Like many working in the social care sector, I welcomed the recent government announcement of 16 new free special schools, including one here in the North West in Bury, and trusts appointed at further seven schools, supporting thousands of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

At AFG, our focus lies in supporting adults over 18 years old to achieve independent living. However, the announcement raised discussions with my colleagues and those I work with outside of AFG about whether investment in SEND schools results in a reduction of time and resources needed to support those with a disability in later life. While there’s a lack of robust research undertaken on this topic, in my opinion, there is no doubt that supporting young people that need specialist care is an enabler in the long term.

Although it is hard to compare current statistics with previous years as understanding and definitions have changed over time, the Office of National Statistics shows over 1.6 million pupils in England with identified SEN (special educational needs) in 2023, an increase of 87,000 from 2022 and accounting for 17% of all pupils. The percentage of all pupils with an EHC  (Education Health and Care) plan who are in mainstream schools has increased from 51.4% to 52.7% in 2023[1].  Additional research from Mencap tells us that there are 1.5 million people with a learning disability today in the UK compared to 1.1 million in 2022 and the Department for Work and Pensions’ Family Resource Survey indicates that 16 million people in the UK have a disability, representing 24% of the total population. 

While not all individuals with a disability will need personalised care, it’s clear from our experience supporting over 1,000 adults at AFG that equipping those who need support with independent living skills from an early age, not only maximises their quality of life, but improves their confidence as well of course, reducing the cost of care in the longer term.

Early years invention is key to providing independent living skills. Learning effective communication skills, personal hygiene and safety, how to use technology, understanding roles, responsibilities and relationships in society allows those we support to live as full a life as possible.  Many special schools begin these lessons, which organisations like AFG then continue into adulthood complementing them with simple cooking skills, providing support to manage their finances, find employment and make healthy life choices. 

Early assistance through specialist schools also takes the pressure off families and providing support networks. By easing the burden on unpaid family carers and offering a supportive environment for children with specialised needs, these schools contribute to a stable home environments and smoother transitions into adulthood.

We have come a long way in terms of raising awareness and inclusion of those with disabilities, including many businesses now developing their culture with training and integrating accessibility as a norm across the workplace.  However,  we still need to recognise that to have a society where all have equal opportunity to thrive, we need to provide support and continue that support throughout the different life stages for those that need it.

Investment in early invention is key to developing a mindset and attitude of self-reliance rather than societal dependence resulting in more individual motivation and purpose, enhancing self-esteem, and boosting self-confidence, which of course is the end goal for all of those we support at AFG.