Education options for young people with SEND after 16 years old

Education options for young people with SEND after age 16

Guidance about continuing learning at sixth form, college or another education setting, including what’s legally required

What options are available after 16

All young people are entitled to free full-time education until they’re 19 and they have to stay in education or training until their 18th birthday.

We have a duty to encourage, enable and help young people in suitable education and training, specifically if:

  • they have an EHC plan
  • they’re aged between 20 and 25 with SEND and need extra support

The government recognises there will always be a small number of young people who, for medical reasons need either a temporary or longer break from education or training. This includes young people who have:

  • mental health issues
  • a serious short or long term illness
  • some young people with a disability

A young person doesn’t have to learn full-time, but if they choose to learn part-time they must combine this with working or volunteering for at least 20 hours a week.

Your child’s school or college will help them to understand their options for the future and has a duty to provide independent careers guidance when they’re in year eight to 13.  Details about schools’ statutory duty to provide careers guidance is available on the GOV.UK website.

Learning options and help to choose

Full time further education (FE)

Further education is education for young people, usually between the ages of 16 and 19. It includes school sixth forms, sixth form colleges and further education colleges.

Find out where you can get education over the age of 16 in Bristol and how to apply.

Some schools have sixth forms and young people often stay at their current school after year 11 (age 16). Or they may want to apply to another school that offers different courses.

You can contact college and schools directly to ask for information about courses and the support they offer.

Special schools and colleges for people aged 16 and older

If your child has an EHC plan, they might want to go to a specialist college. The council doesn’t always agree to name a specialist college if they feel their local provision is suitable. But if an independent specialist college is named on their EHC plan the council must provide and fund it..

As part of the SEND Code of Practice, the council has to consult with the preferred provider of the young person and their parents, and with the local provider.

The Bristol post-16 directory (pdf, 4.2MB) (opens new window) includes a list of specialist colleges.

The GOV.UK website has an approved list of independent specialist providers of further education for young people with SEND.

Supporting the move to further education

Year nine review meeting for children with an EHC plan

Your child will be given help to think about their plans for the future in their annual reviews. This planning starts no later than when they’re 14 years old.

Transition support is individual for each young person and is in the appropriate section of the EHC plan.

Your child’s school will work with further education providers to help make sure the move to further education is smooth. Transition can, and often, will go well into the first six weeks of your child’s first term with their further education provider.

How your child’s school can help prepare for moving to further education

It may help your child to choose where to go and what to study through:

  • discussions with the SENCOs at each provider about your child’s needs
  • special school and mainstream school visits to find out what they offer
  • taster sessions, open days and open evenings at local sixth forms and colleges
  • reading a sixth form or college’s inspection reports by Ofsted
  • sixth form and college prospectuses, which provide information about courses
  • using the Natspec Specialist College Directory and College Finder

Course levels and qualifications

Foundation learning  


These courses are for free 16 to 18 year old students and are an individual programmes to help young people with the highest support needs.

If your child is over 19 years old and doesn’t have an EHC plan, they can pay for it as an adult course. If your child is over 19 years old and has an EHC plan it’s free, but the council needs to agree this.

They offer life skills with high care support as needed.

Most students on these course will previously have been in special schools.

Courses will often last three years and aim to maximise students’ independence.

Entry level one

A high level of support is provided on Entry level 1 courses. Most students will previously have been to special schools.

Courses often last three years and students are aiming at independent living.

Entry level two

These courses may offer life skills, but students will often begin vocational training in general or specific courses. Life skills may be offered at this level for those aiming towards independent living.

Many students at this level will be aiming towards employment and so can go on vocational courses.

Entry level three

These courses will usually be vocational. Some will include elements of supported employment. As with entry level two, they may be general or more job specific.

Level one and above

All other qualifications fit into a national framework that go from Level one, which includes GCSE at grades D to G, to postgraduate study at Levels seven and eight. They can be academic or vocational.

The Preparing for adulthood website has more information about what qualifications students need for different types of study.

SEN Support for young people over 16 years old

Colleges have similar responsibilities to schools to provide reasonable support to young people with special educational needs, including when they don’t have an EHC plan. For example:

  • access to a specialist teacher
  • independence skills
  • making technology accessible by adapting it

In addition to this, SEN support must also include:

  • employability qualifications, provided by ASDAN (Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network), which is a range of courses covering preparation for life and work
  • special exam access arrangements
  • independence and life skills
  • supporting pupils with emotional, social and mental health needs

GOV.UK has guidance about the support that must be available to young adults with SEND.

If your child has an EHC plan, it’ll stay with them until whichever of the following happens first:

  • they go into paid employment
  • they go into higher education (university or a further education college offering degrees)
  • they reach age 18 and no longer want to continue in education

Your child will continue to have annual reviews to make sure the support is appropriate, effective and they’re achieving their learning objectives.

What qualifications your child needs to get on a further education course

Achieving a qualification in Maths and English is needed in most cases, but check the things your child must have for the course they’re interested in.

If your child doesn’t have a grade C or four at GCSE or a Level two functional skills in English and Maths at the end of Year 11, there are courses available in further education colleges to help them carry on learning in these subjects. 

If your child is under 18 and has left education, but isn’t in training

Email who can help with referral to services that can support your child to work towards education, training and employment opportunities.  There is support available through targeted youth support services.

Financial help with education when your child is 16 to 19 years old

16 to 19 bursary fund

A bursary is money that your child, or your education or training provider, can use to pay for things like:

  • clothing, books and other equipment for their course
  • transport and lunch on days they study or train

Your child could get a bursary to help with educated-related costs if they’re aged 16 to 19 and are either:

  • studying at school or college (not university) in England
  • on a training course, including unpaid apprenticeships

Find out about the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund on GOV.UK.

Other financial help

Help with travel costs to and from education settings.

Find out about a range of funding for young people studying a further education course without an EHC plan.

What happens after your child is 18

In the last year of formal education, your child needs to make decisions about continuing learning or finding a job.

Young people don’t have an automatic right to stay on in education after they’re 19, but there are options and in some cases they may be able to continue learning until they’re 25.

If your child has done A-levels or equivalent qualifications at sixth form or college, they may want to move onto higher education at 18 or later.

Higher education

Higher education is provided by universities and further education colleges that provide degrees, Higher National Diplomas (HND), higher level NVQs and Foundation degrees.

Your child can look for courses and apply on the UCAS website. Their school, college or sixth form careers advisor can provide information about how to apply.

UCAS has a lot of information about applying to university, including for students with special educational needs and disabilities.

There are also other higher education options available, such as distance learning on the internet or by post.

Disability support

Most universities and colleges have disability coordinators or advisers. They can tell you and your child what support is available and help to set up a visit.

Telling the institution about your child’s disability in advance can help them arrange support in time for the start of the course.

Under the equality act, it’s unlawful for universities to discriminate against disabled students. They must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so your child isn’t disadvantaged.

Students who go to university aren’t eligible for an EHC plan, so if your child has one it’ll end when they start their course.

Your child can apply for a grant called the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) if they have a:

  • disability
  • long-term health condition
  • mental health condition
  • specific learning disability like dyslexia

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