Talking about tomorrow


Top tips – learning opportunities

A lot can change in 5 or 6 years. If someone can’t do something now, that doesn’t mean they never will.

Don’t be rushed. Taking time to make good choices and get the right support pays off in the long run.

Don’t rule anything out. Instead, see if it could be possible given time and good support.

It can take a long time to sort out things like accommodation and transport. Be prepared.

Be proactive. Contact learning support services, ask questions and explore options.

Remember independent living and social skills. These are at least as important as academic ability for success.


Read more about: Top tips – learning opportunities

Vocational Training

Learning by doing

Many people find the best way to learn is by doing.

Opportunities vary depending on where you live but Skills Development Scotland, the national agency funded by the Scottish Government, manages several national training programmes that improve job skills while providing work experience and in many cases formal qualifications. Some offer paid work, or allow people to study for a qualification at the same time. All of them offer opportunities that can be tailored to the particular needs of disabled young adults.

Activity Agreements

These are provided by local councils.

An adviser works with a young person to create a personalised programme of activities and training to reduce barriers to progression. The adviser supports them until a positive destination – i.e. a place in learning, training or employment – is reached.

It’s free and participants may be eligible for Education Maintenance Allowance or another training allowance.

Visit the Skills Development Scotland website to speak to an adviser, find your nearest office, or email through the website.

Fair Start Scotland

This is an employment service for Scotland, supporting unemployed disabled people aged 16 and over who need help to enter or remain in the labour market. It replaces the UK Government’s Work Programme.

An adviser creates a personalised plan to support participants into work, with pre-work support for 12–18 months and up to 12 months of additional support once someone is in work. It costs nothing to take part and does not affect benefit entitlements.

More information can be found on the Scottish Government and Employability in Scotland websites.

Modern and Foundation Apprenticeships

An apprenticeship lets you work and study at the same time. The Scottish Government has introduced two kinds of new apprenticeships aimed at getting young people into work.

Foundation Apprenticeships

These are unpaid and open to pupils from S4–S6 or studying Highers in college. They allow young people to combine workplace or college training alongside their other subjects. Foundation Apprentices can start a career while still at school, or progress to a Modern Apprenticeship more quickly. The qualification is recognised by many Scottish universities and colleges, so they may also move into further education if they wish.

Foundation Apprenticeships usually last for 2 years.

Visit the Skills Development Scotland website to speak to an adviser, find your nearest office, or email through the website.

Foundation Apprentices may qualify for Education Maintenance Allowance.

Modern Apprenticeships

These let someone work in a paid job while receiving workplace training to gain new skills and recognised qualifications. They allow those aged 16–24 (or 16–29 if disabled) to train for jobs in a wide variety of sectors, including management roles, without having to study full time. Modern Apprentices develop expertise through on-the-job assessment and gain vital workplace skills such as teamwork and problem solving.

Training fees for Modern Apprenticeships are paid by the employer and Skills Development Scotland. Apprentices are paid at the national minimum apprentice wage or above by the employer and enjoy the same protections and conditions as any other employee.

In most cases a Modern Apprenticeship takes between 2 and 4 years to complete.

For more information speak to a careers adviser or guidance teacher, contact Skills Development Scotland on 0800 917 8000 or visit the Apprenticeships.Scot website.

No One Left Behind

No One Left Behind is a programme of support delivered by each local authority (council) area in Scotland. Support is provided to anyone who requires help to prepare for work, training, education and/or volunteering, regardless of their age or background. There may be a programme of support specifically aimed at disabled people.

You will receive support from an Employability Key Worker, and work on an individual plan to help you reach your goals. The agreement could include activities designed to prepare you for progression, such as taster sessions at college, time with training providers, mentoring, peer mentoring opportunities and group projects.

Visit No One Left Behind and get contact details for your local authority.

Lead Scotland currently provides support on behalf of Aberdeenshire Council to young disabled people aged 16-24 to get into learning, volunteering or training on their pathway to employment. Read about the Aberdeenshire employability projects for young people on the Lead Scotland website.

