Learning Disability Week 2022  

20-26 June is Learning Disability Week, promoted by Mencap, a charity for people with learning disabilities. The Mencap website poses a series of questions. Two key questions are, ‘How has the pandemic changed your life?’ and ‘What are your hopes for getting back to normal?’ 

This reinforces the importance of hearing the voices of all young people, including those with a learning disability. Self-advocacy has been included in the curriculum for many disabled young people over the last thirty years or more. Ofsted recognised what young people were saying in their September 2010 publication, summarising ‘The special educational needs and disability review’. Young people in this review said that they hoped for the same things as most other young people. These are successful relationships and friendships; independence, including choice about who they lived with; choice about what to do with their spare time; and the opportunity to work. Parents contributing to the same review felt that the current system was not helping their children sufficiently to achieve these goals. They were particularly concerned about gaining fair access to high-quality services to meet needs. Twelve years later these concerns remain.   

We know that the pandemic has impacted significantly on many lives, and Ofsted’s 2021 survey of its effects notes the disproportionate effect on children and young people with special educational needs, many of whom may also be disadvantaged. We cannot say at the present time what the longer-term effects might be, nor can we know the impact of the current economic and political situation. It is, however, entirely appropriate for young people to express their hopes for the future.   

Preparing for Adulthood is a DfE-funded programme which seeks to support disabled young people make the transition into adult life. They describe four outcomes: employment, independent living, good health, and friends, relationships and community. It is worth considering the impact of the pandemic under these headings. 

Friends, relationships and community

Friends, relationships and community have been greatly affected by the pandemic. The Mencap page for Learning Disability Week 2022 asks some key questions about what young people might be thinking about their lives, including about friends, relationships and community, such as, ‘Tell us about your community, family and friends that are important to you,’ and ‘What do you want to tell the world?’ Many young people report that the pandemic has had a massive effect on this aspect of their lives as they experienced serious isolation during lockdowns. The economic poverty that many families are facing added further to the isolation, with a lack of access to suitable IT hardware and applications and to WiFi. Even when the necessary equipment was in place, many schools and colleges report that young people with learning disabilities struggled to maintain attention to online learning, thus further isolating them from social communication with their peers. 


Good health is another area where the pandemic had a disproportionately negative impact on disabled young people, in terms of both physical health and emotional well-being. Learning Disability Today (5 August 2021) refers to the NCB report on this. This, coupled with the general crisis in the health service and the worsening economic situation for many families of disabled children, makes it difficult to see how things might improve in the near future. During the pandemic, Ofsted (June 2021) reported that many young people did not receive the services they needed such as speech and language therapy and physiotherapy. Additionally paid carers were not allowed to visit in the first lockdown, placing an even greater strain on families. There is little evidence to suggest that things have improved markedly since the lifting of restrictions. The Mencap questions relevant to this aspect, especially to mental health, are, ‘Tell us how you feel about your life’, ‘What do you want to change?’, ‘What are you proud of?’ and ‘What are you worried about?’ These are highly valid questions which can be, and often are, asked of disabled young people in schools, colleges and by agencies as part of reviews and transition planning. 


In relation to employment, in the ten years or so prior to the pandemic, much progress had been made in helping learning disabled young people prepare for, and enter, the world of work. Many employers, for example in the hospitality, health and retail sectors, had found that with the right training, induction and support, many young people with learning disabilities made excellent employees with a strong work ethic and great resilience. Special schools and colleges typically gave great emphasis to work-related learning and offered good and meaningful work experiences, both within the school or college and more widely in the wider community. The lockdowns resulted in a lack of mixing in schools due to ‘bubbles’ and a stop to off-site work experience for at least the two years of 2020 and 2021. Even now when restrictions are lifted, many workplaces are experiencing staff shortages, due both to ongoing outbreaks of Covid-19, as well as to the changes in people’s life priorities and working patterns. Supported internships have provided an ideal transition to employment for many disabled young people. Preparing for Adulthood note that these were seriously curtailed so that young people lost their places, and some were subsequently unable to re-engage with their placement. Young disabled employees were also disproportionately furloughed, in part due to the sectors they worked in, and many have not, as yet, returned to work. Clinical vulnerability is another factor which has resulted in some young people and their families being less eager to return to pre-pandemic activities.   

Looking ahead

To prevent the negative impact of any future pandemics, it is important to plan ahead to meet the needs of those who are vulnerable. The government should work with parents, carers, education, voluntary organisations and communities to develop approaches. There should be recognition of the long-term effects of the pandemic and provision of support. Central to this is to ask young disabled people what they think, feel and want. 


Pupils with SEND deserve to make the best possible progress, not only academically, but in their personal development and self-belief, in order to realise their aspirations.

If you think your education setting might benefit from an external review of its SEND provision, we are here to support. Request your free consultation today.





Learning Disability Week 2022, Mencap, www.mencap.org.uk 

Nicolle, Lauren, 5 August 2021, NCB report reveals impact of Covid-19 on children and young people with SEND www.learningdisabilitytoday  

Preparing for Adulthood www.preparingforadulthood.org.uk  

Ofsted, 14 September 2010, Report summary The special educational needs and disability review www.ofsted.gov.uk  

Ofsted, 16 June 2021, Old issues, new issues, next steps www.ofsted.gov.uk   


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