Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Mencap (SPEB18)

Written Evidence on the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

About Royal Mencap Society and Learning Disability

We support the 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK and their families to change laws and improve health and care services as well as access to education and employment. We directly support over 5,000 people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want. A learning disability is caused by the way the brain develops before, during or shortly after birth. It is always lifelong and affects intellectual and social development.


Mencap believes that every person with a learning disability should have the opportunity to work. We believe that employment should be considered as a fundamental part of their life.  However, too few people with a learning disability have the opportunities. While, fewer than 6% of people with a learning disability known to social services are in work, our 2019 survey suggests the figure for people not known to local authorities may be closer to 25% (pre-Covid). This data stands in stark contrast to we the fact they we know that a far greater number of people with a learning disability want, and are able, to work.


Mencap wants to see a future where people with a learning disability receive the right support to access, and just as importantly, stay in work. We want employers to understand that people with a learning disability can make a valuable contribution to the workplace, when supported properly. And we ask that employers look beyond someone’s learning disability and employ more individuals based on their skills and merit. This will help people with a learning disability have a better choice about what work they do.  

The barriers to employment

Despite the efforts of charities to improve opportunities, and several commitments from the Government, employment rates for people with a learning disability have remain stubbornly low.

The reasons for this are numerous but some of the typical barriers to employment we see include: 

· a lack of good quality support to find and stay in employment 

· a lack of support to build skills 

· fears and negative attitudes from employers 

· inaccessible recruitment practises

· misconceptions and a lack of understanding of what people with a learning disability can achieve with the right support

· failure by Government programmes to provide the necessary adjustments required by people with a learning disability

This stands in stark contrast to the potential we see in the people with a learning disability we support. A review we published in 2017 revealed the business benefits of taking on staff with a learning disability [1] . This included: 

· Financial savings - Research shows that by staying in post longer, having fewer sick days and having good punctuality records saves on recruitment and training. People with a learning disability stay in their jobs 3.5 times longer than non-disabled co-workers.

· Better staff morale - Employers have reported overall increased staff morale, increased company productivity and better workforce cohesion. 72.2% of employers regarded the impact on company morale as an important factor in deciding to employ people with a learning disability.

· Improved company reputation - 87% of consumers agreed that they would prefer to give their business to companies that hire people with disabilities.

Supporting people with a learning disability into work

Before the pandemic, there were already several programmes designed to support people with a learning disability into employment. These have had varying successes but with modifications, the right promotion and coordination with other programmes, we believe they offer a viable route into sustainable employment.

We welcome the Government’s renewed focus on post-16 education, including the Prime Minister’s commitment to "offer an Opportunity Guarantee so that every young person has the chance of apprenticeship or an in-work placement so that they maintain the skills and confidence they need to find the job that is right for them". 

Yet it is crucial that all people can benefit from these opportunities, including people with a learning disability. We have concerns that the the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill fails to mention Supported Internships which we know can be an important pathway into the open labour market for people with a learning disability.

We need a focus on making all of the ‘3 Ships’ (traineeships, supported internships and apprenticeships) more accessible and widely available as this will open up pathways into long-term employment for people with a learning disability.

Traineeships and supported internships are only available to young people under the age of 25. This means that for those with a learning disability over that age, who are unable to meet the maths and English requirements of the apprenticehsup programme, have no formal training options are available to them. Mencap believes that this needs to change to ensure that all people with a learning disability, who want and can work, are able to access training that supports their ambition.

Mencap also believes that more should be done to incentivise employers to offer traineeships to people with a learning disability and we recommend that Government explores a variety of options. This should include allowing employers to use part of the levy payments to offer traineeships to this group, as well as bursaries to help them set up a traineeship offer.

Mencap believes that, whilst there are other, mainly DWP, programmes, aimed at this age group, relying on these programmes to fill this gap is problematic as our own experience with delivering these has shown us. DWP programmes’ funding structures are very much focused on job outcomes only and do not acknowledge the process of getting someone there. As a result, providers have been known to work with those closest to the labour market in order to generate the outcome payments to fund their provision. In many cases people with a learning disability are left behind.