Young Persons Guarantee

The aim of the Young Person’s Guarantee is that within 2 years, every person aged between 16 and 24, based on their own personal circumstances and ambition, will have the chance to study, take up an apprenticeship, job or work experience, or take part in formal volunteering.

Search for opportunities on the Young Person’s Guarantee website and find out more about support to access opportunities in your local area.   

Read more about: Vocational Training

Community learning

Lead Scotland have created a guide to community based adult learning (CBAL) for disabled people. The guide is full of useful advice and information related to various related topics, such as knowing your rights under the Equality Act and using CBAL to build knowledge on how to get involved in campaigning. 

There are many different learning platforms if you want to learn flexibly at home. These allow you to learn in your own time at a pace that suits you. Some courses lead to formal qualifications but most are informal. Browse a range of different topics on the Open University’s Open Learn platform.

Lead Scotland also have an online learning platform called My Lead. It is open to everyone but has been specifically developed to support disabled people with a range of needs. It covers a variety of topics with a strong focus on staying safe online and developing digital skills.

Flexible options

Community based learning is a good option if other learning environments don’t meet someone’s needs.

College or university may not be right for many reasons. Here are a few:

  • There may not be a course that interests them
  • They may have the right academic qualifications but need longer to develop the social skills and personal independence to manage college life
  • Their qualifications may not be at a level that matches their ability

Community learning can help with all of these.

Most opportunities are provided by local councils or voluntary organisations and charities, in venues like libraries or community centres.

People may work on their own, with a tutor or with people from the local community. Courses can be very flexible and may include evening or weekend classes, or even tutorials in someone’s own home.

Choosing a course

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework places qualifications into levels from 1 to 12, to give an idea of the demands involved. It helps learners see what previous qualifications are worth, and what they may be able to do next.

Informal learning doesn’t usually lead to a qualification. It might include:

  • Support to improve self-confidence;
  • Developing interpersonal skills, communication skills, or citizenship;
  • Support to access other learning opportunities or employment, e.g. volunteering;
  • Learning new skills or brushing up existing ones, e.g. reading, writing, or using a computer.

Formal learning usually leads to a qualification. It might include:

  • Core skills, which employers identify as essential for learning and work (including communication, numeracy, information and communications technology, working with others and problem solving);
  • Further education courses, including those that count towards further qualifications or work;
  • Short courses on particular interests;
  • Access courses for learners with additional support needs, including independent living and other core skills;
  • Customised awards designed by learning providers to meet specific needs.

Your local council should be able to tell you the learning opportunities available in your area. You can also look at the Learning Options pages on the website My World of Work or call Lead Scotland on 0800 999 2568.

Read more about: Community learning

Going to university

Studying at university level

Most people going to university in Scotland apply for a four year Honours degree. Each course has entry requirements, with most needing a minimum of four Highers or three A Levels. The grades required vary.

Some young people may not be ready to go straight to university and could do an access course at college instead, or an HND first before progressing to a degree.

Deciding the best option can be difficult. It’s a good idea for your young person to think about their interests and areas they have shown talent in, and to seek advice from teachers and careers guidance staff.

Once you know the type of course, you can use Skills Development Scotland’s course search tool or visit the UCAS website, which has a wealth of information on how to choose a course and apply.

This may help you decide if your young person is on track to achieve the qualifications they need, or if going to college first or instead might be better.

When to apply

Most universities have a deadline of 15 January to start in September the same year. Applications for UK based university degrees should be submitted through the UCAS website. Applicants choose up to five different courses. There are also articles on how to complete personal statements, as many young people struggle with this. Your young person should speak to their teachers, guidance teacher or careers adviser for advice in completing the form.

What universities look for

Universities consider academic qualifications, but can take other factors into account – for example, circumstances that might have impacted your ability to get the required entry qualifications.

