Memorandum submitted by Mencap

 

Mencap is the leading charity working with children and adults with a learning disability, their parents and carers. We are fighting for a world where everyone with a learning disability has an equal right to choice, opportunity and respect, with the support they need.

 

 

Executive summary

 

We welcome the Government's focus on NEETs but believe that the current strategy does not sufficiently address the specific needs of young people with a learning disability. The Government's strategy for reducing the number of young people who are NEET is based around 3 key components:

 

1. Careful tracking: Identifying early those who are NEET and those at risk of being NEET.

 

1.1 Issues:

The focus of the strategy is on young people aged 16 - 18 years old. However, while at age 16 young disabled are twice as likely not to be in any form of education, employment or training as their non-disabled peers, this figure increases to 3 times as likely by the age of 19[1]. Learners with a learning disability, who may take longer to progress, are likely to stay in the education system for longer and many young people with a learning disability will still be in school at age 18. A strategy that therefore only focuses on young people up to the age of 18 will miss the transition period from school to FE, training or employment (when many young people become NEET) for learners with a learning disability.

Whilst Connexions can work with young people with a learning disability and / or difficulty to 25, they only have a responsibility to track and record destinations of young people aged 16-19. Given that many more people with a learning disability become NEET at age 19, resources need to be invested in monitoring and tracking young people aged 19-25 who are particularly vulnerable.

 

2. Personalised guidance and support: Ensuring young people know how to access education, training or employment and to enable them to overcome barriers to participation. The 'universal offer' for all young people is high quality, comprehensive and impartial information, advice and guidance (IAG) to help young people make informed decisions. On top of this young people with particular needs should have access to targeted support to overcome specific barriers to become EET.

 

2.1 Issues

There have been some concerns about how effectively the Connexions service -

the main deliverers of IAG - have been able to support young people with a learning disability. Families often feel that staff do not have the necessary knowledge to advise on future options for this group of young people.

In addition to IAG, there needs to be sufficient numbers of skilled staff who can support young people with a learning disability who need intensive targeted support which challenges the multiple barriers to their participation. For instance, staff may need to look at more flexible ways of supporting young people to access learning opportunities e.g. through use of personal budgets, and to act as advocates to challenge providers to offer equality of access to disabled young people.

Despite the legal framework around transition planning for young people with SEN, the experience of young people with a learning disability is poor, with many feeling that planning for transition is too late, the review process is not adhered to and that staff don't have the information or knowledge to provide good advice about the options for young people

 

3. Provision of a full range of courses to meet demand: Sufficient provision at every level and in every style of learning. The Government is reforming the qualifications framework to ensure there is provision to meet young people's needs (through the Government's 14-19 education and training reform programme). This includes the introduction of Foundation Learning (for those at Level 1 and below), vocational and subject based learning and more Apprenticeship places.

 

3.1 Issues:

There is little reliable data about the numbers of people with a learning disability accessing further education or training (as distinct from the wider cohort of learners with a learning difficulty and / or difficulty (LLDD))[2]. It is therefore difficult to establish a true picture of the numbers and type of provision being accessed by people with a learning disability.

The evidence suggests that there have been substantial cuts to further education provision for learners with a learning disability[3]. In some cases this has been as a result of poor and non-progressive provision. Whilst it is quite right that poor quality provision is ceased, it seems that there remains a gap between ending such provision and the roll-out of improved quality provision for learners with a learning disability. Where no alternative options are available, this is leaving many people with a learning disability with nothing to do.

The transfer of funding from the LSC to local authorities (and the creation of the Skills Funding Agency and Young Person's Learning Agency) provides an opportunity to bring together systems of support in health, social care and education. However, it is essential that funding for further education and training for people with a learning disability is not threatened by potential pressures to divert it. The recent Skills Investment Strategy raises some questions in relation to funding for learners with a learning disability with the developmental learning budget set to halve in 2010-11[4]. In addition, there remain a number of questions around the responsibilities of the local authority and the Skills Funding Agency

in relation to provision for LLDD.

