Memorandum submitted by Treehouse

 

 

Executive summary

 

1. Young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN), including autism, are significantly over-represented among the NEET population.

 

2. Better identification of SEN is key to reducing the risk of young people with SEN becoming NEET.

 

3. TreeHouse would like to see good transition planning that starts early, easy access to appropriate support to develop vital skills for independent living, and better, more specific data to be gathered by local authorities to inform planning.

 

4. Children and young people with autism too often have negative experiences in pre-16 education, with disproportionately high incidences of exclusion and bullying. This must be addressed if compulsory 16 - 18 education is going to improve outcomes for learners with autism.

 

5. Successful placements depend upon:

a. Well trained staff

b. Young people receiving the level of support they need to access learning and development opportunities

c. Involving the young person and their parents in identifying interests and ambitions, and in planning the support and placements

 

6. The needs of each person with autism vary considerably, but many will need some support throughout their lives. It is important that support is geared at enabling the young person to be included in and contributing to the community in a way appropriate to their needs and abilities

 

 

About TreeHouse

 

7. TreeHouse is the national charity for autism education. Our vision is to transform through education the lives of children with autism and the lives of their families.

 

8. Established in 1997 by a group of parents, TreeHouse runs an exemplar school for children and young people with profound autism, where we now educate 76 pupils. We also campaign nationally for better education for children and young people with autism.

 

9. Our core work is to ensure that every child and young person with autism is supported and able to participate fully in society, through education that will truly meet their needs and through our work to make society inclusive of children with autism and their families.

 

10. Through our direct educational provision and through our parent support and parent participation projects, which support parents as local campaigners, we have been able to build extensive knowledge and expertise around best practice in the education of children with autism.

 

 

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

 

11. Government statistics show that one of the greatest indicators of a young person being at risk of becoming NEET is whether they have SEN, and identifying these groups of young people is the simplest initial strategy for identifying the risk of them becoming NEET. The Government recognises that these groups are more than twice as likely to be NEET than the general population. Current statistics show that at age 15 there are 20% of pupils in school with SEN, but by age 16 this drops to 7.3% and by age 17 a further drop to 4.6%[1]. Conversely of those young people categorised as NEET, 23% have a disability[2].

 

12. There are clear indicators that the risk of becoming NEET is not just true for young adults, but for adults of all ages who have learning difficulties or disabilities. The National Autistic Society's Don't Write Me Off research[3] on the employment of adults with autism found that:

just 15% have a full-time job

one-third are currently without a job or access to benefits

79% of those on Incapacity Benefit want to work

 

13. Given the correlation between autism and unemployment, it is important that young people with autism have additional support to ensure that they make a successful transition to adulthood and are able to access appropriate education, employment or training opportunities.

 

We would recommend the following strategies as good practice for identifying young people with SEN who may become NEET:

 

14. Ensuring that young people with SEN or disabilities are identified through local authorities carrying out transition planning for broader groups of young people with SEN. Currently there is a duty on local authorities to ensure that a multi-agency person-centred transition plan is developed for each pupil with autism who receives support with a statement of SEN from the age of 14. We support the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism's recommendation that this should be extended to pupils who receive support at School Action Plus[4].

 

15. Screening for SEN in settings where this group is over-represented, such as in Pupil Referral Units (PRU) or at the point of exclusion, could help identify many young people who have undiagnosed special educational needs. Screening for SEN at the point of attempting to exclude a child could help to ensure that underlying needs are identified and the right support can be put in place to help ensure that these young people do not go on to be NEET.

 

16. As 68% of the PRU population are identified as having SEN, but only 13%[5] of these young people have a statement to guarantee entitlement to support, it is clear that a lack of awareness of these young people's SEN earlier on in their education can result in failed placements, exclusion and being placed in a PRU.

 

17. Local authorities should gather more specific data on types of disability. At present, the centrally held NEET statistics contain no information about type of disability. It will be important for the providers of education, employment and training opportunities to have knowledge of the specific type of disability, as there is in the education system pre-16, to enable them to plan specialised support and strategies. We would recommend that local and national NEET statistics include specific categories on type of disability to enable better planning of resources and placements.

 

 

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"

 

18. Good transition planning programmes are crucial to reducing the risk of a young person with autism becoming NEET. The key to successful transitions is to start transition planning early. Young people with autism will take longer to develop the broad set of skills for a more independent adult life and for education and employment opportunities, and so identifying aspirations, opportunities and the skills and experience needed must be started as early as possible, ideally at age 14.

