NSC survey reveals further education battles for parents of young people with disabilities

We have commissioned a national survey which reveals that young people with disabilities have little or no choice when it comes to further education.

National Star College surveyed more than 1,600 parents from England and Wales who have teenagers with disabilities, and we found that funding reforms and new legislation have created a postcode lottery for young people with disabilities.  Parents highlighted their fears about a system which has removed choice, and in which they face a constant battle to get the right information. Over 80% of parents were only given information about further education options run by local authorities. Even though there is a statutory requirement on Local Authorities for them to provide the full range of options available.

30% of parents said they had been actively discouraged or stopped from finding out about other options – including specialist further education colleges. A huge majority of parents – 87% – have no idea how Local Authorities are making decisions about their child’s future.

The findings come six months after new legislation came into force. The Children and Families Act was meant to give young people with disabilities more choice and more say in their education and support. Unlike their peers, teenagers with disabilities cannot simply choose where they want to study. Local authorities, which now hold the education funding, have the final decision.

One mother who completed our survey said: ‘The Local Authority gave us no direction at all in regard of post 16 placements. The system and processes are just not in place to support all parents and outcomes rely heavily on the ability of the parents to source their own information and research what suitable provisions are available. It’s little wonder that so many parents/ young adults are being failed.’

The new Act states local authorities must list all the education options for young people with disabilities in what is called the Local Offer. That must include FE options out of county and those that are not authority run.

We discovered that 63% of parents did not even know how to find out about the Local Offer and the options for their child.  One mother was told by her local authority that it was not launching the Local Offer until April – even though it had been law since September.

Another parent told us how she was moving so that she could gain better options for her son. She said, ‘We are moving out of the county to where there will be much better provision for autistic teenagers. There is nothing here and I have had great fears for my son’s future.’

Alison Boulton, Chief Executive of The Association of National Specialist Colleges, said: ‘During the passage of the Children and Families Act, it was promoted as placing young people and families ‘at the heart of the new system. It will provide them with greater choice and control over services.’ (DfE 2013).

Launching it a year later, Minister Timpson said, ‘For too long, families have found themselves battling against a complex and fragmented system. These reforms ensure support fits in with their needs and not the other way round – they will result in a simpler and more joined up system that focuses on children achieving their best.’

‘This timely survey undertaken by National Star College clearly shows that there is some way to go before the legislation achieves its important ambitions. Without impartial and comprehensive information, young people and their parents cannot make informed choices, nor can they be confident that they are being offered the choice of college that will best meet their needs. Ensuring young people are on the right course, and getting the support and therapy they need to further their independence, enables them to live more fulfilling lives and achieve good outcomes. Rather than Local Offers which promote the minimum, there needs to be some long term thinking in the system that supports young people and families to look to a positive future.’

Kathryn Rudd, who is the Principal of National Star College, added: ‘The  Act’s objective was to create transparency in decision making and to allow parents and young people more choice. But that isn’t happening. This survey shows what we feared would happen –  further education for young people with disabilities is simply a post code lottery. The system is failing young people and their families.’

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