The keys to life - Improving Quality of Life for People with Learning Disabilities

The new learning disability strategy in Scotland, following on from, and building on the principles and successes of The same as you?, the original review of service for people with a learning disability, published in 2000.

Break the stereotypes


The Curriculum for Excellence and the Doran Review85 state that every child has the right to become a successful learner, confident individual, effective contributor and responsible citizen - wherever their learning is taking place. Some will face barriers to learning and will need additional support to enable them to make the most of their educational opportunities and to realise their potential. There are also strengthened and updated legal frameworks for identifying and addressing additional support needs86 87.

For some children and young people, their complex range of additional support needs may be beyond the capacity of an individual local authority to cater for. They may require access to regional or national provision.

The Doran Review considered whether the current system is achieving the best possible outcomes for Scotland's children and young people, and recommended that improvements were necessary.

Most family carers have expressed a view that most children with learning disabilities should attend mainstream schools unless attending a special school would better meet their individual learning needs.

Decisions on schools are made by children and young people's families in conjunction with the education authority, based on the individual learning needs of the child or young person. The legislation on the presumption of mainstreaming is in place and guidance has been developed by the Scottish Government88.

The placement of pupils in schools is the responsibility of education authorities in conjunction with families. In 2012, 118,034 pupils (17.6 per cent of all pupils) had additional support needs; 111,058 (94 per cent) learn in mainstream schools.

Where families have a preferred school for their child or young person they can consider making a placing request to the school of their choice. Information on choosing a school and placing requests has been developed by Enquire89, the national advice and information service for additional support for learning.

The consultation of The same as you? highlighted that some young people with learning disabilities are not provided with careers advice on employment, training and further education. There is some good practice in Scotland but this is not consistent.

Skills Development Scotland90 is the organisation charged with the delivery of careers advice in Scotland. Skills Development Scotland provides advice on employment, training and further education opportunities and link through schools to deliver this. Skills Development Scotland has an online resource for young people called My World of Work to help them consider their future paths. The website also sets out a range of information for those young people with additional support needs.

As part of the planning for their transition, education authorities must consider whether young people with additional support needs require extra help with their plans. If they do, planning must begin no later than one year before a known transition (like post-school transition). Education authorities must exchange information with other agencies (including social work services and skills development Scotland and health boards) to inform their plans to support the young person and there is legislation in place in relation to post-school transition91.

It is recognised that there are some concerns in relation to transition planning. The long-term plan of support for implementation of the Additional Support for Learning Act sets out the work which will be taken forward to improve transition planning. The Government's response to the Doran Review details a response to the recommendations92.

Opportunities for All93 is a an explicit commitment to offer a place in learning or training to every 16-19 year old in Scotland who is not currently in employment, education or training. It requires the post-16 learning system to re-engage young people between 16 and 19 with learning or training.

It is important that Opportunities for All ensures that people with learning disabilities are included in this commitment.

Good practice

The objective of the Borders Green Team Enterprises is to advance learning through training for work opportunities so enhancing the experience and personal development of people with learning disabilities in the Scottish Borders. The Project 'Moving it On' aims to develop collaborative working across the Scottish Borders voluntary and public sector, to increase access to training and employment opportunities and to develop sustainable income streams to grow as a social enterprise. This project is funded by the Scottish Government and funding is for a Development Worker and Outreach worker to develop their services and open up new markets to increase the numbers of trainees from 25 to 50 over the next 3 years. The project has clear and well identified outcomes which will lead to better partnership working to avoid duplication of work and resources. Awareness of disability issues will be increased to employers and communities and outreach provided in a rural region where it is estimated that around 2,000 individuals will have learning disabilities. The proposed research into barriers will provide learning and support intervention methods.