Much has been made of the development of the Foundation Learning programme and increased opportunities for Apprenticeships. It is essential that these can be accessed by people with a learning disability and that they are sufficiently resourced. The focus on Level 2 qualifications in relation to Apprenticeships, for example, suggests that is unlikely that many people with a learning disability will be able to access this option.

There are a number of strategies and programmes specifically aimed at people with a learning disability around transition and employment. It is essential that there is a joined up approach in order to ensure that the Government's NEET strategy takes into account these other strands of work.

 

Submission

 

Strategies for the identification of young people at risk of falling into the 'NEET' category

 

6 Learning disability as a distinct group

6.1 The Government's NEET strategy[5] notes that "young people with learning difficulties and disabilities are twice as likely to be NEET as those without". However, there is no specific data collection on the numbers of young people with a learning disability (as a distinct group) who are NEET. There is an issue generally in terms of the different definitions used across Government departments and related bodies in relation to 'learning disability and / or difficulty' - and in particular in relation to learners with a learning disability and / or difficulty.

 

6.2 In education, Special Educational Needs (SEN) and statements of SEN are used to describe the needs and entitlements of young people up to the age of 16 (or 18 / 19 for some young people). In post 16 learning, the Learning and Skills Council use the catch-all heading 'learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities' to describe and monitor a wide group of learners aged 16 - 19 and over (depending on when they enter LSC provision). This includes people with "mental health difficulties, autistic spectrum disorders, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, physical, sensory and cognitive impairments and other identified and non-identified difficulties in learning which may (or may not) have led to 'special educational needs' interventions at school"[6]. Such an all encompassing definition, as well as differences in terminology / definition between departments, presents a challenge in terms of monitoring learners with a learning disability specifically and does not recognise the particular exclusion of people with a learning disability in employment, education and / or training. It therefore limits any sort of accurate analysis of the particular barriers to participation facing young people with a learning disability.

 

6.3 We know that people with a learning disability remain the most excluded group from the UK workforce with fewer than 10% of people with a learning disability known to social services in paid employment. However, without robust data collection on the numbers accessing further education and / or training, we will never be able to get an accurate picture of the numbers who are NEET, the particular barriers to FE / training facing people with a learning disability or indeed whether existing provision is working to support people into paid work.

 

7. Range of learners with a learning disability

7.1 It is important to bear in mind that there are many types of learning disability, ranging from someone with a relatively mild learning disability to someone with profound and multiple learning disabilities. The 'pathway' from school onwards for young people with a learning disability will therefore vary enormously, as will the support needs of the young people. Thus, it is important to acknowledge the possible different starting points of this group of learners and the different barriers to participation.

 

8. Focus on those aged 16-18

8.1 The Government's NEET strategy focuses on those aged from 16-18 - although it is worth noting that this focus clearly has a relative shelf-life given that the Education and Skills Act 2008 legislates for participation in learning up until the age of 18 (until 17 from 2013 and until 18 from 2015). It will be important to ensure that the raising of the participation age does not simply 'blur' the statistics in terms of the numbers of young people who are NEET - thus, in the short-term it may appear that numbers are falling as the participation age increases; the reality, on the other hand, may well be that there is simply a shift from the 16 - 18 age range, to those over the age of 18. The key has to be about addressing existing poor provision and support services / processes (e.g. transition) and not about simply pro-longing engagement in unsuitable provision.

 

8.2 Mencap supports the raising of the participation age to 18. We believe this provides a real opportunity to ensure quality educational opportunities for young people with a learning disability who may take longer to progress and therefore need to stay in the education system for longer. However, given this, we would argue that the age range in terms of the Government's strategy be increased up to 25 for learners with a learning disability in line with related policy. Many young people with a learning disability will still be in school at age 18. A strategy that therefore only focuses on young people up to the age of 18 will miss the transition period from school to FE, training or employment for many learners with a learning disability.

