Education beyond 16

15 mins read

This advice applies in England only. Read information for families in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

Your child can legally leave school at the end of the school year in which they turn 16 (normally the end of year 11). However, all young people must be in some kind of education or training until the age of 18. On this page, we look at the different options available.

In this article

Support in preparing for adulthood

All young people need guidance to prepare for their future. A young person with special educational needs (SEN) may face additional challenges to achieving their goals. These include lack of information about options, low expectations about what is achievable, and difficulty in making their views heard. So they may need extra support as they move on from school to college, or from education into adult life.

The system of support for SEN places particular importance on helping children and young people prepare for their future. This is referred to in the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice 2015 as “Preparing for Adulthood”.

Preparing for adulthood means preparing for:

Preparation should start early – long before your child becomes an adult.

Schools have a legal duty to provide impartial careers advice to all young people from at least Year 8 (13-14 years of age). This must be tailored to the needs of pupils with SEND. Schools should work with employers, housing agencies, disability organisations and arts and sports groups to help children understand what their options are as they get older.

If your child has an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, the Year 9 annual review of their plan, and every review after that, must include a focus on preparing for adulthood. This means there should be targets in the EHC plan that will help your child to achieve steps towards the four preparing for adulthood outcomes above. They should be updated as your child progresses.

For more about school duties to support pupils with SEN, see our webpage on Extra support in mainstream school.

Young people’s rights at 16

Under the SEN system, a child becomes a young person on the last Friday in June after they turn 16. All children and young people have the right to have their views taken into consideration about decisions that affect them.

A young person has rights separate from their parents. A young person can:

It is assumed that a young person has this right unless they lack the mental capacity to make a specific decision. A person has mental capacity if they can:

Young people must have access to independent support to make decisions and communicate their views, if they want this.

If your son or daughter does not have the mental capacity to make a particular decision about their education, the expectation is that you as their parent will do this on their behalf, except where the courts have appointed a deputy.

You can continue to support your son or daughter if they are happy for you to do this. Even if your son or daughter can make some choices independently, they may still need your help in other ways. For example, they might need support with form filling or exploring course options.

Making increasingly complex choices is a skill that children have to learn like any other. This should be part of your son or daughter’s preparation for moving into adult life from the earliest years.

What are the options after my child turns 16?

Your child can legally leave school at the end of the school year in which they turn 16 (normally the end of year 11). However, all young people must be in some kind of education or training until the age of 18. They can combine this with paid or voluntary work.

Staying at school

Your child may move into the sixth form of their mainstream or special school or move to another school. Staying in a school offers structure and familiarity. It might help your child if they’re not yet ready to move on to a different type of setting.

In school, your child may do a programme of study leading to academic or vocational qualifications, from entry level to GCSEs, BTECs and A levels. Although they’ll be doing different courses, and the 6th form set up may operate differently from the lower school, your child will continue to receive extra help for their SEN if they need it.

Mainstream further education (FE) colleges

Mainstream colleges offer a wide range of courses to suit all levels of learning. For example:

You and your son or daughter should receive advice about suitable courses in good time to make the right decision. As well as getting information from the school, also check the post-16 section of your local authority’s Local Offer site. The National Careers Service might also be useful.

This discussion should be part of their annual review if they have an EHC plan. Your child’s needs and wishes are important. They should not be shoe-horned into a course that doesn’t match their interests or abilities.

Once your child has chosen a suitable college, their school should work with the new setting to ensure a smooth transition into the next stage of their study.

What support is available at college?

Mainstream further education (FE) colleges support students with special educational needs in a similar way to schools. Colleges should not refuse to admit a young person who has SEN but doesn’t have an EHC plan.

Students with SEN who do not need EHC plans receive help through SEN support. This includes following the special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0-25 years. There should be a named person in overall charge of SEN provision, similar to the school special educational needs coordinator (SENCO). And the college must make sure that students with SEN know who they can go to for help.

A SEN support plan should detail the extra help your child receives. The college should involve your child in planning their support and keep records of the progress they make. This should be reviewed at least three times a year with your child and where appropriate, your family. Colleges should refer to specialist services for further advice and support, for example from education psychologists.

Young people who need more help than a mainstream FE college could normally provide will need an EHC plan.

Many young people with SEN will also be disabled. Under the Equality Act 2010, mainstream FE colleges must do everything they reasonably can to remove all barriers to learning for disabled students.

Support might include:

Specialist further education (FE) colleges

A specialist further education college provides education for young people with SEN only. Some have residential facilities and provide what is commonly called a “waking day” or “24-hour” curriculum. Some specialist colleges help their students to attend courses in mainstream colleges.

Your son or daughter would need an EHC plan to go to a specialist college. You or your child can ask the local authority to name a specialist college in their EHC plan following the  annual review. The local authority may refuse your request on the grounds of cost. And it may be necessary to show that there are no alternative cheaper education options available.

For more about asking for a specialist college in an EHC plan, see our webpage Applying for a school place.

Other education and training options

Education does not have to be all classroom based learning in a school or college. There are also training options, which give a young person the chance to experience a workplace and develop the skills they will need in a particular job while continuing to study.


A programme that combines study towards qualifications with paid-on-the-job training. Apprenticeships are open to young people over 16 with or without EHC plans. They can lead to qualifications from GCSE level up to degree or diploma level.

Apprenticeship providers receive funding for all young people, and the amount is more for a young person with an EHC plan.

You can search for an apprenticeship at


This is a programme that helps young people gain skills to get a job or apprenticeship. It includes work experience and study. Traineeships are unpaid and usually last for six months or less.

