SEN- Special Educational Needs
If your child has special needs it is really important to get high-quality advice on all possible career options. Not least because some options may be hard to achieve or require long term planning. If this support is not yet in place, you should ask your child’s school for details of the careers advice they have available.
In special schools, this is likely to be an adviser with experience of SEN. This may be less likely in English high schools where the recent cuts and changes in policy have left some services fragmented. Current government guidance to schools on careers advice plays down the need for face to face guidance with a qualified careers adviser. This is not the case for young people with SEN. They and some other vulnerable groups, such as looked after children, are expected to have access to face to face guidance with a qualified careers adviser.
In some parts of the country, services have all but disappeared and the government has told schools that they must fill the gap by buying in the services of independent providers of advice. Schools are now expected to provide careers guidance from Year 8 onwards. The school should also have a careers education and guidance (CEG) programme on the timetable and again you should ask about this and whether it contains SEN components. You should begin asking about careers advice from no later than the start of Year 9.
Education Health and Care Plans
EHC plans began as a new initiative in September 2014 and which have replaced Statements of Special Educational Needs in England and Wales.
From now on there will be no ‘Statements’ and all new SEN plans will be EHC Plans. Existing statements will be converted to the new format by 2018 and most areas are prioritising upcoming school leavers for conversion. It is very important to have your child’s plan converted before they leave school because the old statement ceased to have force when the young person left school whereas the new EHC plan will in most cases continue as a legal requirement.
EHC plans can continue until a young person is 25 and will apply if they move to a further education college, training provider or other setting where they need continued support. The EHC Plan will stop if they enter employment, leave school and do nothing or if the local authority no longer feel the support provided is necessary. If it is lapsed, it can be restarted but this means having a new assessment so this situation is best avoided.
Unlike statements, there is no compulsory ‘careers transition plan’ as part of the new document.
Schools will, however, be expected to arrange careers advice from at least Year 9 onwards. This is particularly important in those cases where the child needs specialist placement after school. This can be time-consuming to arrange and involve negotiation about scarce funding. An example of this would be moving to an independent specialist college – see below for more information on this option. In cases like this, as your teen moves nearer to leaving school, liaison on the transition requires careful planning. This would include advice on appropriate institutions and courses and related funding as well as the application process.
EHC Plans will detail the support your child needs and name a specific place that they should attend. When a place is named it must be provided. However, local authorities must agree that a certain placement is named so parents are not completely free to choose. This will be especially the case where a placement such as a residential college involves hefty fees.
EHC Plans differ from statements in that they stress the importance (where necessary) of liaison between education (schools and colleges), health (the NHS) and care (Social Services). Despite this emphasis they are still essentially educational documents and health and social care elements will only be brought in if needed to support the educational needs of the young person. The plan does not give increased rights of access to health and care services.
EHC Plans can contain ‘Personal Budgets’ similar to those funded through Social Services. This is money to purchase extra support needed beyond normal funding to support the education of your child. This could include extra care or health support such as a support worker to take your child on trips and visits. This can be funded as ‘Direct Payments’ where the money comes directly to you for even greater freedom in purchasing services. Bear in mind though that with greater freedom comes more paperwork and bureaucracy so consider your options carefully.
EHC Plans are reviewed annually and this will continue after leaving school at college or on a training programme. These reviews are an excellent opportunity to discuss future career options.
From a process point of view it is worth noting that EHC Plans also replace the former ‘Section 139a Assessments’ which were done by careers advisers to provide information to colleges and training providers.
Along with EHC Plans local authorities are now required to publish details of their “local offer” which should detail all provision available. You can find more infomation about EHC plans here.
SEN without EHC Plans
There should have been no reduction in the number of young people who have SEN plans written for them as a result of the new system being introduced. However, as with the old system, many young people with SEN will not have EHC Plans. Such young people still require face to face advice from a specially trained adviser.
So if your child falls into this category you should definitely ask your school to arrange this. Many such young people have quite high support needs which have been well provided for within school – this could change when they leave school so gather information in good time.
