Not so long ago, I wrote a post about apprenticeships for young people with learning disabilities and how Education, Health and Care plans, which are still statutory for apprenticeships are administered and enforced.
The government also recognised the lack of young people with learning disabilities taking up apprenticeships. In May this year, Paul Maynard MP was asked to chair a taskforce, aimed at improving access to apprenticeships, so more people with learning disabilities can benefit from them. The taskforce sought a wide range of views and has made 14 recommendations.
As a result, the government has announced a commitment to getting three million more young people with SEND starting apprenticeships by 2020. This includes a commitment to cut the disability employment gap by a half.
Currently, only 6.8% of people with learning disabilities are in work which means lives lived on low incomes with little prospect of reducing reliance on income-related benefits.
The issues start earlier than at 16
We'll look at their proposals in a moment, but I first want to make a related point. While it's necessary to improve access to apprenticeships, the difficulties start much earlier, with children and teenagers with SEND not being encouraged or supported to have the highest expectations for academic and pastoral achievement at school and not being given the same opportunities as others.
Just this week, a mum I know told me of how, when in mainstream, her son wasn't allowed to even touch school musical instruments in case he broke them. Now, in a specialist environment, he has discovered a talent for clarinet, playing in the school band - something never previously offered to him.
Sadly, this is not an isolated experience and it stretches across the academic curriculum. Recently Marguerite Haye and I held ad-hoc EHCP clinic at Birmingham Children's Hospital. There, a 14 year old young man described how his school was not allowing him to take the range of options for GCSEs he wanted to as they did not believe he could achieve a top grade. Instead, they were insisting he take Travel and Tourism - the stand-by choice when schools have a failure of imagination of the potential of their students with SEND.
The young man reasoned that if he was actually interested in T & T, this would be fine, but actually, he would rather have the same choice as his non-disabled peers. He told me this himself, quite eloquently, without needing - or wanting - his mother to speak for him. He had been let down by a lack of access to Speech and Language therapy and this was having a knock-on effect on the school's expectations of him (and the presumed impact on their performance tables, I imagine).
Get the education right and quite probably you will find more young adults with LD in higher education and easily finding suitable apprenticeships or other employment.
The Taskforce Apprenticeships Recommendations:
Paul Maynard's Apprenticeship Task Force made 14 recommendations, all of which the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP, and the Minister for Skills, Nick Boles MP, have accepted.
"Officials from both departments are now working to implement the recommendations, recognising that some will be more difficult to put into practice than others, and that all recommendations should be completed alongside existing priorities to ensure a cohesive result."
Below is a list of the recommendations, with the action the government has pledged to make, interspersed in the quote boxes. I've added them without editorialising and I would recommend you book-mark this post and check in a 18 months to see how much of it has been achieved.
The Department of Business and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should formulate, implement and subsequently evaluate a joint communications strategy to promote awareness, particularly of the funding and financial support available, and the positive business benefits of taking on someone with learning difficulties or disabilities (LDD), using case studies and role models to inform employers and providers. This should include using existing channels such as the current ‘Get In Go Far’ apprenticeship communications campaign and the future mental health apprenticeship champions network.
In addition, all guidance and published information should be reviewed to ensure they are fit for purpose and reflect the needs of LDD apprentices, their employers and training providers.
"It is anticipated that recommendation 4 will be completed quickly. The taskforce also emphasised the importance of recommendation 1, so this will be prioritised alongside related recommendations 5, 10, 11 and 14." Government response.
BIS adjusts the minimum standard of English and maths required (to entry level 3) for a defined group of apprentices with learning difficulties and disabilities who are able to meet the occupational standard but will struggle to achieve English and maths qualifications at the level normally required.
The task-force recommends that further work is done to define this group and its potential volume, and quantify the impact any changes will have on people with LDD. This should be implemented in a way that ensures we have a robust system to avoid potential misuse of this adjustment.
BIS investigates potential changes to the method of assessments for English and maths for targeted groups as some people with LDD may be able to demonstrate the minimum requirements in the workplace, but be unable to complete a formal assessment.
DWP updates the Access to Work eligibility letter to ‘sell’ the support available better (eg up to £41,400) and emphasise that this support is available in situations which require more than reasonable adjustments. Furthermore, case studies of the transformative effect Access to Work can have for individuals should be included with the letter.
DWP uses the Disability Confident campaign – both in terms of pledges and events – to encourage employers to drive demand and increase supply. This could include signposting to good practice (including non-traditional recruitment practices mentioned below) and providing information on ‘navigating the system’ from a disability perspective.
