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Moving on from school – a guide for young people finishing school


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Next steps: A guide for young people finishing school who have additional support needs - Introduction

Leaving school can be an exciting time and there will be lots of options available to you about what to do with the next step of your life. Although these new opportunities can be really exciting, there are also things you may be worrying about. You will have choice and control about your future and it can often feel like there are some big decisions to make. It is normal to worry about the future and whether you will get the support you need.

The aim of this guide is to provide you with information which might be helpful as you prepare to leave school and for the transition to your next step in further education or training. This guide has been developed based on feedback we have received from lots of young people in Devon who told us about their experiences leaving school, The key questions which the guide aims to answer are:

  • What can I do to help the transition go smoothly?
  • What information should I share about myself with my new setting and when?
  • Can I be discriminated against, when I apply for a course or training, if I tell them I have additional needs?
  • What extra help can I get to support me during the move and beyond?
  • What do I do if I am not in education, employment or training?

Help! What do I do next?

If you have no idea what you want to do when you leave school, do not panic! This can be a big decision and there are lots of people around who can help you decide what to do. Here are some Top Tips if you are in this situation:

  1. Talk to a variety of trusted adults and tell them you are finding it hard to decide what to do after you leave school. You could talk to your parents/carers and you should tell someone at school, for example your Tutor, head of year or the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCo). It is also important you have spoken to an independent careers advisor (e.g. Careers South West) and you should ask school for this if necessary.
  2. Research your options. Consider making a mind-map or list of all of your options. Make sure you know all of your options and have considered multiple possibilities- this is a good idea even if you are sure what you want to do. Adults can help you consider these and answer questions.
  3. If you are considering going to college, visit the college and gain a better idea of what life would be like there. Visit the website and talk to people who work or attend there if possible.
  4. Talk to your friends about what they are doing, but make sure that you choose what is right for you. Choosing a course or setting because a friend doing is the same thing is not the best idea – choose something you are interested in and links to your strengths.
  5. When choosing your next steps, it is important that your choice links to your future aspirations. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What support has helped you, in the past, to overcome challenges during your education?
  • What are my skills and strengths? How can these skills be developed during my next stage of education and training?
  • What are my interests? How can I make sure that I choose something that will interest and motivate me?
  • What do I want to be doing at age 18? At age 25? How can my next step lead me closer to my goals and aspirations?

What helps to make a successful transition from school?

When we talked to Devon young people about the transition from school, they said the following things were most important:

  1. Talk to someone. Lots of young people in Devon have told us that talking to people they felt they could trust helped them before, during and after their move to further education or training. In particular they found talking to friends, family, tutors and other trusted teachers helped to make their transition smoother. It is also useful to talk to Careers Guidance staff and the school’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCo).
  2. Know your options. It is important to know what your options are and to have considered these in detail before making a decision. Too many young people in Devon have realised after transition that their course or training is not what they had expected and this can lead to difficulties. Make sure you know exactly what life will be like on your chosen path, including the expectations, methods of assessment and the topics/curriculum that will be covered.
  3. Plan early and share information in advance. Lack of planning and sharing information can mean that you may end up without the right support at your next setting. To avoid this happening, it is necessary to be proactive in planning your transition and this can include finding out what support you will receive in advance and sharing appropriate information about your additional support needs.
  4. Have a back-up plan. If your chosen path relies on you attaining certain grades, it is a good idea to plan for a situation where you do not achieve this requirement. This does not have to be a big deal, it may mean re-taking some exams or changing to a different course. The most important thing is that you have considered this in advance and know who to talk to if this does happen.

Remember: being honest with those around you about what you want from your future is really important.

What if I have additional support needs?

Although leaving school can be a challenging time for all young people, students with additional support needs may be particularly worried about the transition. Research in Devon and beyond has shown that many young people benefit from extra help during their transition to further education, training or employment. This could be for lots of reasons, for example due to concerns regarding mental health or emotional wellbeing. Some students may have an identified difficulty such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), a sensory/physical difficulty or a learning difficulty. To ensure you receive appropriate support, it is important to plan in advance and share information with your future setting.