Universities in the UK are expected to encourage a diverse range of applications (“widening access”), and factors that may have put you at a disadvantage include being disabled or having a long term health condition. Speak to your school and google ‘widening access’ and the name of the university you are applying to, to see their statement of commitment. Some are better than others at offering places to students who have experienced disadvantage.

It’s advisable to disclose any disabilities or health conditions when completing the UCAS form so proper adjustments can be made and support needs met as early in the course as possible.

Read Lead Scotland’s blog about why disabled students should always disclose by ‘ticking the box’.


Universites should make contact by the start of May with a ‘conditional’ offer (which means you need to achieve your exam results), an ‘unconditional’ offer (which means you have a place that doesn’t depend on your results) or an unsuccessful letter.

Applying at a later date

Young people can apply for unfilled places on courses throughout the UK through clearing, from the start of July to around mid-October.

Visit the UCAS website for information about clearing.

If someone changes their mind they can withdraw and begin again the following year with new choices, but they will need the support of their school in this – even if they already left – as an academic reference is needed.

If someone has been out of education for several years when they decide to apply for university, you should contact UCAS directly to find out how to proceed.

Support and how to find it

It’s in the interest of the university to make sure students have the best chance of success. Support could include:

  • academic advice and information such as how to organise your studies, write an essay or use computers and information technology to support your learning
  • information about student funding and managing finance
  • counselling or classes to manage stress and anxiety, especially around exams
  • identifying equipment that could help you.

University websites often have a section on student life or student services where you can find out more. You can also phone the main university office and ask to speak to someone about disabled student services or welfare.

Every university has a department that supports disabled students. It’s a good idea to let people know as soon as possible what the difficulties may be, so the right support is in place before a course begins. It helps to have a very clear idea of what is likely to be useful as services may not know every condition in depth. You can arrange an appointment with student services yourself to discuss this.

The university may assess your young person’s needs, then create a support plan detailing the adjustments agreed. This should be shared with the relevant tutors, with your young person’s permission.

Who provides what

In general universities are responsible for support that helps someone access their course. That might include for example:

  • sign language interpreters
  • assistive technology
  • a scribe/reader or
  • a communication support worker.

More general needs might include for example:

  • support with toileting
  • getting around campus
  • behaviour management

These are usually the responsibility of the social services department within your local council. It’s a good idea to have your young person’s needs assessed as early as possible, so they can decide if they will fund a support worker for them. See our social services pages for more information on assessing needs.

Lead Scotland’s guide, ‘Supporting you at College’, has more details about support and who funds it.

If you have questions about support at college or are in dispute with the college or the local authority, call Lead’s Disabled Students’ Helpline on 0800 999 2568.

Living Away from Home

Young people can apply to study anywhere, home or abroad. However, it’s important to research housing and support options if your young person needs them.

It’s also important to be sure they can manage as many everyday tasks for themselves as possible, including shopping, cooking, washing clothes, managing their own medication and organising their work.

For many disabled students, problems arise far less with academic issues than with independent living skills. It may be that delaying entry to university by a year or more until these skills are established could be the difference between succeeding in a course or setting someone up to fail.

Students living away from home may be able to get extra funding towards accommodation costs and in some circumstances they may be able to claim universal credit to contribute towards the cost of their rent.

Students who need personal assistants and adapted accommodation or specialist equipment when living away from home should contact social services where they currently live, to have an assessment of their needs carried out.

Read more about: Going to university

Going to college

What courses cover

College courses are usually for people over 16, although some people under 16 may do a college course while they are still at school.

Further education courses are mainly vocational, i.e. work related.

Colleges have a wider range of courses than school, and may teach in more flexible ways – full time or part time, in evening classes or by distance learning from home.

Entry requirements vary. Some courses don’t need formal qualifications, others ask for National levels in certain subjects.

