New research shows how to improve support for young people with special educational needs and disabilities

On Monday 7 November, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published some important research into children and young people with special educational needs.

The ONS, with the support of the National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN), wanted to find out more about the experiences of young people with SEND in schools and other educational settings.

We have been guiding this research as part of the steering group, including feeding into the research design. Given the aims of the project, this meant that listening to the voices of young people and those around them was at the heart of the research. These findings will hopefully help decision makers as they develop new SEND policies and rules.

The research involved:

  • 62 in-depth interviews with 11- to 16-year-olds with SEND.
  • Interviews with 64 parents/carers.
  • A focus group with 24 members of staff across England.

What were the findings?

Some of the key findings from the research were:

  • Young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) described the successful strategies they use to manage their learning and emotional wellbeing. These included wearing headphones or sunglasses, fidgeting, doodling and accessing sensory spaces.
  • Young people reported that their unmet educational support needs resulted in a range of negative emotional reactions, including feeling angry or frustrated. The young participants wanted to feel that their needs were understood.
  • Participants felt that schools could be more responsive to young people’s needs through:
    • Providing more training to help staff identify needs and understand how best to meet them.
    • Good communication and relationships between staff and pupils and their families.
  • Young participants felt schools should recognise a range of achievements beyond academic grades.
  • They also felt that raising awareness and understanding of needs and differences would create a more inclusive environment for children with SEND.

What is the report calling for?

There aren’t many surprises in the research. We know that for many years children with complex disabilities and their families have not felt supported by the SEND system or government.

However, the report puts forward a number of key ideas for institutions to consider how they can better support SEND students:

  • Have open discussions about SEND at school to raise awareness and promote an inclusive culture.
  • Understand and find ways to accommodate young people’s needs and preferences.
  • Improve consistency of support across the different local authorities.
  • Improve communication between everyone involved in the support process.
  • Have more regular, specialist staff training on working with young people with SEND.
  • Ensure staff salaries reflect their specialist roles and knowledge.

How this research will guide our SEND policy work

With the SEND Review green paper consultation finished, research like this is crucial as it brings to life the views and options of young people with SEND. It is shows why government must act quickly in response to the consultation.

If you are interested in finding out more on the SEND Review, we have also written a blog with our thoughts here. We are expecting further information from the Department for Education on the SEND Review green paper before Christmas and we will be working with them to ensure the concerns we have are addressed.

Read the full ONS report, or read a young people-friendly version of the report.