Supporting students with special needs when they leave school

Leaving school

At the moment I am ticking off the days to when our year 11 pupils leave. Their departure sees not only the end of five years of teaching but most importantly the last three years having spent planning their transition post 16. This is an anxious time for pupils and their parents and the success of all the planning will not be felt until at least six months after they leave school.

When I started at Southbrook School – an 11 to 16 special educational needs school – more than three years ago, I was given the task of improving our pupil transition to post 16 colleges. Pupils in previous years would leave at 16 having filled in an application form and then turn up on day one of college. There was little exchange of information about the pupils and very few pupils had taster days or planned visits. Not surprisingly, pupils would be placed on inappropriate post 16 courses, they would not get the help and guidance they needed because information sharing had not taken place and so pupils were in effect starting all over again with their education. It was as if the pathway from school to college was totally separate. This situation had to change and quickly.

So, I set about meeting all the college leads at the further education providers our pupils went onto and building transparent working relationships. This took a little while but has been vital in transforming our transition process.

Once a year we hold a pupil-parent transition evening. Previously this had been a pretty formal affair, where information about post-16 options had been given out. For the past two years I have turned this evening on its head and made the colleges sell themselves to parents and pupils. The effect on the evening has been dramatic and the feedback from parents was really positive. It shouldn’t be a given that colleges should just take our pupils – they should have to work for it, show what they can offer and why should we choose them over another provider.

I also set about sending pupils on taster days, establishing parent-pupil visits and also putting the college leads in direct contact with our pupils and their parents really early on in the transition process. Establishing these links early has helped relieve stress, create dialogue and made the school evaluate how we can improve the transition process further.

One of the big challenges with the transition process was somewhere central to hold and share information with parents. I have been using our school website for this and pestering our stakeholders, outside agencies and post-16 colleges to add to this and regularly update it. A real issue at the moment is the move from disability living allowance (DLA) topersonal independence payments (PIPs) and the consequences of this. I have been using the school website to keep up with the developments here, try to unpick the governmental jargon and make it accessible to parents. This is an ongoing challenge and one where there is more work to do.

An area of transition which is hard to deal with is where the parental choice is to seek local authority funding and apply for placement in a private post 16 college. For some of our pupils this is the right choice and the state funded colleges just could not cope or do not offer appropriate education for these individuals. But for others it is not always clear cut and you sometimes have to take a backseat in this decision process.

So, you have a pupil with quite complex needs who will probably never live independently and will always need support. Her parents are keen for a place in a private college that will educate her to 19 in a residential setting. They need a break and time to get a bit of family time back. But then, what about post 19? Funding for residential private provision post 19 is most certainly not going to happen, so does this child then restart her education with the local state funded college up until to the age of 24 before becoming part of adult services?

This is the area of transition that is trickiest and one that involves a real overview of the system, the services on offer, the college courses, the independent providers, the finances, the views and feelings of the pupil and their parents. It is also an ever changing dynamic – new government means changes to funding, guided learning hours at college and so on.

What is crucial is that the staff in school who are involved in transition pass on and share information and also stay in the establishment long enough to get the systems in place so that if they leave a great black hole is not created. If I left my school now I am quietly confident that the pupils would miss me for a little while and our kitchen staff would benefit from the extra food they find themselves with but I would take with me 3 years of hard earned information and knowledge about how to make transition Post 16 a success. That information and knowledge is hard to get back quickly.

What are the challenges ahead? Well the transition process is dynamic and the market is changing all the time; the rising participation age, the NEETs (not in employment, education or training) agenda and the change in disability living allowance, all alter the framework post 16. Parents and pupils need the information and teachers need to be kept up to date. What is more the statistics are frightening – only about 6% of pupils with SEN leave college post 16 and enter paid employment in Devon. More needs to be done. Getting transition right is crucial.


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