SEND in England: Support for children over 16 in education or training

This page covers support in education or training for children aged 16 and over with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).

It explains the options once you turn 16, including leaving school, moving on to sixth form in mainstream and specialist schools, or mainstream or specialist further education colleges.

It also covers other options, including mixing education and other activities, such as volunteering, with links to information about work experience, apprenticeships, traineeships and supported internships. 

On this page:

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We support people with complex disabilities of all ages.

From our free play sessions for children under eight, to our adult residential care services, we’re with disabled people and their families every step of the way.

Get in touch with our team to find out how our services could support you.

When to start planning and things to bear in mind

Like other young people, you and your family will have to make some choices about what you want to do when you finish school.

Under the SEND system, you become a young person on the last Friday in June after you turn 16.

You can leave school at the end of the school year you turn 16. But legally, all young people must be in education or training until 18. 

You should be able to choose further education or training that matches your interests and abilities. You shouldn’t be pushed into something that isn’t right for you. Start planning early.

It isn’t always easy to get the information you need from people with the right expertise, so allow plenty of time to research your choices.

If you have an EHC plan, post-16 options should be discussed as early as possible in your reviews as part of your transition planning.

Post-16, you’re not entitled to full-time education and some college courses may only be part-time. But with an EHC plan, your local authority should consider whether full-time education will suit your needs better.

What education means post-16

Education post-16 can take many different forms, including a mix of study and workplace experience, or voluntary work.

It can mean you’re studying for formal qualifications or work, or it can just mean you’re taking some steps towards a skill.

Some of it may be funded by social care. Home tuition may also play a role.

It isn’t always easy to get a tailored package in place, but your LA should help with this.

Note, post-16 education does not mean you have to:

  • Be at school or college
  • Work towards qualifications or employment
  • Be in full-time education or study/train for a set number of hours
  • Have just one provider

Your options post-16

Staying at school

  • You can move into the sixth form of your mainstream or special school or move to another school. 
  • You can study for academic or vocational qualifications, such as Business and Technology Education Council qualifications (BTECs), A levels and T levels.
  • Your SEND support will carry on if you need it.

Going to a mainstream further education (FE) college

  • You can study a wide range of courses, including:
    • Academic courses: GCSEs and A levels.
    • Vocational courses, such as BTECs and T levels.
    • Stepping-stone courses in Maths and English.
    • Courses that combine study with on-the-job training or work experience.
    • Life skills courses to help you prepare for all aspects of adult life. 
  • Many courses are part-time, for example, three days a week.
  • A mainstream college should supply standard SEN support, in a similar way to schools.
  • You and your family should ask about a college’s SEN provision, to make sure it has what it should offer. A mainstream college should also provide other support it can reasonably supply.

Where to get information about mainstream further education colleges

  • You can get information about colleges from your school and the discussion should be part of your annual EHC plan review.
  • You can also check the post-16 section of your local authority’s Local Offer site.
  • The National Careers Service might also be useful.

What’s the process if my child has an Education, Health and Care plan?

  • If you’re going to college, this should be discussed as part of your annual review if you have an education, health and care plan (EHC plan).
  • Once you’ve chosen your college, your school should work with the new setting to ensure a smooth transition.
  • The deadline for the local authority to name the new college for entry in September is 31 March. 

Can mainstream further education colleges refuse a young person with SEND without an EHCP?

  • No, colleges should not refuse to admit a young person with SEND who doesn’t have an EHC plan.
  • However, young people who need more help than a mainstream further education college can normally provide will need an EHC plan.

What support is available at mainstream further education colleges?

  • Mainstream further education colleges support students with SEND in a similar way to schools. 
  • This includes following the SEND code of practice: 0–25 years.
  • There should be a named person in overall charge of SEND support. 
  • The college must make sure that students with SEND know who this is and where to go for help.
  • Support might include:
  • Accessible information, such as symbol-based materials.
  • Mentoring.
  • Assistive technology, specialist tuition or note-takers.
  • One-to-one and small group learning support.
  • Access to therapies.
  • Housing and independent living training.
  • Colleges should refer to specialist services for further advice and support, for example, from education psychologists.
  • Under the Equality Act 2010, mainstream further education colleges must also do everything they reasonably can to remove all the barriers to learning for disabled students.

Will I have a SEND support plan?

  • Yes, any extra help you receive should be set out fully in a SEND support plan. 
  • The college should involve you in planning your support and keep records of the extra support given and progress made. 
  • This should be reviewed at least three times a year with you and, where appropriate, the family. 

Going to a specialist further education college

  • A specialist further education college only provides education for young people with SEND.
  • Some specialist colleges have residential facilities and provide a waking day or 24-hour curriculum. 
  • Some specialist colleges help their students to attend courses in mainstream colleges.
  • You need an EHC plan to go to a specialist college.
  • You can ask the local authority to name the specialist college you want to go to in your EHC plan.
  • The local authority may refuse your request on the grounds of cost. You may need to show that there are no cheaper education options are available.

Read more about challenging decisions, appeals and tribunals.

Mixing education and other activities

Education for young people post-16 can include a mixture of college-based learning and other activities such as:

  • Work experience
  • Volunteering
  • Independent travel training
  • Managing money
  • Communication skills
  • Self-help skills

Some of this support may be funded by adult social care. Your local authority is responsible for social care.

Other post-16 options

Home-based tuition or therapy

If you can’t go to a college because you have complex needs or because you’ve been out of formal education for a long time, you may be able to get home-based tuition or therapy.

Your local authority may fund home-based tuition or therapy if you have an EHC plan, if they agree this is the only way to meet your special educational needs.

Your local authority should give you support and advice on this, including advice about personal budgets, if appropriate.

Training and apprenticeships

You can gain experience of the workplace in a traineeship or apprenticeship. These can help you get qualifications and find work.

Find out more information about finding employment.

Your options post-18

Higher education

If you have the right qualifications, you may be able to get onto a degree-level (higher education) course at a university.

Your EHC plan ends when you go into higher education, but other support is available, such as the Disabled Students Allowance.

Universities have duties under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students, including flexible seminar times, support for study skills or access to specialist computer software.

Your school or college will be able to tell you more about applying for higher education. 

Other post-18 options

Once you’re 18, you’re classed as an adult learner and can’t usually stay on at school. But some special schools have further education provision for young people aged 19 to 25.

You can move on to a mainstream further education college or, if you have an EHC plan, a specialist further education college.

You may be able to keep your EHC plan if you move to a social care setting, such as an adult residential or day care setting.

Find out more

There’s a lot to think about so get the support you need to make decisions. 

As well as thinking about it with your parents, your school and local authority should be able to help. And speaking to other young people and their families is often really useful.

Get support from Sense

If you have any questions about Sense services, speak to our information and advice team.

Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSE)

This content was last reviewed in May 2024. We’ll review it again in 2026.