 

8.3 In addition, it is worth noting the fact that many disabled pupils and pupils with SEN are already out of school by the age of 16. DCSF figures published in 2007 to 2008[7] show that:

33 in every 10,000 pupils with a statement of SEN were permanently excluded;

38 in every 10,000 pupils with SEN but without a statement were permanently excluded;

4 in every 10,000 pupils with no SEN were permanently excluded.

 

9. Tracking/early identification of NEETS

9.1 A key element of the Government's NEETs strategy is the tracking of young people by the Connexions service, identifying as soon as possible those who fall out of provision. Whilst Connexions can work with young people with Learning Difficulties or Disabilities up to 25, they only have a responsibility to track and record destinations of young people 16-19. Given that many more people with a learning disability become NEET at age 19, resources need to be invested in monitoring and tracking young people aged 19-25.

 

9.2 Mencap welcomes the national indicator that focus on reducing NEETs and the fact that 115 out of 150 local authorities have decided to include this as a key target in their Local Area Agreements. However, these figures are not broken down by impairment group. Without this, it is unlikely to act as a meaningful indicator for measuring improvements in relation to young people with a learning disability. There also needs to be an extension of the age range to 25 as outlined earlier. There is a clear opportunity to link this indicator with the NI146 on adults with learning disabilities in employment and to more effectively track progress of the Government's NEETs strategy in relation to this group.

 

Services and programmes to support those most at risk of becoming NEET and to reduce the numbers and address the needs of those who have become persistently NEET / The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

 

10. Transition Planning

10.1 There is a clear legislative framework for supporting young people with special educational needs to make an effective transition to continuing education and vocational or occupational training after leaving school and hence in theory for avoiding young people with SEN becoming NEET. Schools have a statutory duty to lead in the overall transition process. The Education Act 1996 and SEN Code of Practice 2001 set out the statutory process of transition for young people with special educational needs from Year 9 onwards.

 

10.2 The aim of the annual review in year 9 and subsequent years is to draw up and subsequently review a "Transition Plan" which draws together information from a range of individuals within and beyond school in order to plan coherently for the young person's transition to adult life. The review should involve the agencies that may play a major role in the young person's life during the post-school years and must involve the Connexions Service. With the introduction of the Education and Skills Act 2008, responsibility for information, advice and guidance has passed to the local authority although most authorities have continued with the "Connexions" branding. Furthermore, the Education and Skills Act 2008 sets out that local authorities have a duty to undertake a section139 assessment for school leavers in relation to further education or training; a learning difficulty assessment.

 

10.3 Despite this legal framework, the experience of young people with a learning disability is poor, with many feeling that planning for transition is too late, the review process is not adhered to and that staff don't have the information or knowledge to provide good advice about the options for young people.[8] [9] Young people living away from home can face the most problematic transitions.[10] [11] In addition, there are many young people who have a learning disability who don't have a statement of special educational needs and therefore aren't subject to the formal SEN transition planning process.

 

10.4 Alongside the legal framework, the Government has provided good practice guidance for key agencies that should be involved in the transition process[12]. However, evidence suggests that local practice is variable. Self assessment Survey of 147 local areas in England for Government's TSP programme found that only 50% had a transition protocol and only 44% had a transition pathway - an operational plan that maps out what young people and families can expect when, and who is responsible for each activity[13].

 

10.5 Improving Life Chances (Cabinet Office 2005) found that poor transition planning was the key barrier to improving disabled people's life chances. Families report that they are not aware of the process, that other agencies do not attend reviews and that Connexions services lack the skills to work with young people with learning disabilities.

 

11. Post college transition planning

11.1 It is important that young people have clear progression route through college, with transition support both into and out of college. Whilst there is a statutory process for planning the transition from school, there is no parallel duty in relation to leaving college and yet this may be the most problematic transition for young people with a learning disability and the time when they are most vulnerable to becoming NEET.

