Memorandum submitted by the Special Educational Consortium and Transition Information Network





About the Transition Information Network

The Transition Information Network (TIN) is an alliance of organisations and individuals who work together with a common aim: to improve the experience of disabled young people's transition to adulthood. TIN is a source of information and good practice for disabled young people, families and professionals. TIN is based at the Council for Disabled Children.


About the Special Educational Consortium

The Special Educational Consortium (SEC) was set up to protect and promote the interests of children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities. SEC is a broad consortium and provides a policy forum for voluntary organisations. It also includes professional associations and local government organisations.






1. Research shows that young people with SEN and disabilities are significantly more likely to become NEET than their peers and that if the Government wants to address this issue then it must look carefully about how to better meet the needs of young people with special education needs (SEN) and disabilities:


Sixty per cent of all pupils who get no GCSE passes at all have special educational needs[1].


At the age of 16, young people with SEN and disabilities are twice as likely to be NEET as those without, and three times as likely to be NEET by the age of 19[2].


By the age of 26, disabled people were nearly four times as likely to be unemployed or involuntarily out of work than non-disabled people.[3]



2. Identifying why an individual falls into the NEET category is complex, and reflects individual decision-making taken within the context of families and communities themselves based in existing social and economic structures. It is not within the scope of this submission to cover the wide ranging debate around multiple forms of disadvantage, educational outcomes and the failure by individuals make a successful transition into employment, education or training. Instead, the expertise of SEC and TIN lies in explaining the factors that cause children and young people with SEN and disabilities to find themselves in the NEET category shortly after leaving compulsory education - in particular, how learning difficulties and mental and physical impairments interact with social and institutional factors to create poor outcomes and how the system can be improved to address these barriers. While there is a significant debate to be had about how to address the needs of those already NEET, this submission will focus on preventative policy responses which can seek to stop young people with SEN and disabilities falling into this category in the first place.



Educational attainment


3. Sixty per cent of all pupils who get no GCSE passes at all have special educational needs[4]. This lack of educational attainment can have a disastrous impact on a young person's prospects - 39% of those with no GCSEs are NEET at 16, compared to 2% of 16 year olds who attained 5 or more A* - C GCSEs[5]. Leaving school with no qualifications also interacts with other barriers in the labour market, so of those disabled people without qualifications, only 23% are employed in comparison to non-disabled people without qualifications where 60% are employed[6]. These figure starkly prove that improving education outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities must be an ongoing Government priority - particularly where young people are excluded or become disaffected - if they are seeking to reduce the number of young people becoming NEET.


4. Beyond those who completely fall out of the system, young people with SEN and disabilities still face serious barriers to achievement within the education system: only 11.7% of young people with SEN achieved 5 GCSEs at A* to C, including English and Maths, compared to 57% of their peers[7]. These attainment gaps are not simply the result of a lack of capacity among young people with SEN and disabilities to achieve good results, but arise from faults within a system that does not always succeed in addressing the needs of those who require education to be delivered in different ways. For example, given the right support, there is no reason why a child with a hearing impairment should achieve any less at school than a hearing child with similar abilities, yet only 33 per cent of hearing impaired children in England achieve five GCSEs at A* to C, compared to an average of 57 per cent[8].


5. This attainment gap is a key factor in the disproportionate number of young people with SEN and disabilities who are NEET, as both further education providers and employers will often use the attainment of five GCSEs at A* to C as a basic screening tool, although there is certain legislative protection in place regarding blanket entry requirements in education, as outlined in the Code of Practice for Post-16 education providers. However, SEC members often hear about the ongoing struggle faced by young people with SEN and disabilities to overcome the low expectations of further education providers and the difficulty in trying to persuade them of the need to be flexible in their entry requirements.


6. While it is absolutely right that education providers and employers are assured that the young people seeking to undertake their courses or employment are suitably prepared for the level of the work - and it is equally important that young people is not 'set up to fail' - it is also essential that entry requirements are only used where they are absolutely necessary to prove a key competence and that flexibility is built into recruitment processes.


7. The lack of recognition at all levels of society of the barriers facing young people with SEN and disabilities within the education system has created very low expectations of those with no or few qualifications. Until an education system can be developed that meets the needs of those with SEN and disabilities, there needs to be a greater acknowledgment that the low expectations of those with a lack of qualifications is not always truly reflective of a young person's ability and that a flexible attitude, based on individual circumstances, is a much fairer and effective approach.


8. All young people should have access to varied and flexible learning options. These should include access to General Qualifications, Apprenticeships and Work-Based Learning (WBL), Foundation Learning (FL), the Diploma and access to informal learning opportunities and volunteering opportunities.





