26th August 2022

Children with special educational needs and employment

There are almost a million and a half children of all ages in the school system who are recorded as having special educational needs or with disabilities. Around 12.6% of all pupils are receiving some special educational need (SEN) support and a further 4% have an education, health and care (EHC) plan or a Statement of SEN (Office of National Statistics), which means they have been assessed as being entitled to additional support.

The school system provides additional help because not all children and young people learn at the same rate and some need additional support. For example, this could be extra help with reading, writing or maths. It could be additional support with their behaviour or their ability to socialise. Others might need help with their ability to understand things, their concentration levels, or their physical ability.

Unfortunately, not all children are identified as having a SEND need and not all children get access to the additional help they need, in school or from their local NHS or local council. There is much more than can be done to improve the experience of children with special educational needs in the school system. I have previously written about the need for greater consistency in EHC plans and about my ambition for an education system that can provide the additional support that is needed easily, quickly, to every child, every time. This matters for children’s long term prospects. This point is underlined by something one child told me in The Big Ask, the largest-ever survey of children that I conducted last year.

“Children [with] learning difficulties like me need more help [in] lessons…. Children/kids/teenagers should not be afraid of going to school just to be bullied. They should want to go to school to get [their] education and in the future get good jobs…” – Girl, aged 13.

But what can these children expect when they enter the world of work? I was surprised by how many children mentioned this as a concern, even some who were still in primary school.

“More help [is] needed for people that have learning difficulties and [disabilities] and they should have an [equal] chance of getting a good job” – Boy, aged 10.

“Not having a good education or having learning difficulties or disabilities that stop them from getting a good job or achieving things they want to achieve” – Girl, aged 9.

“Not enough well paid jobs for people with learning difficulties” – Boy, aged 12.

Unfortunately, statistics show that young people with SEN are significantly less likely to be in work and, on average, have much lower earnings 15 years after Key Stage 4 (Department for Education).

One thing that has been shown to help the employment outcomes for young people with learning disabilities is supported internships. These are structured, work-based study programmes for 16 to 24-year-olds who have an EHC plan.

I would like to see increased funding for supported internships for all young people with special educational needs. To ensure young people of all socioeconomic backgrounds can participate, they should be paid opportunities with clearer pathways into paid employment at the end of the internship.

I would also like to draw more attention nationally to the importance of supporting children and young people with special educational needs into good jobs. I believe promoting supported internships more widely among young people with SEND, particularly those with a learning disability, is vital to this, as is better careers guidance and access to apprenticeships for all children, no matter where they live, or what additional needs they might have.