 

 

12. Choice and quality in further education and training

12.1 Recent policy development around existing further education and training provision for learners with a learning difficulty and / or disability[14] recognises that there is a need to develop an infrastructure of good quality provision in a local setting. Families of young people with a learning disability often find that needs are not being met in local further education colleges, meaning that out of area residential provision is often the only option. Further, the quality of provision for this group of learners is variable, with some individuals remaining at college for years "sometimes repeating courses, or returning to the day centre from which they were originally referred, only to come back to college a few years later"[15]. It is essential therefore that there are effective outcomes and clear progression routes for individual learners.

 

12.2 As already noted, it is difficult to get a true picture of the number and type of provision being accessed by learners with a learning disability (and for what number of hours per week). It is also a challenge to establish what works and does not work for people with a learning disability - particularly in the context of Valuing Employment Now and the emphasis on preparing people with a learning disability to move towards and access paid employment. Valuing Employment Now states that the transfer of functions from the LSC to local authorities provides an opportunity to bring together systems of support in education and social care to improve supported employment provision. Another advantage could be a more streamlined service between health, social care and education. But there remain a number of unknowns. The evidence suggests that there have been substantial cuts to Further Education provision for learners with a learning disability. Mencap remains concerned that any funding of Further Education and training for people with a learning disability may be threatened by potential pressures to divert it.

 

13. Foundation Learning

13.1 Mencap very much welcomes the NEET strategy focus on 'sufficient provision at every level and in every style of learning' and further welcomes some of the developments around the qualifications framework, including the introduction of the Foundation Learning for those at Level 1 and below. The Foundation Learning programme could go some way to stopping the 'revolving door' of study for entry level learners and there is a strong emphasis upon the importance of progression through 'Progression Pathways' either on to Level 2 or to 'meaningful destinations' such as supported employment or independent living. It remains in its early stages, however, so robust monitoring will be needed in order to ensure that it is being accessed by people with a learning disability. With the 'driver' behind the development of Foundation Learning being the Government's 14-19 reform agenda, it remains unclear what this means for adult learners who are over the age of 19.

 

14. Apprenticeships

14.1 Valuing Employment Now[16] refers to opportunities for Apprenticeships for people with a learning disability. The introduction of a statutory entitlement to apprenticeships for 'suitably qualified' learners (as outlined in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act) is in principle welcomed for people with a learning disability. Mencap further welcomes provisions within the Act around those 'suitably qualified' to include alternative methods of demonstrating competence, giving those disabled people who have the appropriate competencies but not the qualifications, an opportunity to take up their entitlement. It still remains unclear to what extent this will enable learners who are not at the equivalent to level 2 learning access to an entitlement. Ultimately, as an employer-led scheme, the single most significant challenge will be the extent to which employers will engage with people with a learning disability. Stigma and prejudice about people with a learning disability is still widespread and remains one of the biggest barriers to employment for this group of people.

 

15 From education to employment

15.1 The policy direction embodied within the LSC's document learning for Living and Work, the previous report by Peter Little, Inclusion for Excellence and the joint departmental Progression through Partnership, is the right one. The focus on improving quality of provision for students with learning difficulties and / or disabilities with progression routes into employment, including work-based learning, volunteering or involvement in mainstream activities within the community is without doubt a positive step.

 

15.2 Such joint-working will, in theory, ensure a more joined-up and holistic process for the individual. This should result in a smoother transition from education through to employment for people with a learning disability. Clearly though, links between educational providers and supported employment providers are key. This point must be addressed with a continued focus on the need for quality provision for people with a learning disability. The opportunity for a more integrated work / training approach in terms of people with a learning disability must be fully utilized and employment has to be viewed as a realistic option for people with a learning disability throughout the education system. The importance of the education service in partnership working in supporting people into work, has been identified as a key component of successful transitions from education to employment, but the evidence is that transition to work provision is rare and the funding fragile[17].