9. Permanent exclusion from school is a major risk-factor for a range of poor social outcomes - including entering the criminal justice[9] and poor educational outcomes[10]. Furthermore, research funded by the Department for Education and Skills found that only 50% of young people who had been permanently excluded from secondary school were still engaged in education, training, or employment 2 years after their exclusion and over 70% failed to pass a single GCSE[11].


10. High levels of exclusions are both a cause and a result of poor social outcomes for young people with SEN and disabilities. In their study, Special educational needs: a mainstream issue[12], the Audit Commission found that the vast majority of permanent exclusions in the 22 LEAs surveyed related to pupils with SEN: 87% of exclusions in primary schools and 60% of exclusions in secondary related to pupils with SEN. Since then, young people with SEN and disabilities continue to be over eight times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than the rest of the school population[13] leading to poor educational outcomes and subsequently becoming NEET.


11. A recent Ofsted survey showed that bad behaviour often results from the inability of a young person to fully access their learning[14], and it is worth noting that the most common reason for exclusion is persistent disruptive behaviour[15] which is likely to occur when a child is not engaged or satisfied with their progress at school. Despite legislation and guidance which requires schools and local authorities to make their best efforts to address the educational and behavioural needs of young people with SEN and disabilities, this often does not always happen in practice. In reality, then, the reason for an exclusion of young people with SEN and disabilities will often lie further back in the school's management of pupils; that is in their ability to make reasonable adjustments and the appropriate special educational provision available.


12. It is essential that the Government as an urgent priority looks at reducing the number of young people with SEN and disabilities who are excluded from school. These groups of young people are already at a disadvantage in terms of accessing education, and being excluded from school only compounds this fact. While we are not arguing that young people with SEN and disabilities should never be excluded from school, we would like to see a review of a pupil's special educational needs be undertaken - for any pupil at School Action, School Action Plus or with a Statement - before they are referred off-site. This should look at whether reasonable adjustments are required for the disabled pupil or pupil with SEN, which if made, can avoid the need to remove the pupil from the school.



Perceptions and expectations for employment


13. Young people with SEN and disabilities in transition identify barriers to participation in the labour market as a result of low expectations from the professionals that are intended to support them[16], from further education providers[17], and scepticism from prospective employers[18].


14. For example, we are told that the arrangement within schools for the provision of work experience in years 10 and 11 for young people with SEN and disabilities is often the work-related learning solely on-site. A young person may be asked to assist with some of the clerical or catering duties at the school and there is a lack of expectation that. This option may be taken because school staff have concerns that more time may have to be invested to find an employer or that the young person themselves will not be able to cope. Such arrangements, crucially, do not give young people experience of a workplace outside of the protective environment of the school, and deny them the important opportunity to develop aspirations and confidence. This is a problem in both mainstream and specialist schools.


15. A related problem is the expectations of some employers, compounded by poor education outcomes. Many are still not properly informed of their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act or of the support available to them through schemes such as Access to Work. They may have low expectations of the contributions that disabled people could make, expectations which are not raised by disabled young people's exclusion from work experience highlighted above.



Lack of local further education provision


16. A significant barrier to the inclusion in the further education or training of young people with SEN and disabilities is a lack of appropriate local post-16 provision. The choice that these young people are often presented with is between mainstream provision without any adjustments to make courses accessible, specialist college provision that is based a long way from home or no post 16 education and training at all.


17. Where young people are able to access the particular support they need, this is often only available in specialist post-16 colleges meaning many will need to move a significant distance from their family and community. This can make it hard for young people to then make the transition out of this provision into independent adult life in the their home authority, where they will have less informal networks built up locally which can be very beneficial in accessing employment opportunities.


18. The lack of local mainstream provision is also costly, as the distance from the individual's home can mean expensive residential accommodation - even where they do not have a need for social care - is the only option and the provider may be located within the independent sector often with higher costs. These factors mean that young people with SEN and disabilities and their families will have to fight to get their local authority to pay for a placement and many of those who would benefit from specialist provision are unsuccessful because of limited placements. We believe there is scope for local authorities to do more to provide local provision to suit all needs, and allowing more disabled young people to be educated alongside their peers.


19. Where local provision can be secured it often does not meet the needs of the young people concerned and does not facilitate their transition to employment. Vocational skills may be learned on the available courses but the fact that the young people have not had the chance to learn social skills and more generic work skills can mean that they are unable to put these vocational skills to use in employment.


20. In the year leading up to the start of a young person leaving school they and their family are subject to much anxiety and uncertainty, yet we often hear that it is common for a decision to only be made on whether a young person's preferred provision will be funded by LSC (currently) within a month of the placement commencing. When such a decision is not the one that the young person and their family hoped for, they have little time to arrange an alternative. The result of this is too often a young person becoming NEET. There must be a drive to support families that find themselves in such a position to secure appropriate provision.