Post-16 transitions Policy and Practice Framework: Supporting all young people to participate in post-16 learning, training or work

This Framework positions 16+ Learning Choices - the Scottish Government's national post-16 transition planning model - within the context of the delivery of both Curriculum for Excellence and Opportunities for All. It clarifies the Scottish Government's expectations for delivery and the roles and responsibilities of the partners involved in supporting young people into further learning and training and in turn progress towards and into work. It offers local partnerships a framework for extending existing approaches to post-16 transitions to ensure that all 16-19 year olds have an appropriate offer of learning or training. It encourages local partnerships to use the Framework to guide their detailed strategic and operational planning and to establish more formal agreements across and between services to ensure sustainable local delivery.

Supporting transitions for young people with additional support needs

It is recognised that some groups of young people have additional support needs and/or personal circumstances which present significant barriers to learning and employment. Some young people have particularly complex additional support needs and may not, therefore, be able to take up employment. Where there are such concerns about aspects of wellbeing, partners should work together locally - with the young person and their parents or carers - within the GIRFEC framework to ensure the young person accesses the support they need to enable them to engage in appropriate progressive activity. Inevitably, some young people might take longer to progress and local partners may wish to extend their offer of learning or training accordingly

Building on early identification and tracking of 'at risk' children and young people - an on-going priority for local More Choices More Chances Partnerships - partners should be aware of the circumstances and needs of these young people; be alert to specific issues likely to impact on their post-16 transition; and put in place the provision required to enable them to participate and progress. For these young people, needs-led targeted assessment and planning must start early, often at the transition from primary to secondary school; and should bring in wider services as appropriate, in keeping with the GIRFEC principles and approach. Where concerns about aspects of wellbeing have been identified at any stage in the learner journey, and a Child's Plan developed to address needs and improve outcomes, transition planning should build on this assessment and plan using the GIRFEC National Practice Model.

Post-16 transitions Data Practice Framework: Supporting all young people to participate in post-16 learning, training and work

The Framework sets out the roles and responsibilities of partners to effectively share data to support young people as they move through post-16 learning and training into jobs. It sets out the framework for data sharing that will allow Scottish Government and its partners to create a system of working that appropriately supports each and every post-16 learning and training transition a young person makes from age 16 up until their 20th birthday. This system of working is central to delivery of 'Opportunities for All' and will significantly reduce the risk of a young person disengaging with learning and/or training. This Framework supports the Post-16 transitions Policy and Practice Framework.

Recommendation 39

That by 2014 local authorities, further and higher education providers, Skills Development Scotland and the Transitions Forum work in partnership within the GIRFEC assessment and planning framework to provide earlier, smoother and clearer transition pathways (to include accessible information on their options, right to benefits and Self Directed support) for all children with learning disabilities to enable them to plan and prepare for the transition from school to leavers destination.

Further or Higher Education

Evidence from the evaluation and consultation of The same as you? has highlighted that many young people and adults with learning disabilities want to undertake courses that lead to personal development rather than repeating life skill courses, but they are unable to access such opportunities. Where the potential for development exists, young people and adults should be given the opportunity to compete for places at our colleges and universities. Seven of the 13 people interviewed in the evaluation were still attending college well over the age of 30.

It is clear that learning opportunities continue to be of importance to people with learning disabilities throughout their lives. People with learning disabilities may take longer to learn than others and may have restricted life opportunities through which to learn and practice skills. Such learning opportunities as colleges or universities provide may therefore be a chance for adults with learning disabilities of all age groups to learn skills or interests that they might not otherwise be able to develop or maintain. Continuing attendance at college or university has therefore become part of the weekly life experience of many adults with learning disabilities, giving them social opportunities to get out the house and make friends, and their experiences indicate that there is a need to develop appropriately supported continuing educational experiences that offer the opportunity to develop and maintain interests and skills. College and university courses should be seen in the context of an inclusive environment where students with learning disabilities are an integral part of student life and not segregated to special classes.