 

16. Employment

16.1 The Government's recent employment strategy for people with a learning disability, Valuing Employment Now, acknowledges the lack of progress in this area since the original Valuing People White Paper was published in 2001. This document identifies a number of 'key factors' that must be addressed in order for the goal of increased employment for people with a learning disability to be met. The underpinning principle is recognition of the need to challenge deep-rooted expectations and attitudes about the abilities of people with a learning disability.

 

16.2 The challenge is significant: only 10% of people known to social services are in paid employment (although recent data from the Information Centre for health and social care shows this number to be even lower at around 7.5%[18]). On top of this, we also know that many of those included within this 7.5% will be working very few hours per week. It is essential then, that due consideration is given to this group of individuals. However, in the context of the Government's existing focus on employment and moving people off benefits and into work, we are concerned that such consideration is not taking place.

 

16.3 The Government's NEET strategy seeks to address the needs of young people making the transition to JSA at 18 and who have a past history of being NEET. Changes to New Deal have been made in order for these young people to be 'fast tracked' to intensive support to find employment. Changes as a result of the Government's welfare reform agenda mean that it is likely more people with a learning disability will be on JSA, but the evidence suggests that such mainstream provision does not work for people with a learning disability. Many will need specialist support provided by trained staff with a knowledge and understanding of learning disability issues.

 

16.4 In addition, there remains a lack of clarity about how new arrangements under the welfare reform agenda (the introduction of the new Employment and Support Allowance and accompanying medical assessment (the Work Capability Assessment) and the roll out of Pathways to Work and Work Choice will work for people with a learning disability. While in principle we are not opposed to the 'rights and responsibilities' approach to the reform of the welfare system, it is essential that increased individual responsibility is matched with sufficient and appropriate support for people with a learning disability - particularly where punitive measures are concerned. It is unfortunate that an increasing focus on 'conditionality' and 'sanctions' masks the fact that many people with a learning disability would very much like to work but have never been given the opportunity.

 

 

The likely impact of raising the participation age on strategies for addressing the needs of young people not in education, employment or training

 

18.1 As already noted, Mencap supports the raising of the participation age to 18. We believe this provides a real opportunity to ensure quality educational opportunities for young people with a learning disability who may take longer to progress and therefore need to stay in the education system for longer. However, in order to deliver better outcomes for young people with a learning disability, their responsibility to participate in education or training until the age of 18 must be matched by a responsibility on government to ensure that there are appropriate courses to meet the whole range of interests and needs, with enough places for all.

 

18.2 As noted in previous sections, Mencap would like to see the Government's strategy focusing on learners with a learning disability up to age 25 in line with related policy. We would further stress the need to ensure that the raising of the participation age does not simply 'blur' the statistics in terms of the numbers of young people who are NEET. The key must be about addressing existing poor provision and support services / processes (e.g. transition) and not about simply pro-longing engagement in unsuitable provision.

 

The opportunities and future prospects in education, training and employment for 16-18 year olds

 

19.1 The Government has initiated a number of programmes to address specific issues in relation to the life chances of young people with a learning disability. These are not explicitly included in the Government's NEETs strategy but inevitably address some of these issues. However, whilst Mencap welcomes these as a step in the right direction, there is concern that their impact in terms of improving the opportunities for young people with a learning disability is limited.

 

20. Transition Support Programme

20.1 The Government has invested 19 million from 2008-2011 in a Transition Support Programme. The expected outcomes are that disabled young people and families will be able to report improvements in their experience of transition, that support for transition provided by local areas is more consistent and will reach minimum standards and that professionals will show increased expertise in transition. Alongside this, Valuing People Now[19] states all young people with SEN will have personalised transition planning and person centred reviews by 2012. Whilst the focus on this area and the support offered to local areas to improve transition is welcomed, Mencap is concerned about the sustainability of this work after 2011. The programme lacks any statutory levers to ensure continuation of good practice in this area and there no specific national indicators to monitor this. In addition, whilst the focus on planning is important in order to improve the outcomes for young people, it can not be seen in isolation. Improved investment and identification of greater opportunities for young people with a learning disability must go hand in hand.

