According to The Labour Force Survey for the six months ending June 2020, employment rates in people with SEND were:

  • Depression, bad nerves or anxiety: 54.3%
  • Mental illness or other nervous disorder: 33%
  • Severe or specific learning difficulties: 26.5%
  • Autism: 21.7%

People with a learning disability have the lowest employment rate amongst disabled people. Just 5.1% of people with a learning disability have a paid job, yet around 80% can work.

For a lot of people with special educational needs such as autism, dyslexia and dyscalculia, some of the things they struggled with a school can become a positive attribute in a work situation. People with autism and ADHD can thrive in environments that suit their particular skills such as details and logical planning. Dyslexia has held many back at school but at work, people are able to focus more easily on what they can do well (such as caring for others or being creative), and work with their SEN, rather than constantly having to struggle to fit into educational ‘norms’.

The Government is committed to supporting people with SEND into adulthood and to help them secure jobs and thrive independently. It has introduced legislation to ensure that employers do not discriminate against anyone on the grounds of disability and has made it compulsory for employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that it is easier for people with SEND to find work. However, there is no doubt that there are still many barriers to full employment and promoting a culture of inclusion, diversity and understanding at work will help your setting become part of the solution.

So how can you support adults or employees with SEND in your setting?

Leadership and management

How you support your employees or apprentices will depend on each person’s needs but making a clear commitment to support any SEND staff you have is good start. It is important that this comes from the top and is written into your policies and procedures which might mean reviewing your policies on disability and inclusion, or making budgetary decisions and allocating money as necessary for any changes or adjustments you need to make.

Communication and transparency

It is vital that you also have good and honest lines of communication, and this means having a two-way dialogue and encouraging a culture of open communication and respect. You will obviously have to find out what the needs of your employees are, be they physical, sensory or supporting their mental health, so encourage staff to be open and honest. It also means being honest about what you can and cannot do within the law, but you should work towards a win-win solution if you can. It can be helpful to set up suggestion boxes to encourage new ideas and put SEND issues onto your weekly meeting agendas.

Think too about how you issue your staff communications – are you accommodating all staff if they have dyslexia, hearing- or sight-loss or need extra time to process information?

Changes to the environment

The Equality Act 2010 makes it law for all public sector organisations and some employers such as shops, local authorities and schools to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to remove barriers that some people with disabilities face, although it is not set out as to what these adjustments are and it depends on the size of the company, the cost of the changes and whether they are practicable to make. Employers and employee should decide but they can include things like:

  • Changing the physical environment such as steps and stairways
  • Providing ramps or wider entrances and exits
  • Changing internal doors
  • Making adjustments to lighting and ventilation
  • Installing noise reduction panels or providing noise reducing headphones

Remember that small and simple changes can make a huge difference to people with sensory needs, which can boost your productivity, efficiency and staff loyalty. Think too about your other staff who may not have SEND but who may be aging as the age of the general workforce increases, who might welcome some adjustments to make their life easier.

Advice, advocacy and mental health

Be proactive and become a source of advice and information for your staff. Promote awareness days/weeks/months within your setting and take the opportunity to improve everyone’s awareness of SEND to promote inclusion and tolerance. You may be lucky enough to have an HR department if you work in a larger company, but many early years settings are small, owner-manager organisations where this is unlikely. You can still seek advice and information and there are many organisations who help people with SEND get into work such as Remploy, so do some research and see how you can help (see below). The Government runs an Access to Work scheme to help people initially apply for and get into self-employment, training or start working which you could promote at interviews or when thinking about CPD for staff. The Government’s Disability Confident scheme is designed to help employers make the most of the opportunities provided by employing disabled people. It is voluntary and has been developed by employers and representatives of disabled people to improve their employment prospects. Remember too that offering an understanding ear can go a very long way to make people feel included.


People with SEND also want to progress in their careers when they start them, so make sure you consider opportunities for CPD and career progression in your setting for people with SEND (and all staff for that matter). Many courses can be done online and remotely nowadays, removing a lot of barriers for people with SEND. Parenta run many CPD elearning courses through their training CPD webpage on everything from tissue viability to time management.

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