Mental health and emotional wellbeing

If you experience difficulties with anxiety, mood or another mental health concern, it is good to be open and honest about this with your Further Education/Training provider in advance. Although you may not want to share full details about your personal experiences/difficulties (this is totally understandable), sharing information is a way of accessing support that can help you.

There are a number of options for getting extra help with social and emotional challenges. The first thing you should do is talk to someone you trust. This could include a trusted member of school/college staff (e.g. your tutor, the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator, or a member of staff you trust).

Mental health support can also be accessed through:

Alex’s story

Alex had a history of experiencing anxiety and panic attacks and had received support from CAMHS. He had missed some lessons because of this during years 10 and 11.

As he was preparing to apply for college, Alex was really concerned that if he mentioned his anxiety on his application then he might not be offered a place because the application would be treated differently to students who hadn’t had the same issues. Alex felt confused however as he wanted the college to know how to best support him.

Alex shared his concerns with his head of year at school and this led to joint transition planning between his school and college staff , where Alex was able to be reassured of the support that would be available at college. Alex met staff in the support centre at college before applying and this helped him to feel more confident about being honest and open about his additional support needs.

What should you do if you struggle with literacy and learning?

One of the aspects of further education and training which young people have told us they worry about, is knowing how they will manage with the required reading and writing. If you have had help with these areas in the past, or you feel you need help, it is important you raise this with someone (e.g. your tutor, mentor or the SENCo). This should be discussed and considered before the transition – try and share information about yourself as early as possible so that support can be put in place for when you start. Help which young people can receive includes:

  • Having extra time to complete exams and additional support for the areas of learning you find hard
  • Having specialist tutoring to help you develop study skills, e.g. essay-writing techniques
  • Having access to different ways of recording, e.g. using a laptop or voice dictation/recording software

Sometimes you will have to meet certain criteria to get this extra help, if you have any copies of reports or assessments from other settings, it might be useful for you to share this. Even if you don’t have any evidence, it is still important to let others know about your difficulties and any additional support needs linked to your learning.

Communication and/or sensory and physical difficulties

If you have challenges with your communication skills, or have sensory and physical difficulties, it is important to make sure that the right people (e.g. SENCo, mentor or your employer) at your new setting are aware of these before you start. This will mean that they can make sure any support you require is in place quickly. This might include:

  • Making changes to the environment where you will be learning/working.
  • Making sure that key people are aware of your additional support needs (e.g. tutors, teachers). This means a plan can be put in place that means you are treated fairly and appropriately.
  • Contacting professionals for help and advice in order to make sure that you are getting the most appropriate support

Your views about what is most helpful for you should also always play a really important role in planning your support.

There is a law that means that all organisations need to make reasonable adjustments for those identified as having a disability to ensure they are treated fairly. Your difficulties should be taken into account and it is important that you talk to someone about the type of help you may need.

Transition checklist

Use this checklist to identify how well prepared you are for transition:

  1. Have I considered the benefits/downsides of all of the options available to me before choosing what to do when I leave school?
  2. Am I preparing for an option that I feel motivated and passionate about and that fits with my plans for the future?
  3. Have I visited the setting and met key people?
  4. Have I thought about what has supported and helped me during school? What support do I need after leaving school?
  5. Would it be helpful for me to have a transition meeting? Who would I like to attend this?
  6. Have I shared information about my additional support needs with my new setting? If not, who do I need to talk to about this?
  7. Have I shared any professional reports/exam concession forms that might be helpful for the college/employer?

Later Stages:

  1. Where do I go on my first day?
  2. What do I need to take with me?
  3. Is the support I need in place?
  4. Who is my point of contact, if I have any difficulties or questions?

Contact details:

Once you have identified the course/training you would like to apply for, you will need to complete an application form. Many of the local training providers give the option of completing the form electronically. Most people make their applications for courses in the autumn term, the year before the course is due to start. However some courses/training providers are more flexible, so it is worth getting in touch to discuss making an application even if it’s close to when the course is due to start.

The following are contact details for some of the further education colleges in Devon:


This guide was written by our Education Psychology team, following consultation with Devon education providers, young people, parents and professionals.

For queries or further information, please contact