How are young people with SEN getting on?

This report explores wellbeing, peer relationships and levels of independence among young people with SEN in the post-pandemic period.
Student raises his hand in class, participating in discussion and one child sitting using a wheelchair
  • Authors:
    Line Knudsen
    Joe Crowley
    Ekaterina Khriakova
    Jessie Reddin
  • Publishing date:
    14 December 2023

About the study

The SEND Futures Discovery Phase study is a two-wave feasibility study carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), in collaboration with the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) on behalf of the Department for Education. The study is informing plans to establish a large-scale longitudinal survey with children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in England.

In the first wave of the study (undertaken in spring/summer 2022), surveys were carried out with young people with SEN aged 12-13 and their parents or guardians. Data were collected on a range of topics including details of the young person’s needs, the support they received and any unmet needs, the young people’s experiences at school, and their wellbeing and expectations for the future.

Drawing on data from wave 1 of the Discovery Phase study, this report describes the wellbeing, peer relationships and experiences of bullying, as well as current and expected future levels of independence among young people with SEN. It investigates how these outcomes and experiences varied across different groups of young people – specifically, those with different types of primary need, those attending different educational settings (mainstream schools, special schools and Alternative Provision), and those who had and did not have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC plan). 

Key findings

  • At age 12-13, 72% of young people with SEN were happy with their life as whole, although 13% did not feel very happy. Those with autism and with social, emotional and mental health difficulties were the most likely to report low levels of happiness with their life. 
  • Most young people with SEN (72%) got on well with their peers. Those in a special school or Alternative Provision were more likely to be reported by their parent as getting on well with peers than those in mainstream schools. 
  • Nearly two thirds (63%) reported they had experienced at least one of the types of bullying behaviours asked about in the survey during the last year. 
  • Young people with autism or Social, emotional and mental health difficulties were more likely to report having experienced bullying than those with other types of primary need.
  • Almost half (44%) spent time with friends unsupervised by an adult ‘most weeks’. Just under one in four (23%) never spent any time with friends unsupervised.
  • The vast majority of young people (94%) and their parents (85%) expected that the young person would go on to have a job in the future.
  • Just over half of young people (54%) would like to go to college or university after leaving school.
  • More than half of parents (56%) said the support provided by their child’s school to prepare them for adulthood was helpful, although a substantial minority (20%) reported that it was not helpful. 


  • Wave 1 of the study comprised two strands of fieldwork, a face-to-face and a web strand. Within each strand, surveys were conducted with young people with SEN and their parent or guardian. 2,992 young people and 3,526 parents/guardians took part.
  • The face-to-face strand comprised young people with SEN from groups who are seldom heard in survey research: young people who were ‘looked after’ or otherwise vulnerable (‘in need’), young people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and young people eligible for free school meals. The web strand comprised a nationally representative sample of young people with SEN in the relevant age group. 
  • Sample was selected from the National Pupil Database (NPD). 
  • At wave 1 the young people were all in Year 8 in the 2021/22 academic year and attending English state school education. All were identified as having SEN on the NPD.
  • Several RCTs were carried out to test response maximisation initiatives. These included testing conditional versus unconditional incentives within a face-to-face fieldwork context; provision of additional interviewer training (face-to-face strand); incentives values of conditional incentives (web strand); varying survey length (web strand); use of pre-notification communications (web strand); and use of tailored messaging (both strands). 

Key findings - infographics

These infographics can also be found as a downloadable file at the end of this page.

Infographic highlight the wellbeing key findings
Infographic highlighting the findings relating to wellbeing.
Infographic highlighting the key findings relating to Independence.
Infographic highlighting the findings relating to independence.
Infographic relating to findings on bullying and relationships
Infographic highlighting the findings relating to bullying and relationships.