Edward Timpson addresses the AoC Learners with Learning Difficulties and Disabilities conference

Children’s Minister Edward Timpson speaks to the Association of Colleges (AoC) about preparations for reforms to special educational needs.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Edward Timpson

Thanks, Sam [Parrett, Principal, Bromley College of Further and Higher Education], I’m very pleased to be here again.

When I spoke to you last year, it wasn’t long after I’d been appointed as a minister and we were embarking on the biggest reforms to support for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities in 30 years. Thanks to your help, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve made enormous and important progress over the last 12 months.

This time last year we were in the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Children and Families Bill. As Sam said, the bill is now approaching the report stage in the Lords. It’s been informed and improved by some illuminating debates, expert opinion and, of course, by the experience of the pathfinder areas already implementing the reforms.

We’ve seen a number of important changes, none more so perhaps than the new duty on health to provide what’s in the health aspect of the education, health and care (EHC) plan.

So I want to say how grateful I am to the Association of Colleges and to the further education sector as a whole for the refreshing and constructive way you’ve engaged on these crucial issues. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of you in round tables and have seen for myself, on a number of visits I’ve made to your colleges, some of the outstanding work that you do with young people.

All of which gives me real confidence that, together, we can rise to the next challenge of making these reforms a reality and providing some of our most disadvantaged young people with a brighter future.

Case for change

With your direct experience, you’ll doubtless be aware of problems with the current system - the delays in picking up issues, the lack of information about students arriving at your door. The focus on processes rather than children’s prospects - prospects that are often so poor.

For instance, we know that just under a third of young people with special educational needs (SEN) statements at 16 are not in education, employment or training at 18, compared to 13% of their peers. Employment rates for those with learning difficulties are much lower still, at less than 10%.

The consequences of this can be seen in the £5 billion local authorities spend every year on social care for adults with learning difficulties - costs that are second only to the costs of supporting the elderly.

Yet I believe, and I’m sure you believe, that we can do so much better than this, both on outcomes and budgets.

A 2011 National Audit Office report into special education found that supporting a person with a with a learning disability into work could - as well as increasing their income by between 55 to 95% - cut lifetime costs by around £170,000.

And if they can also be supported to live semi-independently rather than in residential care, their lifetime support costs could shrink by around £1 million.

So there’s as much of an economic as a moral case for reform, with every incentive for local authorities to work with you to get this right.

My colleague Matthew Hancock spoke about this just last month at the AoC’s annual conference; underlining the need for us to have high ambitions for all children so they acquire the skills and qualities to get on in life.

And this ambition applies equally - perhaps even more so - to young people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

Matthew also talked about giving the further education sector the freedom and support it needs so that you can be much more responsive to the needs of students and employers.

I think that’s absolutely right.

Supporting the further education (FE) sector and supported internships

And we’re doing this in several ways:

By providing initial teacher training bursaries of up to £9,000 this year and next year to encourage top graduates to specialise in teaching FE students with SEN. And by putting £1 million into grants to help you in the existing workforce to undertake the specialist Diploma in Teaching Disabled Learners.

We’re also freeing colleges to innovate and use funding flexibly to develop great provision through study programmes introduced this September - provision like our supported internships model.

Shipley College in West Yorkshire is one FE college that’s trialled supported internships with great success, using the funding flexibilities to hire job coaches and build partnerships with local employers - culminating in all but one of the young people were offered a job.

As one of these employers put it: “I’ve had many employees here for a number of years and I wish that more would be like James. He has really shone. I can’t possibly ask more.”

A terrific result also reflected in an independent evaluation of supported internships published today by my department. It found that 36% of young people with complex learning difficulties were offered work or an apprenticeship after completing a supported internship - a 5-fold increase on the average employment rate of just 7% for people with learning difficulties. And further evidence of why we need to keep our ambition for them as high as possible. Give them a chance and they can achieve.

All colleges that receive Education Funding Agency (EFA) funding can offer supported internships and, so if you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to consider whether your students could benefit from this kind of programme.