Education focused programmes, such as traineeships offer a more personalised approach, recognising the learning throughout the process and we have found them to be a good stepping stone for people with a learning disability to move into an apprenticeship. Many people with a learning disability above the age of 25 will have little work experience and therefore will need an opportunity to gather this experience before being able to move into work or take on an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships need to be made more flexible and this should be included as part of reforms to the post-16 education offer. We have become an apprenticeship provider and this has given us first-hand experience of the issues of the current system. We have seen, for example, that the Maths and English requirements associated with apprenticeships are still a barrier for many people with a learning disability trying to access apprenticeships.

We are hopeful that things can change, once the right adjustments and frameworks are put into place and we welcome our work to date with officials at the Department for Education to try to find solutions to some of the outstanding issues with apprenticeships we, as well as others, have identified.  

· In 2018, 80% of pupils in England with moderate or severe learning difficulties received SEN support, but only 20% had an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Currently, EHCPs are the gateway to accessing Maths and English apprenticeships flexibilities.

· In 2019, 12% of all apprentices identified as having an LDD, but less than 0.5% of identified as having a learning disability.

To better understand some of the further solutions to the low numbers of people with a learning disability in apprenticeships, the APPG on Leaning Disability was asked by the then-Minister for apprenticeships and Skills, Anne Milton MP, to produce a report with evidence and recommendations on 3 main areas: 

1. Improving self-declaration rates about whether an apprentice identifies as having a disability 

2. English and maths flexibilities offered to those with Education, Health and Care plans (EHCPs), and whether Government could go further with supporting people with learning difficulties and/or a Disability (LDD) and expand the flexibilities 

3. Best practice in supporting people with a learning disability and/or difficulty to achieve their full potential in maths and English 

As the Secretariat for the APPG on Learning Disability, we took this work forward, in collaboration with the Officers of the APPG. Mencap produced its  Access All Areas Report in 2019. The report identified  a number of  different challenges facing people with a learning disability when accessing apprenticeships: 

· Evidence of previous support needs can be difficult to uncover, especially if someone doesn’t have an EHC plan, and any available evidence is often not applicable to the work environment 

· There’s a lack of awareness of flexibilities and rights amongst both apprenticeship providers/employers and people with a learning disability

· There are a number of people who need the flexibilities in relation to maths and English in order to be able to do an apprenticeship, but who cannot currently access them, in particular those who have SEN but didn’t receive and EHC plan/statement of SEN 

From this the report made  a number of  recommendations, including to increase the focus on an initial cognitive assessment to help identify those who should access the English and Maths flexibilities and the support they might need in their apprenticeship.  

Currently,  a large number of  learners with LDD are missing out on these flexibilities as they, and their previous support needs, cannot be easily identified if they do not have an EHC plan. Indeed,  Cognassist  have found that, from an assessment of cognitive processing abilities of more than 10,000 apprentices between September 2017 and Aug 2018: 

· 5-6% qualify for English 

· 3-4% qualify for Maths 

· 1.5-2.5% qualify for English and Maths 


Out of these apprentices, none had received an exemption for English and Maths. This means that, of the 19,900 apprenticeship commitments logged in the Government’s January 2020 apprenticeship statistics, there could be approximately 500 learners who are missing out on the vital support and adjustments they might need in order to successfully complete their apprenticeship. 


While £3.2bn was provided for apprenticeships before the Coronavirus outbreak, this translated to completion rates of only 63% for those with LDD. However, with the right support in place, we believe this can be significantly higher. For example, Bradford college presents with an 82.1% completion rate for learners identified with LDD. A difference of 19.1% from average. 

Summary / What we want to see

While we welcome the Government’s commitment to providing more young people with greater opportunities, but to date we have not seen enough of a commitment to ensure that people with a learning disability will benefit from these reforms. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill fails to mention some schemes that help people with a learning disability, especially Supported Internsh ips, and we hope that this will be rectified during the Bill’s passage.

Including Supported Internships in this legislation is crucial in ensuring that the various offers and pathways into employment work in harmony. P eople with a learning disability must be allowed to pursue the right pathway for them rather than this being skewed by employers preferring some programmes due to better incentives , Government support and/ or advertisement .

Additionally, we want to see more of a commitment to ensuring that people with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP), as well as disabled people without an EHCP, are included in the development of local skills improvement plans. Leaving this group out will only further entrench the current barriers people with a learning disability face in finding sustainable paid employment.

December 2021



Prepared 8th December 2021