Starting at FE college can be a daunting prospect at the best of times but if you have autism spectrum condition or ASC, it can be even more difficult.
Joe Hibbert is the SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) Transition and Review Lead at Gloucestershire College and he’s got some helpful tips for making sure that your transition from school into FE is a smooth one.
What help can I expect?
FE colleges and other further education providers must make sure that you have a fair opportunity to do well. If the college you’re thinking of applying to is proactive then they are likely to have a team of helpful staff to support you in your transition from school. They’ll also have tried and tested strategies to help overcome the difficulties that people with ASC commonly face.
How do I find out what’s on offer?
Look for the college’s local offer on their website – it’ll be packed with information about how they will support you during your time there, and will help you to decide if they can meet your needs. For an example, check out what Gloucestershire College’s local offer looks like by clicking here.
Before you have your annual education, health and care plan (EHCP) reviews at school, I recommend that you think about including a further education provider as a preferred choice. You, your parents or carers can then request that your school invites someone from the FE provider to attend your reviews. They will be able to provide more information about the personalised support they’ll be providing for you when you’re at college. They may also invite you to visit the college with them, along with your parents/carers or a friend if you’d prefer. See if you can go during the college holidays, when it’ll be much quieter. Once you feel more comfortable, visit again during term time to get used to the surroundings and the other students.
Visit a college ‘virtually’
Some education providers – including us at Gloucestershire College – have been developing ‘virtual worlds’ which enable students to visit colleges online before coming in person. If you don’t have an EHCP, you may be able to arrange a visit by contacting the college you want to attend.
The FE college you choose to attend may offer opportunities for you to attend link days or taster sessions while you’re still at school, to get an understanding of how lessons are structured at college. You can get to know your tutor and the other support workers who’ll be there for you when you start college and in turn, meeting you will give them a better understanding of how they can support you.
The Ambitious about Autism charity
Gloucestershire College works closely with the charity Ambitious about Autism. We have designated support staff to assist ASC students, to provide them with one-to-one support and help with social, communication, anxiety and self-confidence issues. We have designated quiet areas for students where they can study or take a break as well as ASC friendly toilets, sensory spaces and tailored exam access arrangements.