Systematic Barriers to inclusion in Employment, Education and Training


21. Young people with SEN and disabilities can often experience difficulties when they leave school and move into further education as the level of support they receive can be substantially reduced. In particular, many young people who have had a statement maintained will drop out of mainstream post-16 provision as they have a significantly less personalised level of support as they have become used to receiving at school. This situation is not intended, but can result from the ceasing of a statement and its replacement with information collected from a learning disability assessment. We have concerns about the quality of these assessments and that they can miss important information about the young person's needs. The information collected through learning difficulty and disability assessments, which are made under section 140 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (this will change to section 139a next April), is often not acted upon as the assessments do not have the same legal force as statement of SEN. These difficulties may be in part due to the relative level of expertise of the staff that lead these assessments. Section 140 assessments are lead by connexions or local IAG personal advisors, this is in contrast to the statutory assessment of special educational needs (the statementing process), which is lead by educational psychologists.


22. We understand that the government may address these issues in new guidance on section 139a assessments, which is expected to be published in early 2010 and we would welcome such moves. Doubt will remain, however, over whether the rights of young people to support should change when they move from school to FE, especially in light of the planned raising of the participation age to 18.




23. Only one in five NEETs became so immediately after leaving school, with the majority being involved in some form of education, employment or training before dropping out[19]. The risk of this happening is particularly high for young people with SEN or disabilities as they come to terms different entitlements and levels of support (discussed above) and lack of understanding of their needs in these new environments. Current systems for supporting young people are not conducive to addressing this. In the case of further education placements, for example, non attendance is often considered as a young person expressing a choice not to participate in education or training. This assumption is letting many young people down. When a young person with SEN ceases their attendance at an FE college it will often be because they have fallen behind as they have not been appropriately supported to access the curriculum, in addition to the reasons any young person may fall behind, such as difficulty paying for transport to college or temporary illness. Where non-attendance is not followed up and the young person supported to get back on track, they may feel that their attempts to return to college and catch will be futile, no matter how much they wish to participate and achieve further qualifications.


24. Connexions and (or other local Information, Advice and Guidance providers) play a key role in supporting vulnerable young people, including those who are disabled or have been classed as having SEN at school, into employment. Once a young person has started their first job it is usual for connexions to stop supporting and monitoring their progress. A young person who has just started a new job may well come into difficulties a few months down the line, but because of their initially successful transition into employment may be cut off from the invaluable support that local IAG services can offer. HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions hold information about who is in work and who is claiming benefits. With young people's permission, this could be used to identify those who might benefit from continued access to their local Connexions/IAG services. This is just one example of how government departments and agencies could work together to support young people at risk of becoming long term NEET.


December 2009

[1] Tackling low educational achievement (2007) Robert Cassen and Geeta Kingdon for Joseph Rowntree Foundation

[2] Disability, Skills and Work: Raising our ambitions (2007, p14) Stephen Evans for Social Market Foundation and Disability Rights Commission,%20skills%20and%20work.pdf

[3] The education and employment of disabled young people (2005) Tania Burchardt for Joseph Rowntree Foundation

[4] Tackling low educational achievement (2007) Robert Cassen and Geeta Kingdon for Joseph Rowntree Foundation

[5] Reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET): The strategy (2008) Department for Children, Schools and Families

[6] Labour Force Statistics 2006

[7] Children with Special Educational Needs 2009: an analysis (2009) Department for Children, Schools and Families

[8] Must do better: Barriers to achievement by deaf children (2008) NDCS

[9] Juveniles in custody (2004) Mark Challon and Thea Walton, HMI Prisons

[10] Study of Young People Permanently Excluded From School (2003) Harry Daniels et al, University of Birmingham

[11] Study of Young People Permanently Excluded From School (2003) Harry Daniels et al, University of Birmingham

[12] Special educational needs: a mainstream issue (2002) Audit Commission

[13] Statistical First Release: Permanent and Fixed Period Exclusions From Schools and Exclusion Appeals in England, 2006/07 (2008) Department for Children, Schools and Families

[14] Sir Alan Steer, Learning Behaviour: lessons learned A review of behaviour standards and practices in our schools, Institute of Education, 2009

[15] Statistical First Release: Permanent and Fixed Period Exclusions From Schools and Exclusion Appeals in England, 2006/07 (2008) Department for Children, Schools and Families

[16] Foundations: Moving into adulthood (2002) Joseph Rowntree Foundation

[17] 14-19 Education And Training And Young Disabled People: Working Draft Of Ideas (2006) Steve Haines, Disability Rights Commission

[18] 14-19 Education And Training And Young Disabled People: Working Draft Of Ideas (2006) Steve Haines, Disability Rights Commission

[19] Lost Talent - Not in Education, Employment or Training (2008) British Chambers of Commerce