 

19. When the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism held their Inquiry on transition earlier this year, TreeHouse asked parents of children and young people with autism and professionals in the field about their experiences and views on how to ensure successful transitions for young people with autism.

 

20. Parents and professionals were in agreement that it is important to start early when creating a transition plan; well in advance of the end of compulsory education. It also is important that flexibility is built into decisions made on a transition plan, and from the point of view from professionals working on transition planning it is also important for them to have the time to read all reports and feel they have a good understanding of the case before attending the review conference.

 

21. Parents and professionals both stressed the need for extensive cooperation between all stakeholders. They were clear that all individuals and agencies involved in the transition process should be involved in drawing up a transition plan and that particular effort should be made to include parents and carers and the young people themselves.

 

22. Parents also suggested that there is a need for ongoing support from the relevant agencies in order to make the transition plan a success. Frequent visits from professionals, readily available information, and 'buddying' in school and in the community were given as examples of good practice.

 

23. It is vital for the professionals that support young people through this process to understand the children's needs. Although the need for better training of professionals was highlighted, there was also a clear focus on those professionals needing to understand the individual needs of the child. As one parent put it, "going on a course about autism isn't enough". This understanding should help in the tailoring of plans to the individual, which is another aspect of planning.

 

24. The difficulties many people with autism have with social imagination means they may require services offering specific support in thinking about the future and making plans. Many parents stressed that their children would need help being realistic in their aspirations and understanding about what impact their needs may have on their future. The groundwork may be laid for this by offering work experience, and exposure to potential future settings and experiences.

 

25. Programmes that support young people with autism to develop the social skills required for further education, employment or training could help to reduce the risk of young people with autism becoming NEET. The main lever of support is presently the Learning Difficulty Assessment, which parents report difficulty in accessing and, furthermore, the support gained through the assessment is often inappropriate. Parents reported, for example, that the support was often courses in very basic Maths and English, when help learning social skills would be much more useful for young people with autism.

 

26. More flexible arrangements for moving on to specialist services would also help reduce the risk of young people with more profound autism becoming NEET. At present, the system for transition to post-school placements can be particularly inflexible, as there are a limited number of residential colleges which specialise in further education for young people with autism. These can provide the continued support that these young adults need to continue learning and developing and local authorities typically pay for the provision. However, it is often the case that a local authority will only fund the placement if a young person goes directly from their school placement to the residential college placement, whether or not this is the preference of the young person or their family. We would like to see a greater deal of flexibility in these arrangements so that young people and their families can make the most appropriate decisions about future education provision.

 

 

The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

 

27. As the centrally held NEET statistics for young people with disabilities are not aggregated by type of disability, it is hard to say how effective the strategy has been for young people with autism. Nevertheless, the 2007 NEET statistics indicated that 16% of the NEET population had a disability[6] - in 2009 this had risen to 23%[7], which suggests the strategy is less effective for learners with SEN and disabilities than it is for others.

 

28. More consideration should be made in the strategy for the needs of young people with SEN and disabilities and the support they might need to make There are few of mentions of 'learning difficulties' and 'disability'; though it does recognise that these groups are twice as likely to be NEET.

 

29. At TreeHouse we believe that all young people who have autism should be able pursue further education, employment and training opportunities, but many of these young people will need additional support to help them make the most of these opportunities. Considering that 23% of the NEET population have a disability, and that there will be many more who have SEN that may not be considered to have a disability, we believe that for the strategy to be effective, it should make explicit provisions for the adjustments and support that these groups may need.

 

 

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

 

30. Raising the participation age for young people with autism is only going to be successful if appropriate strategies for reducing the risk of them becoming NEET are adopted. As above, we would like to see good transition planning that starts early, easy access to appropriate support to develop vital skills for independent living, and better, more specific data to be gathered by local authorities to inform planning.

 

31. In terms of impact, there is strong evidence to suggest that education can be the most effective intervention for improving the lives of children with autism. On that basis, we are pleased that raising the participation age will help to ensure continued access to education.

 

32. However, too often children and young people with autism have negative experiences in education, and this can explain why there are disproportionately few young people with autism currently in 16 - 18 education, employment and training.