Basic skills courses are useful for people with learning difficulties, as they provide support to gain independence skills as well as being a good starting point for other courses. Some are at National level, others don’t lead to a formal qualification. They include:

  • Courses in topics such as communication skills, literacy and numeracy, English for speakers of other languages and IT.
  • General courses to prepare for adult life (e.g. life or core skills).

Other courses include:

  • General courses to National, Higher or Advanced Higher level
  • Vocational (work related) courses, such as Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) in subjects like plumbing, cookery and administration; Professional Development Awards (PDAs) in subjects like book-keeping or medical administration; and sector specific qualifications, for example for working in the care sector.
  • Courses while pupils are still in school, including link courses to help with transition to college, and Skills for Work courses to prepare for further learning or work.
  • Access to higher education courses to allow people without formal qualifications to go on to further study.
  • Customised awards designed to meet specific needs of employers or other organisations.

Lead Scotland’s Supporting You at College web page has more information.

Open or distance learning

Young people may be able to study at home or work. They could be sent a list of books and worksheets, or use study methods like the internet, videos, computer software or watching TV programmes.

They may have to attend college for practical work or supervisions, but this can often be flexible.  They will also have a college tutor who can provide guidance and support.

The college prospectus or website will give details of courses offered through flexible or distance learning and you can also filter results on the My World of Work website to view distance learning courses.

Attending a specialist college

Specialist Colleges may have more experience of supporting students with impairments. 

There is currently just one specialist college in Scotland, Corseford College based in the west and run by Capability Scotland. In addition, Cantraybridge College (not a formal college) in Inverness provides day, vocational and residential learning and development opportunities for people with additional support needs.

The rest of the UK has is a number of residential specialist colleges.

The Association of National Specialist Colleges website has more information, including on how to apply.

Choosing a course

People usually choose a course because they are interested in it or enjoy it, or because it’s likely to get them the job they want.

Young people may think they can’t study certain subjects because of their impairment, but this is mostly not the case. It can take time to get the right support in place, but don’t rule out something your young person really wants to do. Lead Scotland has information and a guide on getting support in college.

Skills Development Scotland has centres in every region offering careers advice and planning. You can find the nearest to you on their website. The My World of Work website has a Course finder tool with information about all the courses in Scotland and you can contact colleges directly for information about what they offer.

Choosing a college

Find out when the college has an open day – check their website, or phone and ask. You can tour the campus, find out about the facilities and support on offer, and discuss the course with the tutors.

Think about the location. If your young person can travel independently, how good is public transport? Will it be more challenging in winter when the nights are darker? If your young person drives ask about disabled parking spaces – these often fill up quickly.

Ask how accessible and inclusive the campus is. Colleges have a legal duty to make their facilities and courses accessible to disabled learners, but some may be better than others at supporting specific groups of students.

College websites often have a section on additional support needs, or you can phone the main office and ask for the learning support team or disability service. Ask how they support specific impairments. It’s a good sign if they have information in a range of formats you and your young person can understand.

When to apply

Each college has its own closing dates. Apply as early as possible, as courses starting in August could be fully booked by March. Begin looking and applying from November/December. Some colleges have waiting lists, so contact them even if the website says a course is fully booked.

Most applications are online, but you can ask for application forms in other formats. Some courses ask students for an interview, to sit an entry exam or to submit a portfolio of work. Students are entitled to reasonable adjustments for these, which could include more time, a reader or a communication support worker. Speak to the college if you need support with any part of the application process.

Support and how to find it

Many parents say college staff don’t include them in discussions about their young person’s progress, as students are expected to take more responsibility for themselves. This can come as a shock, especially if problems arise. It’s worth being prepared, and flagging up concerns as soon as possible.

However it’s in the college’s interest to make sure all students have the best chance of success. Support could include:

  • academic advice and information, e.g. how to organise your studies, write an essay or use computers and information technology to support your learning
  • information about funding and managing your finances
  • counselling or classes on managing stress or anxiety, especially during exams
  • identifying equipment to help you.