It is important that, as with any young person leaving school, the young adult with learning disabilities gets the opportunity to use further and higher education to learn skills that relate to social skill development, daily living skills and continuing education and begin what could be a long journey for preparation to work. We must not underestimate the role further and higher education plays in assisting the transition from school and its role in personal development at all stages. Lifelong learning needs to be seen in the context of small steps at an appropriate pace.

However, in order to be accepted into college or university, students must have the potential to develop and must demonstrate progress if they are to continue on a programme of learning.

Some people with learning disabilities found it hard to relate what they were learning at college with skills appropriate to the workplace and questioned whether these courses prepare people for the workplace. There is also a need to develop more meaningful opportunities for learners with higher support needs, who must not be overlooked through the prioritisation of employability outcomes. For example, Scotland's Colleges has established a project to improve educational provision in further education colleges for young people with profound and complex needs and this type of work needs to be built upon.

Good practice

Scotland's Colleges Profound and Complex Needs project was set up to support and enhance post-school educational choices for learners with profound and complex needs.

The project concentrated on four task areas: Curriculum for Excellence, quality assurance, transitions and support. The national events focused on aspects of each of these themes and how it impacts on this learner group. Localised training, working groups and resource days were organised to fit demand.

A statement paper94 has been produced as part of Scotland's Colleges continued work to support the development of sector provision for learners with Profound and Complex Needs. This group of learners requires a specialist response within a college setting. The paper provides clarity to that response including a definition of the learner group and the current context of this work within 'Opportunities for All.'

Recommendation 40

That by the end of 2014 SCLD in partnership with Colleges Scotland, Skills Development Scotland and ADSW consider how people with learning disabilities access educational activities and training at college and other learning environments.


The Scottish Government is committed to helping people with learning disabilities who want to work, and it is our ambition that with the right support, they are able to find work in mainstream employment, suitable to their skills.

A minority of people with learning disabilities currently have a paid job. Where people are employed, they are often working for less than 16 hours per week. 2010 eSAY data records that the majority of people (75%) for whom employment status was known were not in employment or training for employment. 3,839 (25%) in total were in employment or training for employment; only a fifth of people in employment or training for employment were working more than 16 hours per week.

In 2010, Scottish Government published a Supported Employment Framework, 'A Working Life for All Disabled People'95. Supported employment is where disabled people learn on the job, with support from colleagues and a job coach. It provides a consistent, person-centred approach and can be in the public, private or third sector environment.

In 2012, Scottish Government published 'Working for Growth, A Refresh of the Employability Framework for Scotland' where we reinforced our commitment to supported employment and built it into mainstream employment policy. We committed to working more closely with local employability partnerships so that supported employment can become a more integrated element of local services available to those seeking work. Beyer96 found that supported employment represented a significant saving to the local authority. The cost of a supported employment place was in the region of £4,000 - £7,000 per year compared to £15,000 for locality support services such as day centres.

The Scottish Government is also working with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)97 to increase the take up of Access to Work which is a grant administered by DWP that can pay for practical support to help disabled people do their job, such as a communicator at a job interview, a support worker or any adaptations to the workplace.

Good practice

Project Search is a one-year training course run for people with learning disabilities who are working towards finding a job. This programme, administered by SCLD, gives students the opportunity to experience what it's like being at work, teaches them new skills and helps them understand the demands of the working world. Students work five-days-a-week at the employer's premises, combining practical learning with classroom sessions.

Monklands Hospital, Airdrie is the latest location for the Project Search initiative which provides training and education for students with learning disabilities to help them find employment. The launch at Monklands Hospital follows on from the award winning pilot initiative at Wishaw General Hospital which saw all eight of its students go on to secure employment.

"Before I joined Project Search I lacked confidence in myself," explained one of the new students. "However, the skills and work experience I am gaining through my work placements has increased my chances of getting a job. I have also made lots of friends too which has been great".

The partnership project involves NHS Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire Council, SERCO and Motherwell College.