Special educational needs (SEN) reforms

Our overhaul of the SEN system very much builds on this approach; with its focus on outcomes and a better transition to adulthood.

As many of you know, these reforms will require different services across education, health and care to work together much more closely to truly put families at the heart of everything they do.

And young people and their parents will have a much bigger say in shaping and reviewing the support they receive, whether through the local offer, outlining the support that’s available in an area, or through new education, health and care plans, which replace statements and learning difficulty assessments.

We’re also giving young people a stronger voice at a national level through my department’s work with groups like EPIC, a group made up of disabled young people that’s providing us with valuable advice on the reforms - they’ve held my feet to the fire on a few occasions too! And through the separate consultation we’re running for young people on the new SEN Code of Practice, they’re helping shape the system in their own mould, based on what their own needs and priorities are.

What the reforms mean for colleges

Needless to say, these changes have significant implications for colleges, bringing them into line with schools, including academies and free schools.

New protection and support will be provided to those in further education and training, removing the proverbial cliff edge at 16 when young people move from school to college and continuing, where needed, until 25.

This, importantly, will mean some new rights for colleges. For instance:

  • local authorities will now have to consult colleges and ISPs when reviewing local SEN provision and developing their local offer
  • they’ll have to consult you about students they want to place with you and provide you with a copy of a student’s education, health and care plan - something we know is pretty patchy at the moment for students with LDAs
  • you’ll have a new right to request an EHC assessment for a young person, where you believe it’s necessary

And with these new rights come some new responsibilities:

  • young people with EHC plans will have a new right to express a preference to study at a particular college. That college will have to admit them, unless it’s unsuitable for their education or that of others
  • colleges and local authorities will also have to cooperate on arrangements for young people with LDD
  • colleges will be duty-bound to use their ‘best endeavours’ for all young people with LDD and to have regard to the SEN Code of Practice

‘Best endeavours’

Now, you may be wondering what ‘best endeavours’ means. Put simply, it’s what I spoke about before, about being ambitious for young people with SEN. Offering them a wide range of study programmes and support at all levels so they can achieve and thrive as independent adults.

It also means involving the student - and where appropriate their family - in planning, making sure you have access to specialist expertise to help SEN pupils learn and progress as well as considering how initiatives like supported internships and traineeships can help young people into paid employment.

These are just some suggestions and I’m sure you’ll have your own ideas - which I’m keen to hear about as we move towards implementation of the new system.

Code of practice

There’s also more detail on what we think ‘best endeavours’ looks like in chapter 6 of the new draft code of practice, that makes clear what will be expected of local authorities and other services and applies to colleges for the first time next year.

It’s statutory and can’t be ignored, so it’s important we get this right.

A big thank you to the AoC and those principals who’ve already helped us with the content and drafting.

You’ll be pleased to hear that there are still a few days before the consultation on the code closes on Monday, so please do contribute if you haven’t already. There may be some insights, for example, that arise out of this afternoon’s workshops that could be fed back.

So, all in all, there’s a fantastic opportunity here, through the new code and the measures in the bill, to really transform provision and give young people with so much untapped potential a much better deal.

Learning from pathfinders

I don’t say that lightly, because I’ve seen for myself, in visits to colleges from Cheshire to Bournemouth, just what can be achieved with a bit of commitment and imagination.

And the pathfinders are also demonstrating how greater collaboration between local authorities, schools and colleges can lead to smarter commissioning.

For example, I was hugely impressed by what I saw in Manchester earlier this year, where the pathfinder included colleges in sessions with families to jointly develop their EHC plans.

And where a new, more personalised planning process, aimed at better understanding students’ individual ambitions, is making a real difference.

This approach, led by the Lancasterian School, exposed a gap between ambitions, students’ support needs and existing post-16 provision in the area.

And as a result, the school has worked closely with its local college - The Manchester College - to design a new course involving time at school, at college and opportunities for work experience and to learn independent living skills. The course is being funded by the local authority using their high needs budget and includes the option of a personal budget, so students are supported to achieve individual goals.

A really great example of how closer working can drive better outcomes for young people, for providers and for councils.

