For the past few months, I have been working with two ERSA members who are delivering skills programmes for high needs learners.  

High needs learners are young people aged 16 to 25 with learning difficulties and/or disabilities (often with an education, health and care plan) who require additional support to help them progress and achieve . 

The high needs funding consists of element 1 (funding on a lagged learner number basis), element 2 is an additional £6,000 towards the additional support costs for high needs learners, and element 3 (top up funding) allocated by Local Authorities (LA) from their high needs budgets.

Key insights

A real positive is the Integration of health and well-being activities into the learning provision, such as access to therapeutic services.   Creative providers are using performance theatre, sports and music to develop learners’ confidence, ability to work in a team and a network with others who are not immediate family.

Vocational programmes are personalised to the specific needs and goals of the learner. There are personalised learning pathways and bespoke programmes of learning which consider an individual’s preferred learning styles and environment. Closely linked to this is the provision of skills for life and work pathways.   The best providers are integrating this personalised approach into the study programme, internships and traineeships.

Assistive technology is life changing for learners with disabilities. It gives them a voice, independence and autonomy.   I observed that for some learners on work experience who found it hard to remember detailed instructions and steps in a process were using video collage on their tablets (using IOS or Android applications) to help them.  There are insights to be gleaned from the use e-portfolios, virtual learning environments in the wider skills world.

The best programmes offer a range of work experience tasters (up to five in some internships). Employers are also involved in using Access to Work funding (DWP). The community aspects are important in developing closer relationships with employers, for example, regular football tournaments with employers.  We can learn more from the best apprenticeship levy providers about how they develop meaningful long-term employer relationships.

Challenges remain for providers, including ensuring that learners who access supported internships or the top up funding from local authorities have EHCPs. I have seen evidence in some areas, where EHCPs are were not in place or up to date.  The recent Baker Clause may enable providers to work more closely with SEN leads.  Many LAs continue to use spot purchasing to commission high needs placements, but some are now moving towards more formal contracting arrangements, for example a Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS).  Ofsted inspection learning is also important, with similar challenges relevant to independent training providers and organisations supporting high needs learners e.g. quality of careers advice.

I have been fortunate to have worked across apprenticeships, traineeships, employability contracts and high needs funding programmes.  There are great opportunities for providers to learn from one another and enhance the quality of provision for all learners.

Asi Panditharatna is an independent skills and employability consultant.  He is also a member of the Mayor of London’s Skills for Londoners Taskforce and chair of the London Digital Skills Entitlement Task and Finish Group.  He was formerly Chair of the ERSA Youth Employment Forum and Director of Apprenticeships and Employability at Catch 22.