Social Services Support
In recent years it has become harder to get support from the local authority’s Social Services due to budget cuts. They have a threshold that someone must reach in order to qualify for help and some areas may only support those with substantial or even critical needs. However, if you feel your child needs support then ask for an assessment. Some young people may not have needed such help at a younger age but this can change as they reach 16 years or beyond.
For example, most local colleges and even some schools, only offer full-time provision that runs three days a week. This can raise care issues on the other two days. Even if a young person is fairly able and can be left on their own it will still be better to be doing something constructive with the time.
One source of support, and possibly funding, is Social Services. They may provide services themselves or fund other agencies to provide activities. These can be through Personal Budgets which can become Direct Payments where the money comes to you to buy care services.
Social Services support becomes even more important if your child will not be able to work and – after a period spent at college – will need full-time support. Also, there are many other services (such as independent living support) that you may need in the future.
These courses cover Entry Level (including Pre-Entry) and Level 1 courses. See our separate article on Foundation Learning for how these levels are structured. This section supplements that information.
Foundation learning courses may begin at 14 years but the information below is aimed at school leavers. Some colleges advertise these courses as being for 16-25 year olds.
Please note – be careful with the word ‘foundation’ as it is used with a variety of meanings within education.
Foundation Learning courses are provided in most large further education (FE) colleges. These colleges often provide courses covering the full range from Pre-Entry through Entry Level to Level 1. Schools may only provide Level 1 courses. Therefore, you may have a choice to make when your child is 16. Some high schools make special efforts to accommodate SEN students who wish to stay on by adapting higher level courses to their needs. These arrangements do not always succeed and in some cases it may be better to go to college. Get information and advice!
As with all courses, students can work their way up the levels. For example, someone who starts on Entry Level 2 could well progress to Entry Level 3 and then Level 1. The modular nature of these courses make this more realistic than you may think. Some Pre-Entry or Entry Level 1 courses may last three years. Funding for such courses can be complex but normally allows your child to be in college for three years.
It may be possible to stay at school beyond 16 and then go to college and thus extend the time in education. Getting complicated? Ask to see a Careers Adviser! The important point is that there is very likely to be a suitable course near you.
These courses may be advertised separately or as part of Entry Level 1. These are for students with the highest support needs and will offer life skills with high care support as required. Most students on these courses will previously have been in special schools. Courses will often last three years. Students are aiming to maximise their independence.
Entry Level 1
These courses offer life skills – possibly with some vocational input for some students. A high level of support is provided. Most students will previously have been to special schools. Courses often last three years. Students are aiming at independent living.
Entry Level 2
These courses may offer life skills but students will often begin vocational training in general or specific courses. Life skills may be offered at this level for those aiming towards independent living. However, many students at this level will be aiming towards employment and so can access vocational courses. Colleges often offer general courses developing work skills and aiming towards jobs available locally – not necessarily the job of your dreams.
Other courses may be in specific subjects. Courses in specific subjects may need students to be capable of higher level study to make certain jobs realistic so it is important to satisfy yourself that this is a realistic option. Entry Level 2 courses often last one year and take the students to other – possibly higher level – courses. Students may previously have been in special or high schools.
Entry Level 3
These courses will normally be vocational. Some will include elements of supported employment – often will employer placements. As with Entry Level 2, they may be general or more job specific in nature. Once again, be sure to satisfy yourself that courses on specific subjects are a realistic choice for your teenager.
Recently, many Entry Level vocational courses have been dropped by colleges where they tended not to lead to employment. There are some subject areas such as motor mechanics or computing where it would be vital to progress to higher level study and so the more general vocational courses may be a better option for some young people. Students may previously have been in special or high schools.
Important note about Entry Level courses.
The above information is very general. Some young people at Entry Level 1 could well aim towards employment. Likewise, employment may not be realistic for higher academic level students with complex needs. Many young people have a “spikey profile” – good at some things but experiencing great difficulty with others. Many colleges run courses that do not run along the strict levels mentioned above – courses may cut across these levels.
Strictly speaking, Level 1 courses are the first level of mainstream education and cover a wide range of subjects.
