Opening up Further Education opportunities to disabled people

11 December 2017

There seems to be a certain misconception that Further Education, and apprenticeships especially, are only the purview of young males who are looking to build careers in traditional manufacturing roles. This may have been true 50 years ago, but it is certainly now no longer the case.

According to recent government statistics, in 2015/16 53% of all apprenticeship starts were made by women, and there have been more women starting apprenticeships than men every year since 2010.

Similarly, in 2015/16, the over 25s made up 44% of all apprenticeship starts, up from none at all in 2004/5 when apprenticeships were not even an available option to those aged 24 or above. 

The dramatic opening up of further education across age and gender lines is the result of considerable sector effort and is crucial to the attainment of the Government’s target of creating 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.

However, another, perhaps less well known but no less important government target that the expansion of Further Education can help achieve is that of halving the employment gap for disabled people.

A mere 6% of adults with a learning disability who are known to social services are in paid employment, and those with a disability are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as those without.

Not only is this a considerable waste of the skills, aptitudes and aspirations of people with special educational needs and disabilities, but it is also a significant opportunity cost for the economy and the public finances.

In our experience, people with special educational needs and disabilities are often branded unemployable due to prejudice or ignorance, and in turn, sometimes lack the confidence needed to find work.

Further Education is nevertheless able to provide a route into employment that allows those disabled or with special educational needs to build up their self-esteem. Apprenticeships and Traineeships, for example, offer learners a work based environment in which they learn by doing, and in which they can consequently build the confidence they need by proving to themselves what they are capable of.

This year, YMCA Training delivered 144 apprenticeships to learners with disabilities, learning difficulties or health problems, and has consistently gone the extra mile to empower disabled people. We have trained and experienced tutors that know how to inspire and who have for years worked to ensure disabled people are not deprived of the employment opportunities they deserve.

Considerable progress has been made with regard to improving access to apprenticeships, and the number of apprenticeship starts for disabled people has more than doubled over the 10 years from 2005/6 to 2015/6. YMCA Training is extraordinarily proud to think we have played a small part in this, however, we believe more must be done.

In the past few years, we have been encouraging the Government to undertake a review into pre-apprenticeship funding to explore gaps in provision. We believe that whilst the existing Education and Skills Funding Agency funded Study Programme is flexible enough to be adapted to individual needs, it does not provide adequate funding for those young people who have special educational needs but are not eligible for an education, health and care plan.

We have also been calling for an awareness campaign to demonstrate the benefits of Further Education, Apprenticeships and T-levels and for a ‘social mobility fund’ to ensure that the hardest to reach can access employment and Apprenticeships - both of which could be hugely beneficial for disabled people. 

You can read more about our calls to action in our latest Transforming Education policy manifesto.

If you would like to help us make these calls to action realities, please get in touch with our Public Affairs and Communications Officer, Kate Mahoney at or call +44 (0)20 7343 1805. 

We would like to emphasise that we at YMCA Training open our doors to everyone and that disability or special educational needs are rarely a barrier to Further Education so long as qualified tutors are able to offer the support, encouragement and expertise needed to help learners succeed.

If you, or somebody you know or care for is interested in Further Education please do visit our YMCA Training website where you will be able to see the extensive range of opportunities we offer to all, or alternatively, give us a call on 020 7343 1844.