"Another priority relates to English and maths (recommendations 2, 3 and 13). These will be started later in July, and worked on over the summer. As the taskforce acknowledge, it is important that the adjusted English and maths requirement is available to apprentices who can demonstrate a need for it. We will work with stakeholders to define a fair and robust way to do this." Government response.
BIS ensure Individualised Learner Records are as robust as possible in data capture by auditing providers, improving data collection particularly on severe and mild/moderate LDD to ensure that the right questions are asked, and also that there are ample responses.
BIS and DWP consider ‘what good looks like’ for relevant hidden impairment groups and age brackets, in order to set appropriate targets for increasing the number of apprentices with LDD. Given that existing analysis indicates that the overall LDD apprenticeship participation is at a similar level to the 16 to 24 year old employed population, the moderate learning difficulty group is likely to be a key group to look at, though there may be others such as those with autistic spectrum conditions.
Any targets should take account of any existing departmental or cross-governmental targets in this area (eg the existing priority on recruiting more 19 to 24 year old apprentices with LDD as prescribed in 2013 Regulations).
BIS and DWP consider joining up funding streams, for example Additional Learning Support and Access to Work, so that potential hurdles are reduced and that the application is seamless from an apprentice/employer/provider perspective.
A defined pilot should be conducted exploring how the funding model introduced with the apprenticeship levy might be flexed to incentivise employers to recruit apprentices with learning disabilities. The pilot should bring together these recommendations and test how they work as the levy is introduced, as well as evaluating the effectiveness of the funding incentives available in the levy funding model, to see if the right support can be provided efficiently to a range of apprentices with learning disabilities.
The pilot should include private, public and voluntary sector employers and look to test out how such an exemption might work within the levy. In turn, this would generate good practice case studies, which could be used to demonstrate how apprenticeships can work for people with a learning disability, showcase the support they need and then be used to inspire other young people.
"Recommendations 6, 7, 8 and 12 will be carried out during autumn 2016. The defined pilot (recommendation 9) will be developed alongside the new funding model and implemented once it is in place, from April 2017." Government response
BIS and DWP lead by example with their own apprenticeship programmes, and encourage wider Civil Service and public sector commitment to apprenticeships for those with LDD. Other ways of influencing the wider labour market that departments should consider include using public sector contracts to set expectations with regard to apprenticeships.
BIS and DWP investigate and raise awareness of the range of non-traditional recruitment practices including working interviews, job carving roles, electronic portfolios and other digital options to help LDD apprenticeship applicants. This should include investigating good practice from the Movement to Work programme and organisations such as Mencap, as well as the situation with others that have no previous experience of employing and supporting individuals with LDD.
BIS revisits recommendations from the Little report (2012) and provide a response to his update with a view to making further progress in delivering against them.
In the light of evidence that providers sometimes refuse to take on people with LDD, DWP and BIS to undertake further work to ensure that the system of reasonable adjustments and the availability of support, for example through Access to Work, are understood and consistently applied by providers, particularly in relation to those learners who could meet the normal English and maths criteria with this help.
BIS and DWP to consider the use of technology to support user-led strategies for apprentices with LDD, for example the Brain in Hand app.
No mention of EHCPs
I was a little dismayed that nowhere in the recommendations or the responses is the Education, Health and Care plan mentioned, something that many young adults seeking apprenticeships will have. As I said, EHCPs have a statutory basis for apprenticeships, though it is very difficult to see who would be held to account for provision and support not being met.
Being in employment is a completely different environment to being in education and I think employers may well be more motivated to offer on-the-job support in any case. But I do think the status, enforceability and accountability of the EHCP should have been a key issue.
So, during our visit to the Department of Education to talk about Preparing for Adulthood, I asked for clarification. Luke Beckett of the BIS Apprenticeship Strategy Team has told me that:
"These recommendations aren’t targeted specifically at people with EHC plans. I’d say they go a bit wider than that. The adjustment to the English and maths requirement will require some more work to define who exactly is applies to – we want it to be open to all apprentices who need it, but how you demonstrate that need will need to be considered. EHC plans could play a part in this, but we can’t say for sure at this stage as we want to make sure that the way you demonstrate need really opens it up to everyone who needs it.
Finally, we announced in our April guidance on the apprenticeship levy that we’d pay an incentive payment to employers of apprentices up to age 24, with an EHC plan. The amount of the incentive payment will be announced provisionally soon. This payment is aimed at helping employers to meet any additional costs that they might find when helping their apprentice to complete their apprenticeship and develop professionally. You can see the levy guidance here. "
Are you the parent of, or a young adult with learning disabilities? Do you think these apprenticeship recommendations will help access and success and what else do you think will help?
What has your experience been of an apprenticeship as a young adult with learning disabilities or parent thereof? Leave your views in the blog comments below.
She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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