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Findings and recommendations

Young people can experience difficulties in expressing their views and ideas about life in school and college – there are barriers to student voice and representation.

The views and ideas of the young people involved in the ‘What about us?’ project were very important to our research. We asked young people with learning difficulties, disabilities and/or special educational needs about life at their school or college.

At the start of the project, many of the young people we met had little confidence when we asked for their views about what was important to them. Often this was because they had not had enough experience of being asked.

At first, young people might say the things they thought they ‘ought’ to say. They told us things their parents or teachers might say or things they thought might please us.

Some of the young people we spoke to were not really sure, at first, what their views were. This might have been because they had not considered what they thought, because they were unsure how to express these ideas, or because they had never been asked.

Some adults felt that asking young people what they thought was too difficult – or that the young people would not understand. Some of the adults said that it was especially difficult for young people who did not speak or who found reading difficult to share their ideas.

We made suggestions for supporting these young people to join in – using symbols, pictures or sign language systems, for example.

It seemed that it was hard for the adults to remember to listen to the views of young people regularly or to encourage them to ‘take the lead’. In many cases, the teachers had to change their ways of teaching to make sure that they enabled students to express their opinions – and that students’ ideas were respected and valued.

We explained to the young people that their ideas and experiences were very important to us in the ‘What about us?’ project. We said we wanted to listen to their ideas and help them to do something to make their lives better at school or college. As the project went on, the young people gained in confidence and their work led to very positive change.

We suggest:

  • Young people with learning difficulties, disabilities and/or special educational needs should be actively, regularly and routinely consulted about their educational experiences and their views about life in school or college
  • Support should be provided to enable young people with learning difficulties, disabilities and/or special educational needs to express their ideas about school or college development.
  1. University of Cambridge
  2. Big Lottery Fund
  3. Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities
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