Bev Jessop, West Midlands Director, NATSPEC recently gave a live webinar at our Transition Event. She explored the current education options for young people with additional needs, what parents need to know to get the best education for their child, and the routes to adult life after school or college.
There was a lot of interaction, and we sadly ran out of time for everyone’s questions on the day. So here, Bev has kindly answered them. Don’t forget, you can re-watch Bev’s webinar, and download her presentation slides here.
Q1: I am awaiting an EHCP for my year 10 daughter, so it will hopefully be in place by year 11. When do I need to apply for college changes? Is it too early to add now?
A: No, it is an ideal time to begin ensuring adult outcomes start to be included in the EHCP. Start to consider the longer term aims of your daughter, in order to include relevant outcomes that can be achieved in a step-by-step manner to make that happen through the next few years. Make sure long-term aims are explicitly noted.
Q2: How do you go about transitioning out of a specialist residential college? My son will be 23 when he leaves next summer. Can he go on to do further education/training until he is 25, when I assume is when the EHCP ends? We had to go to a tribunal to get the residential placement, as there was absolutely no offer on the table from them at the point he was transitioning from school to FE.
A: The EHCP is not automatically granted up to the age of 25. EHCPs will only continue if educational progression is possible and necessary for a young person. The LA will look to see if all outcomes are achieved in the existing EHCP by the age of 23 and, if so, they will argue the EHCP can now cease. You need to ensure additional, relevant educational progression outcomes are captured in the EHCP during his last annual review in college. The college must be genuinely supportive of this as a progression route; they may be of the view that educational progression is now actually achieved and further development is now about social skills and can be met through day provision routes. (Start to look at these options in his final college year.)
Q3: My daughter was diagnosed autistic aged 16. We are just starting an EHCP process (she does not have one yet). She is academic but has educational needs re sensory sensitivity/social interaction/communication/anxiety. What advice would you give re trying to find a suitable sixth form college, as she has high academic achievement? She will start sixth form in September.
A: You need to make sure the specialist support can be genuinely offered by the sixth form, otherwise the placement will sadly but inevitably break down. Getting the communication/anxiety and social interaction support is essential for her to achieve her full academic potential; it is crucial, which is why an EHCP is so important for her. If the sixth form isn’t confident, they can buy in provision/PA support or you can ask them if they could work with a local specialist college on a bespoke offer*. If you are in the Birmingham area, contact me for more details; otherwise, look on the Natspec website (www.natspec.org.uk) to see which specialist providers may be near your area that could support in a collaborative offer. (*This may be a strange notion for sixth forms – not all will automatically be doing this.)
Q4:Where can we find a list of specialist colleges which may be suitable for our young people?
A: Go to the Natspec website and there is a list of colleges. The map of the UK is an especially useful resource, as all member providers and their satellite sites are marked for you to easily access. There is also an alphabetical list of colleges. The site will inform you as to the specialism of each college and its capacity.
Q5: Our son is 17 later in the year and in residential out of county now, due to severe autism and learning disability. I already know there is nothing in county for him to come back to post 19 and have been looking at Natspec for some time. Are colleges allowing any viewing yet in COVID-19 times? I want to prepare early so I think we will have to push the LA to fund post 19 in the way we want. I am also worried as there doesn’t appear to be many small colleges that cater for his needs/behaviours.
A: Some colleges are just starting to open for visits and many are doing various things such as online tours and one-to-one online transitions-in support. A college should not be ruled out for consideration based on its size or location. The LA has a duty to meet the educational needs of your son and if a small, out-of-county college can do that, this is then the perfect choice. An LA can legitimately argue such a placement is ‘not best use of public funds’ or that his ‘needs can be met locally’ and so you have to be sure this is the only college that can meet his educational needs and have a strong case.
Q6: My son has just been offered a place to start in September at a specialist placement, which only has 14 students aged 13-19. They do a bespoke timetable and all lessons are one-to-one and have learning mentors, and they can do off-site activities. Since my son had his EHCP at the start of year 9, he has hardly been in school and has since had an autism diagnosis, but by that time he had reached burnout as he wasn’t considered autistic enough until he had that piece of paper saying he is autistic at the end of year 9. As part of the tribunal process, he was offered a new placement with an ASD resource unit but going back to year 9, due to his late August birthday and how much education he had missed. Although on roll at a school he will not go back to and currently in year 10, he will actually be post 16 when he starts his placement and hasn’t had a transition of key stage at an AR. When I asked the caseworker if I have to call an early AR, she said it would be best to wait until his AR in October, as his new placement might come up with some new outcomes after getting to know him. As it is going to be a very slow transition, I can’t see that will make much difference. At the moment I am thinking there isn’t much to gain from asking for an AR, as his current school would have to facilitate it; I think perhaps I am best placed to have a meeting with his new placement to discuss transition, as they are a small placement and all his needs are detailed in his EHCP – although, again, I’m not sure if I should ask for an updated EP report, as his last one was when he had his EHCP assessment in year 8 aged 12 and he is 16 in August. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the best way forward.
A: I would ask the school to invite someone from the new provider to attend the annual review. This is not unusual practice (just not common); in fact, it is excellent practice if the new provider is already known and agreed. You can request the school to do this or I would ask the new provider to contact the school should the school not be proactive in arranging it. It is an excellent way of understanding the transitions-in needs of a young person by the new provider. If the EHCP is, in your view, out of date (it really shouldn’t be more than a year since updated, especially as young people grow up and needs change), this way of joining up providers is excellent (the new provider is more of an observer than a contributor at the annual review but at least they are there to ask questions if necessary).
Q7: How can I help my 19-year-old son, who happens to have Down’s syndrome and severe learning difficulties, to access an educational residential college out of area? Currently he is not in any educational provision through no fault of his own. Can you advise and help support his EHCP review meeting that I have requested to achieve this outcome?
A: This is slightly trickier with your son being out of a placement, as I imagine you are liaising directly with the LA and not any providers? Outcomes need to reflect his desire to live in supported living in the future and a placement with residential learning and support will help his skills and understanding regarding this future move. Think about developing skills of self-care, self-advocacy, being able to develop house care skills, learning to be away from home and managing self and emotions, and also building relationships outside of a classroom and the family circle. If you have a provider in mind, I suggest you contact them and ask them for advice too about specifics of what they can achieve through a residential placement.
Bev Jessop is Principal and Chief Executive at Queen Alexandra College in Birmingham. She has specialist education sector leadership experience of over 17 years at independent specialist Colleges (charities) and mainstream colleges, having a diverse range of knowledge in the fields of special education needs and disability (SEND) and High Needs Students (HNS). Bev is Director on the NATSPEC board, representing organisations in the West Midlands and is a qualified teacher.