SEN protection to age 25 – unless you go to university

I've been pondering on the SEN section of the Children & Families Bill for a while and I am perplexed by what seems to be an anomaly for some 18-25 year olds.

One of the aims of the extension up to 25 is so that young people can avoid a 'cliff edge' and they are supported through further education and training. If a young person with SEN is what is termed 'NEET' or 'Not in Employment, Education or Training', it is intended that they will be encouraged back into the system with a reinstated Education, Health and Care Plan.

Apprenticeships will be covered by the EHCP, as will further education. But not Higher Education at universities. I realise that most universities have pastoral care services, with lots of advice available, and a browse through several university websites reveals an impressive array of help to ensure equality of access and even counselling services.

sad studentBut what bothers me is that without an EHCP, it isn't statutory. So, depending on which university you choose, you may or may not get the support at a level that would meet the same criteria or above as might be set out in an EHCP and the legal backing to make sure that this happens.

And if there is no mandated regular review, it will be much easier for a student to fall through the cracks. For example, a young person with Asperger's, desperate to fit in, initially gets help and is thought to be doing well and there is little concern for his well-being. But in fact, they begin to struggle socially and then academically and then mentally. They may be away from home, or uncommunicative or not wanting to admit they aren't coping. The student's difficulties are not flagged up until things have deteriorated significantly because the university is not under any statutory duty to monitor regularly or ensure his needs are being met.

Of course, at a university with first-rate pastoral care, this may well be picked up. But if it isn't, then what? All the work, support and progress that has been done with the young person while they were under 18 will be jeopordised.

Naturally, there are difficulties in bringing universities into the fold. They  have their own ways of doing things. There is the Disabled Student's Grant and lots of advice for faculty staff such as this provided by the Physical Sciences Centre. A student may also be out of his home authority, which brings its own difficulties (not to mention vulnerabilities).

But this SEN reform process is about 'blue-sky' thinking. The busy beavers at the DfE have already managed to bring in a duty on health to provide when they initially said it wasn't possible. They managed to include Independent Special Schools when it was thought it would be a difficult hill to climb and they deserve much praise for this.

I have seen that there are many bright young as well as more experienced brains in the DfE with tons of energy working on this reform - I bet if they were set the challenge of bringing in universities, they could do it.

Otherwise it just seems to me that if you're a practical sort and opt to take on an apprenticeship, your SEN will have the legal protection and support of an EHCP. But if you're a geeky, academic type who wants to go to uni, well, er, good luck with those special needs. Just make sure that the university you choose not only has the course you want but the pastoral support as well, because you'll have no legal redress through a tribunal.

An article in the Guardian in 2010 highlighted the difficulties faced by students with disabilities. I believe that having universities covered by EHCPs could boost the number of disabled students finishing their studies and thus being better equipped to lead a productive and rewarding life and less likely to be unemployed.

Maybe my fears are unfounded - my boys are below university age but are in the GCSE stage, so it isn't a million miles away. I would really like to hear about your experiences on this and whether you think universities should be included in the EHCP remit.

*Addition: This article in the Guardian underlines my point: If the EHCP covered universities, it may well be a different story for the students in this story

Tania Tirraoro
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Patricia Bond

I am a special needs and Dyslexia Specialist Teacher and work freelance with about half a dozen people; they range from autistic KS2 to a university student. The university student has several thousand poundsworth of equipment loaned, I think, by the university, she also has a named dyslexia support person in the university and she gets me once a week paid for by Student Finance England as part of her DSA. I hope she and many others will continue to be entitled to this and similar arrangements to give them the ‘level playing field’ they deserve.

Sophie White

I think it is much more sensible that the Universities remain responsible for supporting young people with disabilities / special needs. the majority are well equipped to do this and there are many success stories. Everyone who goes to University has their own level of criteria that they look for and it’s never just about the course as the University has to be right for the individual. There is some legality surrounding it due to legislation such as the equality act. I think it would be a nightmare if an EHCP was maintained throughout a students time at University. As… Read more »

Tania Tirraoro

Thanks Sophie, really interesting input, I appreciate your taking the time to add your thoughts.
I think it’s something that does need to be explained/explored properly. It’s the statutory element that is key here – so that a young person has a right of redress in the same way that a young person on an apprenticeship would.
The newspaper article linked from the post is quite eye opening – I wondered if I was missing something as I don’t know a lot about universities yet, but it’s an anomaly that needs to be looked at.


I am a specialist advisory teacher/tutor who works for our local county council specialist support service within FE/HE. We work in partnership with our local universities. They bring us in to provide specialist support as recommended through DSA process – so the key would be to take all the fantastic strategies and evidence from school/college into that needs assessment to ensure that recommendations are written up there – it’s a document that universities need to follow and, under Equality Act 2010, some universities have been found liable for not following the strategies/recommendments within that document. We have supported students with… Read more »

Tania Tirraoro

Thanks Lisa, some great ideas in here, thanks very much for your input.
It’s the word ‘hopefully’ that worries me. I am no expert in universities, which is why your comments are really welcome.
As a parent, I would be worried if my ASD son was away from home without knowing that there was a system he and I could rely on to make sure his needs were taken care of and that the level playing field didn’t have any pot holes!

katie clarke

my daughter has severe complex needs and has been right through mainstream education. we did have to move 100 miles to make that happen and Tyne Tees made a documentary called For the Love of Nadia about our fight to get her into the same school as her brothers and sisters. We have all worked tirelessly to make inclusion happen and it was tough at times, with lots of highs and some lows. She is now, fingers crossed, going to Blackburn University and we are in the middle of applying for Disabled Students Allowance plus student finance. Blackburn had an… Read more »

Tania Tirraoro

Thanks Katie. I think we met briefly at one of the Labour SEN policy review meetings at Westminster?
Would love you to tell your story on Special Needs Jungle!


You raise some very pertinent points, and I think this raises important questions about the longer term, too, and the law concerning disabilities. My husband has dyslexia and dyspraxia. He was lucky enough to have the dyslexia recognised while at school (this was 30 years ago). He was able to get a degree from a redbrick university, which I look on with awe, frankly, because he was not given any help while there. Last year, when he came to take up a new job, and despite his having clearly stated at interview that he has this disability, his new boss… Read more »


I am a disabled young adult with Childhood Autism and mental health conditions too. The thing with legal redress, there has to be a document or something from where it starts of at. In higher education, inlcuding universities, colleges, OU etc there is DSA but that only really covers the “educational” side of things. It does not necessarily, like in my case, cover the social side of things. For this you need to go to local authority who quite frankly don’t get higher education, let alone how to meet this diverse groups’ needs. DSA and LA support needs to be… Read more »