Websites often include this information, or you can call the college and ask to speak about finance or welfare or wellbeing services.

Every college has a department to support learners with additional needs. They are generally called something like ‘student support services’ or ‘learning support team’ or ‘disability services’.

Students may not always want people to know they are disabled, but it’s important so college staff can make the right adjustments – especially if extra time or support might be useful in exams.

If colleges offer a place to a student they know is disabled they should invite them, with their parents/carers, to discuss their support needs. If they don’t do this, you can arrange an appointment yourself. Don’t wait until the course starts, as support needs to be in place from the beginning. The college may assess your young person’s needs and discuss support that’s helped in the past. They may then create a support plan and with your young person’s permission, share it with their academic tutors.

How does support work?

Colleges are responsible for educational support. This could be things like:

  • sign language interpreters
  • assistive technology
  • a scribe/reader
  • a communication support worker
  • extra time in exams or extensions for course work.

The social services department of your local council is usually responsible for “living” support. This could include help with things like:

  • toileting and/or personal care
  • getting around campus
  • behaviour management.

Have your young person’s needs assessed by social services as early as possible if they will need a support worker to help them attend college. Our social services section has more information about this. 

All ‘supported courses’, i.e. specifically for people with learning disabilities, have extra classroom/support assistants. Some social services teams won’t fund ‘in class support’, i.e. one-to-one support around campus all day. They may argue this is the college’s responsibility, or that your young person doesn’t need one-to-one support. In this case ask if the college can offer the support your young person needs, as some may be flexible.

Sometimes colleges and social services agree to share support provision.

Lead Scotland’s guide, ‘Supporting you at College’, has more details about support and who funds it.

If you have questions about support at college or are in dispute with the college or the local authority, call Lead’s Disabled Students’ Helpline on 0800 999 2568.

Studying away from home

Young people can attend college anywhere in Scotland, but if they will be living away from home it’s important to have the skills and support they need from the start.

This can take time, so you may need longer to plan and organise their entry on a course.

The right accommodation is important, along with finding out about support options locally. Students living away from home may get extra funding from the college towards accommodation and may be able to claim universal credit to contribute towards their rent.

Anyone who needs personal assistants and adapted accommodation or specialist equipment when living away from home should contact social services where they currently live for an assessment of their needs.


Read more about: Going to college

Staying on in school

School is an option

Like anyone else, staying on in school is an option for young disabled people.

All young people in Scotland have a legal right to education in school until they are 16. After this they have no explicit right to school education, but if they are in school and want to stay on the local authority has a duty to continue to educate them. The school must still provide additional support for learning and education to help them reach their full potential.

When can someone leave?

If a young person turns 16 between 1 March and 30 September, they can leave school after 31 May that year; between 1 October and the end of February, they can leave at the start of the Christmas holidays in that school year.

They can choose to leave after taking Highers or Advanced Highers.

In some cases, young people with additional support needs may stay in school beyond the age of 18 if it would benefit them, but there is no legal entitlement to this.

Should they stay or should they go?

School may be the most convenient place to gain the right qualifications, and studying in a familiar environment with people who know you can be a plus – although you need to check the right support will still be available.

But for many disabled young people, it isn’t so clear cut.

School may have been a difficult experience, they may have missed periods of time, or the academic environment may simply not be for them. The school may feel unable to provide the right support, or getting there may be a problem – for example, if transport arrangements change.

It’s important to find out about all the options so everyone can make the best choice for them.

Read the sections on going to college, going to university, community learning and vocational training to find out more about what may be available. It may also be useful to read Enquire’s factsheet on Education and Additional Support after 16.

Making a decision

Ideally decide at least a year before your young person can leave, so you and the school have time to plan. If they want to stay on, you need to speak to the school about their subject choices and support needs – the longer you have to arrange this, the better.

Start talking to your young person about the possibilities well before a decision has to be made – it’s best to introduce ideas gradually and not to rush things.