 

21. IAG/Connexions

21.1 The Government has launched a new IAG strategy and this is welcomed. The strategy makes it clear that the IAG must maintain a personalised element and sets out a guarantee which will be embedded within new pupil/parent guarantees from September 2010. For this strategy to work for young people with a learning disability it is vital that this is well resourced with specialists who can effectively support and advise those who face more challenging transitions. Information, Advice and Guidance providers need to have access to specialist training that helps them to understand the needs of disabled young people.

 

22 Getting a Life programme

22.1 This 3 year project focussed on transition and employment for young people with a learning disability is welcomed as an important part of the broader Valuing Employment Now agenda. However, Mencap is concerned that the focus is on such a small number of young people; just 30 in each pilot area and there is no clear plan about how implementation of the learning will be ensured across all local authorities.

 

23 Valuing Employment Now

23.1 Mencap very much supports the overarching principles and goals outlined in the strategy, but want to ensure that the focus on people 'known to social services' does not mean that those with milder learning disabilities are left behind. Further, while it is right that people with 'profound and complex disabilities' should not be excluded from the world of work, it is also the case that some people with profound and multiple learning disabilities will be less likely to work at all. We believe that it is important to acknowledge this. It is essential that this group do not miss out on the development of alternative meaningful day time opportunities, including in further education.

 

23.2 No additional funding has been made available to support the strategy. The emphasis is on more effective use of existing resources, including education, adult learning and employment support. It is right to look at how these resources can be used more effectively but we should also be cautious about overstating how far existing monies can actually stretch - particularly in the context of the focus on those receiving services. A number of existing strands of funding are identified in the strategy, including 660 million on day services at a cost of 291 per adult per week. While it is quite right to look at how this money can be used more effectively on supporting people to move into paid work, it is also the case that only a limited number of people receive these services in the first place.

 

December 2009



[1]One in Ten - key messages from policy, research and practice about young people who are NEET, Tunnard et al, 2009

[2] The definition of a learner with a learning difficulty and/or disability is taken from section 13 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. A person has a learning difficulty if:

(a) he has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of

persons of his age, or:

(b) he has a disability which either prevents or hinders him from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided by institutions providing post-16 education or training."

[3] Impact on Adults with Learning Difficulties and / or Disabilities: Issues from the 2006 /07 Planning Round, LSC, January 2007

[4] Skills Investment Strategy, 2010 - 11, BIS, November 2009

[5] Reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), DCSF, 2008

[6] Progression through Partnership, DfES, DH and DWP, 2007

[7] Statistical First Release: Permanent and Fixed Period exclusions from schools and exclusion appeals in England, 2007/08, DCSF, 2009

 

[8] Access to Education: experiences of transition from school to further education- diversity and practice for young people with Down's Syndrome in the UK, Beadman J, 2006

[9] Growing Up Matters, CSCI, 2007

[10] Help to Move On, Norah Fry Research Centre, Heslop et al, 2007

[11] Transitions to Adults Services by Disabled Young People living in out of authority residential schools Beresford and Cavet, 2009

[12] A Transition Guide for all Services, DH/DCSF, 2007

[13] Analysis of SAQ Year 1, National Transition Support Team, 2009

[14] See Inclusion for Excellence ('The Little Report'), LSC, November 2005; Learning for Living and for Work:: Improving Education and Training Opportunities for People with learning difficulties and / or disabilities, LSC, October 2006;

Progression through Partnership, DfES, DH and DWP, 2007

[15] Making the Jump: Transition to work, NIACE, Jacobsen, 2002

 

 

[16] Valuing Employment Now: real jobs for people with a learning disability, DH, 2009

[17] Making the Jump: Transition to work, NIACE, Jacobsen, 2002

[18] Social Care and Mental Health Indicators from the National Indicator Set - further analysis 2008-2009, The Health and Information Centre, 2009

[19] Valuing People Now: a new three-year strategy for people with learning disabilities, DH, 2009