Review of Scotland's Supported Businesses

The Scottish Government is clear that we should focus on helping disabled people enter mainstream employment wherever possible. However, we also believe that there can be a valuable role for Supported Businesses, both as a stepping stone towards mainstream employment and for those who feel unable to progress. Some supported businesses have struggled or failed recently and the Scottish Government wishes to ensure the viability of our remaining supported businesses. Last year we commissioned an independent review of Scotland's Supported Businesses which is now complete. A final report will identify the challenges these businesses face and the kind of support needed to help them survive and grow into commercial and viable businesses.

Good practice

The bread maker98 is an exemplary emerging Social Firm in Aberdeen; a commercially focused enterprise producing high quality breads and confectionery. The purpose of their business activities is to provide meaningful employment, training, educational opportunities and social activities to adults with learning disabilities.

The Apprenticeship Scheme offers 24 adults with learning disabilities work experience within a dedicated bakery unit and welcoming coffee house. Additionally, the bread maker's continuous personal development programme ensures that everyone has the opportunity to maximise their own potential to become a fully active member of society valued for their abilities, skills and experience. An evaluative Social Return On Investment analysis assessed the impact and effectiveness of the Apprenticeship Scheme, made possible by a contract for Support Services from Aberdeen City Council, during the 2009/10 financial year. This resulted in a Social Return On Investment ratio of £4.50 of added value for every £1.00 of investment

Case study

Thomas is a man of many skills - baker, gardener, photographer, but he has never had a job. Because Thomas has learning disabilities he has spent much of his life in institutions. Now he has his own flat, an allotment, and is about to launch his own micro-business - Thomas's Cakes. He will be supported in this partly by his ELCAP99 support staff but mainly by miEnterprise Lothian, a Community Interest Company set up, with support from ELCAP, in August 2012, based on a model developed in Hereford.

In December 2012 miEnterprise Lothian did some test trading in the form of a Christmas Fair. Thomas made a selection of Christmas cakes, which sold out, as did his hyacinth and cyclamen planters. He is almost ready to exploit his skills commercially because miEnterprise Lothian has helped him develop a business plan, identify a route to market for his products and helped him to work out how to price his wares. It has also organised insurance, banking and tax arrangements, and will provide ongoing support with budgeting, book-keeping and accounts.

Thomas belongs to the miEnterprise Lothian Business Club. Other members of the club are preparing to follow him down the pathway to trading. Nicola has just negotiated the use of space at a local community centre to prepare and package soaps and other toiletries for sale. These also sold well at the Christmas Fair. Nicola plans to trade as Soap Queen and has a business plan nearly ready.

Recommendation 41

That by 2018 the Learning Disability Implementation Group works with local authorities, NHS Boards and Third Sector organisations to develop a range of supported employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities and that those organisations should lead by example by employing more people with learning disabilities.


Not all people with learning disabilities will be in a position to work but will take part in volunteering. 31% of those interviewed for The same as you? evaluation undertook voluntary work of some kind. This reflects the national data which shows that 30% of the general population volunteer. The evaluation research suggests that people with learning disabilities approach volunteering as they would, formal, paid employment and offer a significant amount of time to voluntary organisations. Volunteering offers the opportunity to develop skills for the workplace; however, it may also be acting as a substitute for paid work where people with learning disabilities are either not accessing a paid job or the number of paid hours people can work are constrained by the welfare benefit system.

People with learning disabilities said that they volunteered as administrative workers in charity shops, sales assistants in charity shops, catering assistants, gardeners, cleaners and animal care assistants. Local area co-ordinators provide a role in supporting people with learning disabilities to volunteer within their community.

Good practice

Inspire Me, a joint project between Mencap and ENABLE Scotland, is delivering community workshops that are developing skills for volunteering in young people with learning disabilities across Scotland.

Recommendation 42

That local authorities and SCLD work in partnership with Volunteer Scotland and other relevant organisations to increase the opportunity for people with learning disabilities to volunteer within their community to develop work skills.


Email: Julie Crawford

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