners’ achievements on accredited programmes were found to be good, but the courses did not always meet students’ stated needs, it said. There was also a lack of information on learners, it added.

Interestingly, Ofsted suggested that even students with the most serious disabilities or learning difficulties did as well in general further education colleges as they did in specialist colleges. However, this was only when students had access to “high levels of support and teaching from specialists who were experienced and qualified in these areas”.

Inspections revealed that good colleges had improved their programmes and had responded well to local needs. Support and guidance for learners were good and often outstanding and the management of learners’ behaviour was good in many of the colleges surveyed. But moves from college to the workplace, for example, was often “unsatisfactory” for learners. This was because of a lack of transfer of reliable information on learners’ achievement and progress. It was this area of assessment that came in for the most criticism from Ofsted.

Its report said: “The lack of understanding about what constituted good progress was weak in many colleges.” It went on to say: “The main problem for teachers of learners with LDD (learning difficulties/disabilities) was how to identify achievement and evaluate progress. Achievement on accredited programmes was good. However, such awards, while recognising learners’ achievements did not necessarily help them to move to the next stage of their education,” it added.

But there were examples of good practice. These were mainly where those leading the college instilled a culture of inclusivity for the teaching of pupils with learning disabilities. Ofsted gave one example of an unnamed college which encouraged learners who had arrived with low expectations of their capabilities to develop realistic but challenging targets. Success against these targets was measured in weekly tutorials and aims were updated as they progressed. And as learners improved, targets focussed increasingly on their potential for employment.

Ofsted recommended the collection and use of information on learners be improved so that gaps in service could be filled. It also wanted to see support for work placements and progression to work to be improved. More training should also be made available to staff about learning disabled students.