We all develop the desire to live independently and take control of our adult lives as we approach school-leaving age, and young people with special educational needs are no different.

But transitioning into employment and independent living is obviously more challenging for this group. As a former headteacher, I’ve seen so many young people not do well because of a lack of support as they enter adulthood; they haven’t been able to secure a job, they remain dependent on their parents and lose confidence in their abilities.

'Without words' book club

MyLife is a support service in Hartlepool and Moseley in Surrey enabling people with complex needs to live as independently as possible in the community. We are currently working in partnership with a school in the West Midlands to explore ways we can help young people with special needs better prepare for leaving education.

My daughter, Katie, has been the inspiration for this next stage of MyLife’s development. She has Down’s Syndrome and she has shared a home with friends for eight years. Now aged 30, she’s just about to start her first paid role with a school, running a ‘without words’ book club for children who find learning easier through images rather than text.

Katie has experienced numerous knock-backs but I believe the fact that she is independent and able to manage her own life has given her the self-esteem to withstand these setbacks and maintain her confidence.

And building this independence is what we are focusing on in the West Midlands.

A tenet of the revised Code of Practice for SEND is to offer young people support past the age of 19 and up to 25. MyLife is working with Westminster School in Rowley Regis to develop their curriculum for this age group.

Life skills

A key theme is ‘My Home’, and students will have access to a training flat where they can learn life-skills such as cooking, cleaning, registering with a doctor and taking public transport.

Alongside this we are looking at ways we can support the young people to live independently. This will involve sourcing a range of accommodation to meet their range of needs, be it a shared house, a flat of their own or supported living. We shouldn’t just think that this model can only be available to people with low support needs; living as independently as possible should be available to people with the most complex needs as well.

It’s an exciting development of our services and one that we want to see expand.

The National Audit Office estimates that equipping a young person with the skills to live in even semi-independent housing could reduce support costs to the public purse by around £1 million. It also suggests that supporting one person with a learning disability into employment could increase that person’s income by between 55 and 95 per cent.

But what is most important, both for young people and our communities, is that these skills give young people with additional needs, people like Katie, the chance to create a home for themselves where they can make their own choices, have friends to visit and have somewhere to recharge and truly relax.