Courses typically run three days a week at college. Many schools offer five day courses but this may change in the future. See the section above for information on support for days not in college. If your child has a social worker they will be the best source of support. If not, there may be other options such as volunteering, part-time work or other activities in the community.
Most SEN students go to college for about three years. Therefore, if they go at 16 they will leave at 19 and if they go at (say) 19 they will leave at 22.
Disabled students on mainstream courses
Much of the above has been about students who need special discrete courses. However, your child may have a physical, sensory or communication disorder and will have been in mainstream school with support. Much of the course information you need will be in mainstream prospectuses and websites.
With EHC Plans now continuing at college, you should expect the same level of support in further education as they received at school. Visit colleges early to satisfy yourself as to their commitment and to allow for support to be in place. Most colleges are committed to supplying high levels of support and are very experienced at helping those with medical conditions, autistic spectrum conditions and those with visual and hearing impairments.
Staying at School
Most special schools offer post-16 courses. Many high schools will not offer Foundation Learning courses but some will. It may be possible to move from a high school to a special school at 16 but many would see this as a backward step. Staying at school until 19 can be a very good option as it allows for time to improve educational attainment but also to mature. Some may choose to leave school at 17 or 18.
Courses are discussed above under Foundation Learning. You should make early use of college open days. Ask about progression – what students do when they leave. Many colleges now offer supported employment courses and should also have links with local employment agencies.
Transport is often provided to local colleges on the same basis as it is to school. However, policies vary a lot between local authorities. This can include the age transport is provided to – some authorities may stop at 19; while others go on to to 25. Some will apply a means test. Others will be very reluctant to offer transport out of their geographic area. In any case, even where your son or daughter meets the local criteria it may still be hard to arrange. Some areas are really pushing independent travel and may provide travel “buddies”, or financial incentives to parents to transport themselves and some may offer transport for a limited period. Please check with your local college on initial visits to see what other students do.
Another point about college transport is that it may be hard to arrange for students in the same building but finishing at different times (college courses do finish at different times, unlike schools) so students may have to wait on others completing their daily studies.
Learning to travel independently makes entering the world of work much easier!
Independent Specialist Colleges
Most SEN students can attend a local college with support. If you feel that local provision is not sufficient then look at day or residential specialist colleges. Looking at these is one reason careers advice needs to start early for some young people – it can take a long time to gather information and secure funding. They will normally only be funded if local provision is shown to be inadequate – normally by a local college saying they are not suitable after assessment.
The Children and Families Act 2014 (which established EHC Plans) allows for such colleges to be on an approved list and be considered along with local colleges. If an independent specialist college is named on the EHC Plan it must be provided and funded. However, the local authority may not agree to name it if they feel their local provision is suitable. Despite this, it does seem that parents are being encouraged to push for the provision they feel their child needs.
Go to www.natspec.org.uk for more information and links through to individual college sites.
Some students can benefit from residential placements but others may feel the loss of home support is a problem. If you want to go for this route please discuss funding early with your Careers Adviser and SEN Case Worker.
Training / Apprenticeships
Apprenticeships are offered at mainstream Levels 2 and 3 and so will be hard to access for most SEN students except for some of those with physical, sensory or certain communication disorders.
However, all parts of the country will offer pre-apprenticeship level courses – often aimed at those on mainstream Level 1 and sometimes Entry Level 3. These courses are often geared to raising someone up to Level 2 and thus be able to enter an apprenticeship. This may not be a realistic option for many SEN young people. Having said that, some areas have excellent programmes so you should ask your careers adviser for local information.
It can be hard for any young person to get a job after school. SEN young people will find their chances improved after a vocational college course. Some colleges offer supported employment courses with work experience placements that may turn into jobs.
Jobcentres also offer support to all job-seekers. They have a good track record at helping people with physical disabilities, medical problems and mental health issues. They have been weaker at support for those with learning disabilities but this may be changing from 2015 onwards as they have new duties placed on them due to the curtailing of the Connexions Service. Jobcentres should be able to discuss supported employment and other support into jobs.