 

33. Exclusion is one of the most significant concerns. The third report[8] by the TreeHouse Constructive Campaigning Parent Support Project looked at the disproportionate exclusion rate of children with autism from school. 43% of parents reported their child with autism had been officially excluded within the previous 12 months; only a quarter of these exclusions were one-off occurrences.

 

34. Illegal exclusions are a particular concern for parents; a concern shared in the Steer review[9]. An illegal exclusion is when parents are asked to remove their child from school before the end of the school day without any formal procedure being followed. 55% of parents surveyed reported that their child with autism had experienced illegal exclusion over the years.

 

35. It is well known that children with autism, along with children with other disabilities, are more likely to be victims of bullying. A report by the National Autistic Society[10] found that 40% of children with autism have been bullied. The TreeHouse Constructive Campaigning Parent Support's 'Emerging Issues' report[11] found bullying to be one of the most concerning issues for parents.

 

36. Our concern is that these negative experiences of education mean that many children with autism will not have enjoyed school and may not have been well supported to learn and develop. This could have an impact on their willingness to continue in education, employment and training.

 

37. To ensure that raising the participation age will make a positive difference to the outcomes that young people with autism go on to achieve, schools need to ensure that children and young people with autism have positive, fulfilling experiences in school and do not experience bullying or exclusion. Furthermore, learning, especially from 14 - 16, should help to prepare children and young people with autism to make informed choices about and participate in the different opportunities available post-16.

 

38. In terms of the impact of appropriate placements, we know that with the right structure and support, many young people with autism can reach their potential and go on to lead more fulfilling, independent lives. Broadly speaking, a successful placement that leads to better outcomes has significant social and economic benefits for the young person, their family and society at large.

 

 

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

 

39. It is important to emphasise that every person with autism is unique - autism is a spectrum condition, which affects each person to different degrees. Following 16 -18 education, some young people with autism may be able to pursue academic opportunities with only limited support, others may prefer supported vocational placements, while some young people with autism have such severe and complex needs that they will need round the clock care and support, whether or not they are in education, employment or training.

 

40. In any case, the majority of people with autism will need some support throughout their lives, and we believe it is really important that support is geared at being included in and contributing to the community in a way appropriate to the young person's needs and abilities. We know that young people with autism can flourish in a range of settings - the most important factor is that they have quality support to make these opportunities and experiences accessible. Indeed, we have heard of successful placements in settings as varied as investment banks and gardening business enterprises.

 

41. It is important that the outcomes that 16 - 18 education provision works towards are geared at enabling inclusion and participation. It is also important that the viability of post compulsory education placements is not assessed solely on the possible economic contribution that young people with autism will make as a result of the placements, but also on the social benefits that participation and inclusion bring.

 

42. At TreeHouse, we know that successful placements depend upon:

Well trained staff working with children and young people with autism in all settings, but especially in post 16 settings, as fewer young people with autism have made it into these settings in the past and placements may be less well equipped to support their needs

The young person receiving the level of support they need to access learning and development opportunities, with social skills and life skills learning to complement academic and vocational courses

Involving the young person and their parents in identifying interests and ambitions, and in planning the support and placements required to help that young person make a successful transition to adulthood

 

December 2009



[1] Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008) National Statistics SFR 15/2008 'Special Educational Needs in England, January 2008'

[2] Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009) NEET Statistics - Quarterly Brief August 2009

[3] National Autistic Society (2009)

[4] Allard, A (2009), The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism - Transition to Adulthood http://www.nas.org.uk/content/1/c6/01/97/89/NAS0171_APPGA_book_A4_24pp_Web2.pdf

[5] Department for Children, Schools and Families, Special Educational Needs in England, January 2009

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s000852/SFR14_2009.pdf

[6] Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) NEET Statistics - Quarterly Brief September 2007

[7] Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009) NEET Statistics - Quarterly Brief November 2009

[8] TreeHouse, 'Disobedience or Disability? The exclusion of children with

autism from education, 2009

http://www.treehouse.org.uk/files/treehouse-corp/files/documents/psp_exclusion_report_FINAL.pdf

[9] Steer, Sir A (2009) (p. 31)

http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/_doc/13514/8208-DCSF-Learning%20Behaviour.pdf

[10] National Autistic Society, 'B is for Bullying', 2006

http://www.nas.org.uk/content/1/c6/01/18/57/bullying.pdf

[11] 'Emerging issues and emerging solutions', TreeHouse, 2007

http://www.treehouse.org.uk/_download/WNJUCKKD.pdf