Actively involving students with learning disabilities provides an effective check on policy implementation and quality

what about us

Given the emphasis in education on inclusion in mainstream schools and colleges for young people with additional needs, this project set out to enable young people with learning difficulties in three localities to bring about changes in their schools and colleges.

The young people themselves chose the areas they wanted to focus on, which were: representation through student councils, accessibility, feeling safe, influencing their learning and support through transitions.

The two-year programme aimed to promote emotional well-being for young people with learning disabilities in inclusive schools and colleges using participative action research.

The researchers reviewed the impact of inclusion on emotional well-being and personal and social development of young people with learning disabilities and then went on to develop strategies for overcoming barriers to inclusion in ways suggested by young people themselves. The projects that were run as a result of these ideas looked issues relating to the curriculum, social and extra-curricular activities, pastoral care and planning for transitions.

When considering young people with learning difficulties, disabilities and/or special educational needs, the researchers found that :

  • involving them in the processes of action research and institutional development enhanced their social and emotional wellbeing
  • the whole day was important to them, with ‘extra curricular’ activities proving particularly stressful
  • they needed  designated ‘safe places’, activities or sources of support to use during stressful parts of the school or college day.
  • they wanted to be more effectively involved in planning school-to-college transitions and exit pathways from college.
  • they welcomed support from peers and found schemes promoting support between students valuable.

They also found:

  • barriers existed to hearing the student voice and offering opportuniites for representation.
  • school and student councils and other consultation processes frequently did not include young people with learning difficulties, disabilities and/or special educational needs
  • information was not always presented in accessible ways
  • flexibility in determining curriculum content flexibility and in determining appropriate approaches to teaching and learning were seen as important by staff and young people alike
  • leaders and managers were found to have a crucial role in promoting, maintaining and developing an inclusive culture

The authors conclude that students with learning difficulties have clear views on issues relating to their education and have the potential to generate real improvements in their schools and colleges.  They suggest that students can provide an effective check on policy implementation and quality

What About Us? Promoting emotional well-being and inclusion by working with young people with learning difficulties in schools and colleges, Byers R et al, University of Cambridge/Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (full report pdf)

What About Us website

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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