There are several national and local agencies that offer support to find and keep jobs. These include Mencap, Remploy and Pluss as well as other local agencies which may be connected to local authorities.
A new programme called Supported Internships is being developed. It is for those with EHC Plans (or the previous Statements) and will support young people into work. These placements, developed by colleges and other training providers, will be unpaid but young people will keep their benefits.
Social Services Day Services
In very simple terms, those who will not work will require activities to be provided by Social Services. It may not be that simple – each individual will need to be assessed to see if they meet the criteria for support. Most SEN young people who need such support will go to college after school so we are looking at such services being needed full-time from 22 years onwards. Your child may need support before this for days they are not in school or college.
However, if your child is unlikely to work, is aiming at independent living or has other support needs you should ask Social Services for an assessment. Personal Budgets can allow for services to be purchased. Some parents may prefer to opt for Direct Payments where you are funded to buy services directly.
Go to www.disabilityrightsuk.org/personal-budgets for more information.
Some services, especially for those with the highest needs, may be delivered in specialist, local authority Day Centres but most support programmes are now offered in the community. These will include centres – often run by charities or local organisations – offering day activities. Other services could include a worker to take your child to activities. Check for contact details on the web site of your local council or ask your careers adviser.
All areas have volunteer agencies that can help find placements. These can be in a wide range of activities. Conservation projects are often the easiest to obtain. Go to www.volunteering.org.uk for more information about opportunities in England.
If you live in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Govenrnment pages on volunteering are very informative.
Higher education provides the chance to study a subject (or subjects) to a higher level, such as an honours degree, foundation degree or Higher National Diploma (HND), after completing a level 3 course (such as A levels or an advanced diploma) in sixth form or at college.
Many students with disabilities get great enjoyment from joining clubs and societies, meeting people from different backgrounds and using top class facilities such as IT equipment, laboratories, sports centres etc. Increased independence, including for some students leaving home and learning to live by themselves, can also be a key part of the experience. However, please be aware that university staff and the funding system are geared to providing support to achieve on the course – not to provide a social life. They should therefore visit campuses before applying to see what life is like there.
Having a degree also means a lower risk of unemployment. Research from the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS) has shown that people with disabilities have greatly improved employment prospects if they continue with their education. At graduate level, disabled people achieve very similar levels of job success to non-disabled people.
So young people with SEN should not be put off applying to higher education by assuming that their impairment will be too much of a barrier.
Universities and colleges provide a wide range of services for students in addition to the teaching facilities. These include accommodation, counselling, careers advice, health centres, and disabled student services. Student services staff can help with applying for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) to pay towards additional support costs, and they will arrange for any recommendations arising from a needs assessment to be carried out.
Every year, more disabled people consider higher education as an option and universities and colleges are generally well geared up to make sure they have a positive and rewarding experience. Organisations such as EmployAbility are very effective at helping talented people with disabilities to access really good work opportunities.
There are no college fees for those under 19. There are unlikely to be fees for those 19-25 but please check with colleges. Students should keep benefits while at college. Also, there may be local bursaries often accessed through college.
Disability Living Allowance
This state benefit is changing to Personal Independence Payments covering care and mobility. It should be retained for the long term – while at college, while in employment etc.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
Lots of parents do not realise that their child may be able to claim this for those over 16 years. It is for those not able to work but does not mean that employment is out of reach forever. If someone qualifies they can start claiming while still in full-time special education so this includes school and college. ESA can affect other benefits a family may claim. These benefits may stop at 19 so for some families that may be the best time to claim. ESA claimants are in two groups – the support group for those not expected to work and the work related activity group who are expected to try for work when ready. Get advice from local advice centres.
For those who will not work, contact Social Services to see if funding support can be provided. Some places may have nominal fees which may be funded out of benefits.
Many young disabled people do not go out much. However, there are many local youth services, often in the charity sector, who can provide one to one support workers (often funded through personal budgets), evening social activities, sports and other special events. Search online for local disability youth activities. One other example is the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association Card which allows a carer into movies for free with a paying disabled person – go to www.ceacard.co.uk for more details.
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