The programme is aimed at young people between 16-24, with or without an EHC plan, who have qualifications below level 3. Young people who do not have GCSE grade C or above in Maths and English will need to work towards this. You can search for a traineeship at More information on traineeships should be available from your local FE college or the National Careers Service.

Supported internship

This is a workplace training and study programme open to young people with EHC plans aged between 16- 24. It is unpaid, based mainly at an employer and lasts for at least six months. The aim is to enable the intern to take up paid employment at the end of the internship, which could be with the same employer.

The intern follows a personalised programme. This includes on-the-job training and support from a work coach. It could also include studying for qualifications such as Maths and English, if appropriate.

A young person would usually need to apply to a supported internship through an FE college. The college will have links with suitable employers who can offer placements.

See this NDTI webinar on supported internships.

Individually-tailored education

Education does not have to lead to qualifications or employment. It isn’t necessary for your son or daughter to be studying for a certain number of hours, be on an accredited course, or progressing towards formal qualifications. And a young person can still have an EHC plan without these, as long as they are doing some form of education or training.

Education has a wide meaning here. It can include small steps in progress towards learning a particular skill, such as communication.

Young people over 16 are not entitled to education across five days a week. Many college courses are part time, for example three days a week. However, if your son or daughter has an EHC plan, the local authority should consider whether support across five days a week might better meet their needs.

This does not have to be at one provider. Education for young people can include a mixture of college-based learning and other activities, such as work experience, volunteering, independent travel training, managing money or communication and self- help skills. Adult social care may fund some of this support.

Some young people are not able to access formal settings, such as a college. Alternative provision, such as home-based tuition or therapy, may be appropriate. This might be if your son or daughter has been out of formal education for a long time and would struggle to return to a college setting, or if they have very severe and complex needs.

The local authority might fund such provision for a young person with an EHC plan if they agree this is the only way to meet their special educational needs.

Getting an individual package in place can be challenging. The local authority should provide support and advice, including advice about personal budgets if appropriate. Please see our webpage on Personal budgets in England for more information.

Transport post-16

Free help with transport to education is not an automatic right for disabled young people.

The local authority must publish an annual transport policy statement setting out travel arrangements for young people in their area to get to education, including those with SEND.

See our post-16 school transport webpage for more information.

Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans after 16

If your child has an EHC plan, it does not have to end when they leave school. Their plan can continue up to the age of 25, as long as they still have SEN and stay in some kind of education or training. See our webpage on when an EHC plan comes to an end.

If your child never had an EHC plan but you think they may need one, you or your child themselves can ask the local authority to carry out an EHC needs assessment to decide if they need one.

Transition to adult health and social care services for children with EHC plans

If your son or daughter needs ongoing health or social care support, at some point they will move from child to adult services. This is likely to be around age 18. It could happen at a younger or older age depending on where you live and the professionals involved in their care.

For children with EHC plans, the local authority has a legal duty to work together with other services to ensure that all parties are coordinating education, health and social care support.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) has produced guidance on transition from child to adult health and social care services. The local authority should follow this unless there is very good reason not to. The guidance states that transition planning should start at age 13-14 or at whatever point your child enters the service.

Transition planning should be part of the annual review of your son or daughter’s EHC plan. It is a legal requirement that a health and a social care professional are invited to all annual review meetings. A named worker should be identified. This person should take the lead in coordinating your child’s care and support before, during and after transfer to adult services. Your child should meet a practitioner from each adult service before they transfer.

Social care

Your son or daughter may need social care support as an adult, whether or not they have been getting this support already. See our page on moving into adult services.

If your child has an EHC plan, part H2 must include any support provided under the Care Act 2014. If your son or daughter has both education and social care needs, a residential placement may be the most suitable setting. Funding for the placement may come from both social care and education.


If your son or daughter has health needs ,they may have been under the care of a paediatrician as a child. This can continue after 18, but at some point they will need to transfer to adult health teams.

See our page on moving into adult health services.

Beyond 18


Your son or daughter may progress to a higher education course (degree level) at university if they achieve the required qualifications.

An EHC plan automatically ends once a young person moves into higher education. However, extra support is still available. Universities have duties under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students. This can include support such as flexible seminar times, support for study skills or access to specialist computer software.

Students with higher needs may qualify for a Disabled Students’ Allowance to fund specific help such as note takers, sign language interpreters or computer equipment.

Other settings

Once a young person is 18, they are normally classed as an adult learner. In most cases, young people cannot stay on at a school beyond 19. Schools are not legally set up to provide education for adult learners, as colleges are.

In exceptional cases, a young person may be able stay on at their school in order to finish a course started before their 18th birthday. This will depend on individual circumstances, and you’ll need to be discuss this with the school and local authority.

Some special schools have developed separate further education provision for 19-25 year olds.

If your son or daughter moves on to a social care setting, for example an adult residential or day care setting, they may be able to keep their EHC plan if they still receive some education.

Tuition fees

Tuition is free for 16-18 year olds. Further education settings receive funding to meet the cost of additional support and reasonable adjustments to all learners with SEND.

Young people over 19 without EHC plans can be charged tuition fees, depending on the type and level of course they’re studying. Learners on certain benefits may be exempt: check the college’s fee remission policy. Certain courses may be free, for example basic maths, English or employment skills, or a first GCSE or A level course. Colleges and training providers can also help with course fees at their discretion.

Young people aged 19-25 with an EHC plan receive free tuition, as long as the course meets the outcomes in their EHC plan.

Information for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Read our information about education in Wales.

Find out about the system of support for children with special educational needs in Northern Ireland on the NI Education Authority website or Senac (special educational needs advice centre).

In Scotland, the system of support for children with additional support needs is called additional support for learning. You can read more about it on the Enquire website.

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