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Special Educational Needs: Employment Support

Volume 829: debated on Monday 24 April 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that anyone identified as having a Special Educational Need in the education system is passported through to the appropriate support when looking for employment in adult life.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I remind the House of my declared interests in the register.

My Lords, we recently set out plans in the SEND and alternative provision improvement plan to ensure that every young person with special educational needs and disabilities achieves good outcomes and is prepared for adulthood. As part of this, we are developing good practice guidance to support consistent, timely, high-quality transitions for young people with SEND, including into employment. We are also supporting the Department for Work and Pensions to pilot an adjustments passport, which will to help smooth that transition.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response; I appreciate that she is primarily answering for a department that is not her own. At the moment, if you talk to anybody in employment going through this, they will give you a list of things that do not happen: people do not know what an adjustment is or how to find out what it is, and employers do not know exactly what they are supposed to do. Can we have a guide to what will happen when somebody goes into employment and, for instance, goes for Access to Work, where they are not required to get the job first, apply and then require the employer to ensure they are prepared to sustain them, without being at full capacity for a period of time before they get the benefit of it? Unless people can get some form of passporting or labelling system that says that they are entitled to it as they go to work, they are going to be in trouble.

The Department for Education is piloting the use of the adjustment passports in a number of settings. We started with higher education, and we are now looking at supported internships and apprenticeships. We need to understand how useful they are in that setting, and then we will look at whether they will apply more widely in future.

My Lords, I declare my interest as vice-president of the National Autistic Society. Just 29% of autistic people are in paid work, and a recent IPPR report revealed that nearly one-third of unemployed 18 to 29 year-olds are autistic. The Government have a £151 million Access to Work budget intended to encourage employers to engage people with a disability. Can some of that funding be used to expand schemes such as supported employment and supported internships, which will directly benefit autistic people seeking work?

First, I thank the noble Lord for his work in this area. On Access to Work, as the noble Lord knows, this is a demand-led and discretionary grant for disabled people. My understanding is that in some cases, autism is defined as a disability and in others not, so there may be eligibility criteria. On the noble Lord’s wider point, he will be aware that Robert Buckland is leading a review of employment for people with autism, trying to understand the barriers and to raise the figure from the 29% to which the noble Lord referred.

My Lords, work experience is an important window on the world of work for all young people, but the figures we heard from the noble Lord opposite suggest that it is particularly important for young people with learning disabilities and autism in raising their expectations of and aspirations in the workplace. Are the Government confident that students with learning disabilities have the same work experience opportunities as their peers? What steps are they taking to encourage employers to make the necessary adjustments to provide placements for young people with learning disabilities and autism?

The noble Baroness makes an important point. The guidance on the support for young people with disabilities in relation to the Gatsby benchmarks, and on the support the National Careers Service offers, tries to address some of the issues she raises. However, without question, if we look at the evidence on employment rates for young people with disabilities, there is more to be done.

We have been discussing for many years the ways in which we can improve employment for youngsters on the spectrum. My grandson is on it, and I therefore spend a lot of my life trying to find some answers. As I have said before, every headmaster at every school throughout the country should have been trained in SEND and in identifying the problems of autism, as indeed should everybody in education. The SEND aspect is hugely important. I have had the pleasure of discussing this issue with my noble friend the Minister, who has her own very warm feelings on it and knows that something needs to be done. The key is educational psychologists. In my view, identifying at a very early age that somebody is autistic, establishing the possibility of sending them to a normal school, and in due course giving them the training to get a job, are key. I have discussed this with the Minister and I look forward to her response.

I know my noble friend feels very strongly about this, and I hope he welcomes the Government’s commitment to introducing a new national professional qualification for SENDCOs that will replace the existing qualification, and the commitment to increasing the number of educational psychologists in our schools, which we have already started to deliver on.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answers to date, but I would like to probe a little further. Last month, in the SEND and AP improvement plan, the Government committed to publish guidance to support

“effective transitions between all stages of education, and into employment in adult services”.

Given that the Secretary of State acknowledged that parents have lost trust in the system, is the Minister able to give parents a timeline for when they might get this important guidance?

The first guidance we will deliver will be on early language support, autism and mental health and well-being. Those practice guides will be available by the end of 2025. I do not have the date for the transitions guidance but I will be happy to write to the noble Baroness with that.

My Lords, I appreciate that this is not the Minister’s department, but she will be aware that jobcentres have work coaches who provide support, particularly to young people. In my view, those work coaches have very limited training and provide very limited time. Can she assure us—or go back to her colleague’s department and then assure us—that young people with special educational needs get quality time and that the staff giving that support and time are properly trained?

Everybody who meets with a work coach should expect to get quality time, and my understanding is that the vast majority of individuals do. Of course, this is important for young people with SEND. DWP has a huge amount of experience in dealing with long-term health conditions and disabilities. Secondly, part of the work we are doing together with the DWP is to understand and knit together where education meets employment, to make sure that we get the best outcomes for young people.

My Lords, my granddaughter, aged six, was identified with quite severe dyslexia. She went to the Eleanor Palmer School, where the headmistress said that no one in the school knew how to deal with it, so she sent two of the staff to be trained. My granddaughter did brilliantly at primary school and ended up at Edinburgh University with a good degree. So support really needs to start at primary school to ensure success in education.

I can reassure the noble and learned Baroness that it does start at primary school. The work we are doing to help teachers identify dyslexia early on—in particular, the early phonics screening test—allows us to do just that. Through our English hubs, we are helping primary schools and their teachers to support children like the noble and learned Baroness’s granddaughter.

What assurance can the Minister give that those with special educational needs will be guaranteed the same opportunity for lifelong learning as others within society?

Our aspiration is to make sure that all those who wish to access lifelong learning, including those with special educational needs, can do so. Obviously, we are in the early stages—we have not started to implement the policy in detail—but it will be a key focus for us.