It’s estimated that one in five learners has a special educational need – including dyslexia and social impairment, or a disability. But the amount of support that an FE college or school can provide is limited by proper funding. With concerns being raised about support for special education needs and disability (SEND) students, what is the actual state of support and how can it be improved?

Daily support is fundamental, but not always possible

The kind of day-to-day support that can help SEND children and young people to fulfil their potential varies hugely, which is why proper funding and care is so important. However, not all parents can provide that support while working, and not all schools have the funding to allocate staff to these roles.

Academia, from primary schools to FE colleges, need learning support assistants to foster the participation of learners in the social, academic and practical processes. Some learners require expert, but time-limited, support such as speech and language therapy. Others require 24-hour personal support with input from specialists across health and social care.

The first, and perhaps most crucial provision, then, is staff.

Unique individuals are needs for learning support jobs

The Association of Colleges, who recruit for special needs and learning support jobs in FE, hire for positions ranging from student engagement to behavioural therapy, across a range of academic and vocational courses.

SEND student support roles need to go to the right people, with the right attitudes. This means have a temperament suited to working in this capacity, along with the relevant education skills. These roles are important for facilitating the learning of students with SEND into school life.

But willing candidates are not necessarily lacking. Funding is.

Highlighting the need for greater SEND provision in schools

SEND students can require a range of additional support areas, including mental health issues. Referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are most common in the age range 11-15, where there were over 90 thousand referrals in 2015. A further forty-two thousand individuals were referred in the 16-18 year old category.

This correlates with reports from FE colleges that they felt challenged by larger numbers of learners with special educational needs. Owing to studies such as these, it is now one of the four broad areas of special educational need. The government accordingly updated its advice for mental health and behaviour in schools.

However, due to funding issues, many colleges are struggling to support students properly despite having good staff and strong procedures in place. A reported 85% of colleges in England alone were forced to refer students to A&E because they couldn’t provide support.

Where can SEND support funding be found?

Special education needs coordinators (or SENCOs) have a critical role to play in ensuring that children and young people receive the support they need, championing their support while working in the school or FE college environment.

SENCO funding, which has in the past excluded children with special educational needs from mainstream schooling, is becoming more accessible. Further Education colleges can apply for top-up funding if the learner has a current Education Health and Care (EHC) plan in place, and for learners without an EHC plan, FE colleges can apply for additional funding via the Skills Funding Agency. This year, 78% of FE colleges were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ for high needs learners.

Another key solution is funding degree-level specialist training for teachers and support staff working with children with SEN. There are opportunities newly available to become a qualified teacher in special educational needs for post-16s and further education, with government-funded bursaries of up to £9,000. Gradually, the status of these roles have developed with successive guidance validating and substantiating their importance for learners with SEN.

Finally, provisions have been proposed to help young people with SEND prepare for adulthood and life outside the education system. This includes making specific adjustments to a student’s EHC plan from year 9 onwards consider the support a young person might need in adulthood, and establishing supported internships and apprenticeships, an employer-based study programme designed to help young people with SEND learn the skills they need for the workplace.