New analysis from the SEND Futures study: How are young people with SEN getting on?

We recently looked at how young people with SEN were getting on.
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Children and young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN) represent 17% of the school population in England, with over 1.5 million pupils. Understanding the experiences, circumstances and aspirations of these children, young people, and their families is crucial for the government and others seeking to ensure these children and young people receive the support they need to flourish. The SEND Futures Discovery Phase study aims to do just that. This new longitudinal study – carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and the National Children’s Bureau, and commissioned by the Department for Education – has heard from more than 3,800 families of young people with SEN. Both young people and their parents took part in the study. 

We recently looked at how young people with SEN were getting on – how happy were they with their life? How did they get on with their peers? To what extent were they living independent adolescent lives? And what were their expectations for the future? 

Drawing on data collected in spring and summer 2022 from young people in England age 12-13 who had SEN, we found out that*:

  •  At age 12-13, more than 7 out of 10 (72%) young people with SEN were happy with their life at an overall level. However, more than 1 in 10 (13%) did not feel very happy with their life.
  • Autistic young people and those with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs were more likely to report not being very happy with their life – 16% and 18%, respectively, compared with 13% of all young people with SEN. Those in mainstream, special schools and alternative provision (AP) were equally likely to be happy with their life.
  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of young people with SEN had been bullied in the last year. This was more common among autistic young people or those with SEMH needs. Furthermore, young people with physical and sensory needs were the group most likely to have experienced name-calling related to their SEN.
  • Just under half (44%) of young people with SEN spent time with friends unsupervised by an adult ‘most weeks’ at age 12-13. Just under one in four (23%) never spent any time with friends unsupervised.
  • Looking towards the future, 54% of young people with SEN would like to go to college or university after leaving school. Almost all – 94% - expected to have a job at some point in the future.

These findings show, first of all, that, encouragingly, most young people with SEN are happy with their life. Most have visions for their future that are not so different to those of young people who do not have SEN – for example, nearly everyone expected to have a job in the future. Nevertheless, our study also showed that a group of young people with SEN are not happy with their lives, and a large proportion had been bullied in the last year. Some young people were also more likely to report negative experiences than others – in particular, autistic young people and those with SEMH needs. 

Why is this the case? What are the key drivers of these inequalities in young people’s experiences? And what will these experiences mean for young people longer-term?

The SEND Futures Discovery Phase study is a two-wave study, with data collected when pupils were in Year 8 in 2022 and when they were in Year 9 in 2023. Permission was also obtained to link participants’ survey answers to their educational records. The study provides a unique resource for exploring some of these questions further, providing robust and detailed data on key aspects of the lives of young people with SEN, including details of their home and school lives, young people’s and parents’ views on the support received at school, and much more.

Importantly, the Discovery Phase informs the thinking on developing an ambitious longitudinal study of children and young people with SEND, comprising several waves of data collection across the primary and secondary school period and potentially beyond. This would allow for digging deeper into questions about longer-term implications and, importantly, help us to answer the ‘whys’ and, ultimately, what can be done to ensure all young people – whatever their needs – are supported and enabled to fulfil their educational potential and lead happy and fulfilling lives.

*Analysis note: Findings were weighted to be representative of all young people with SEN in this age group who attended English state education in the 2021/22 academic year. Further details are available in the Methodological report.