And we can see young people beginning to reap the rewards from this more individual approach, particularly when it’s used together with parents.

Young people like 22-year-old Nathan, who, having attended a special school, benefitted hugely from having a person-centred review while attending Openshaw College.

He felt that he was treated as an individual for the first time in the review and his mum Eileen was also pleased to be involved.

So what happened? Well, Nathan was not only named student of the year, but is now on a supported traineeship at the town hall, surpassing all expectations.

As his mum Eileen says: “When Nathan was a little boy I was told he wouldn’t get a job. When he was 9, I was told he might be able to stack shelves. I didn’t think we’d come so far when other people were suggesting day centres. Nathan has pushed me to do it for him and I am so proud of what he has achieved.”

A wonderfully inspiring example of what’s possible with the right support. And that offers useful and tangible pointers of how to make the most of the SEN changes from next September.

Preparing for implementation and transition

And in planning for these, the importance of an early start cannot be stressed enough.

Pathfinders report that it takes a least a year to get ready, not least for the cultural change to take hold. So it’s essential that everyone involved; local authorities, education, health and other services, grasps the nettle now.

Clearly, a key consideration is the development of the local offer and I would urge you to contact your local authority now, if you haven’t already, so you can have an input.

To support you, we’ve made it easier for local areas to draw on lessons from the pathfinders through our 9 regional pathfinder champions and our delivery partners, including the Preparing for Adulthood team which is running many of the workshops this afternoon.

And, earlier this month, we made an extra £9 million available to non-pathfinder local authorities to help with the move from the old to the new arrangements.

Like you, I want this transition to be as smooth as possible for vulnerable young people and their families and to ensure that high quality support is maintained throughout.

So while I’m keen for them to benefit as soon as possible from the improved arrangements, there won’t be any overnight switch to the new system. We’re, instead, consulting on a gradual transfer from existing statements and learning difficulty assessments to EHC plans over a period of 2 years and for all statements to be phased out within 3 years.

As with the code of practice, I would encourage you to take this opportunity to make your views known.


Now, I’m aware from discussions I’ve had with some individual principals that not all of our changes have gone smoothly, with some local difficulties following the introduction of the new high needs funding arrangements.

The move to a single 0 to 25 system, with local authorities having a bigger role in funding post-16 provision, aims to encourage closer working between services. But I appreciate that it’s taking time to bed in.

We have put in place safeguards to help during the transition period such as funding to protect post-16 specialist provision this and next year. And a role for the Education Funding Agency (EFA) in working closely with local authorities and institutions to resolve any outstanding issues. And you’ll be hearing from and will be able to raise any specific concerns with Peter Mucklow from the EFA.

I’m hopeful these measures will help establish robust funding arrangements that support our overall changes to the system.

But I realise, of course, that these changes are being played out against the toughest of financial climates. All of us are having to make precious resources stretch even further. But we shouldn’t let this blunt our ambitions.

We’ve seen that doing things differently; more collaboratively, more flexibly and more creatively, can not only drive efficiency, but also quality.

I know that Southampton, for example, which has an integrated health and social care service, has succeeded in cutting back on duplication of assessments through joint visits and by co-ordinating information provided in previous assessments.

Wins for both quality and efficiency.


But savings aside, the greatest prize must be support that helps young people with learning difficulties or disabilities succeed as their peers do. That fits in with their needs and not the other way around. That sees their potential and not their limits. That’s truly rooting for them.

It’s a prize that I believe, with the reforms that are underway, is at last within our grasp.

So I very much hope you’ll work with us to seize this precious opportunity- your role in guiding these young people to adulthood and independence could not be more fundamental to their life chances.

So please do take the time to consider what the new arrangements mean for your institution and what you’ll need to do to prepare for them. And feel free to spread the word among your colleagues and in your local area about how you can make the most of the coming changes to really lift aspirations.

Because there’s a huge opportunity here for the sector to take control and make a profound difference to the lives of thousands of our most disadvantaged young people.

Having seen the incredible dedication and skills of professionals working in further education, I have every confidence that you’re equal to this challenge.

Thank you.

Published 5 December 2013