You might find the following questions helpful to think or talk about:

  • What does your young person want to do – and what are their hopes for the future?
  • Do they want to go to college or university? If so, what qualifications will they need?
  • Is school the right setting for them? Could they get the qualifications they need elsewhere?
  • What would be the benefits of staying on at school?
  • What can the school offer them if they stay on, academically and socially?
  • What options for post-school learning and activities are there in your area if they leave? Are there places and start dates in the autumn after your young person leaves school?
  •  Is your young person ready to leave school? Do they have the social and organisational skills to manage a less structured setting? If not, what do they need to develop?

What if the school doesn’t agree with your decision?

Try to resolve disagreements through discussion with teachers or support staff. If this doesn’t help, you can raise the matter formally through the school’s complaints procedure. If you are still dissatisfied you can contact the person responsible for additional support for learning in your local authority (the council’s education department) to discuss it further, and they should tell you about other methods available to resolve disputes with the school including mediation, appeals and tribunals.

Read Enquire’s factsheet on resolving disagreements in school for further information about this.

Read more about: Staying on in school

Learning opportunities

It’s important to go on learning and developing skills through teenage years and beyond. It helps in looking for a job, but it also matters if someone wants to live independently or manage their own life.


Things to think about

What are the options?

There are lots of different ways to go on learning and practising new skills.

Young people with disabilities have the same rights as anyone else to apply for a college or university course of their choice, close to home or further afield.

If someone learns best by doing they can apply for vocational training, become a volunteer or look for paid work.

Some options combine work and study to gain work experience and a qualification at the same time. Others build “employability”, i.e. skills that will appeal to employers, through community or home based learning.

Many employability options can be useful in building skills and confidence even if the idea of work doesn’t seem realistic.

Lead Scotland’s guide to Post School Learning Choices in Scotland describes the different learning options after school, covering community learning, vocational training and further education at college. It also covers educational support, funding and benefits for disabled learners and carers.

Money matters

You can find more information on education and finance in the Benefits and Finance section of this website.

Students aged 16-19 who are staying on at school after school leaving age, or doing a non-advanced course at college or an education centre, can apply for Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). The student’s household income must be below a certain level for them to be eligible. 

Individual Training Accounts are available through the careers agency Skills Development Scotland and offer up to £200 a year towards the cost of certain courses or training. Applicants must be over 16, living in Scotland, not in education or any other Skills Development Scotland programme and earning less than £22,000 a year. The website My World of Work has information on eligible courses, or you can call Skills Development Scotland on 0800 917 8000. Please note the website can be misleading, as it may say the ITA fund is closed: this doesn’t mean it is no longer operational. It usually opens at the beginning of April each year and closes until the following April once all the money has been allocated.

Who can help?

  • Your local council should have lists of their own services and other education and training programmes in their region. You don’t have to live in an area to request information. However available courses change quickly so keeping lists up to date can be a challenge.
  • Lead Scotland offers information on the full range of post school education and training opportunities, along with one-to-one support and tailored advice. They have coordinators throughout Scotland and you can download guides on post school learning from their website, including support and funding possibilities. You can call their helpline on 0800 999 2568.
  • Skills Development Scotland is funded by the Scottish Government and provides careers advice through local centres across the country. Many centres have staff responsible for people with additional support needs. Their website My World of Work has information about preparing for and finding a job, and tools to help with life planning and finding learning opportunities.

Take your time

There’s nothing that says you have to go to college or university straight from school.

Taking more time gives someone a chance to decide what they really want and develop the confidence and life skills to get the best from the experience. It also gives more time to line up the right support, which can be the difference between succeeding or being set up to fail.

Resisting pressure and doing things at the right time for your young person instead can be one of the best ways of relieving stress all round.

If they aren’t going into learning, training or work immediately, you still need a transition plan to make sure they don’t become isolated and they keep developing important skills. Find out more about taking a DIY approach to planning on our Planning for Transition pages.


Read more about: Learning opportunities