Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Teaching skills to children, young people and adults

Children and young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities often have difficulty learning new skills, or learn new skills at a slower pace than their peers. In 2023, the Department for Education (DfE) figures for England show the total number of children with special educational needs (SEN) was over 1.5 million, an increase of 87,000 from 2022, a trend that has been rising since 2016. The primary needs of children with SEN are speech, language and communication needs; social, emotional and mental health needs; and moderate learning difficulty.

We know that children and young people from this group are at a significant disadvantage in terms of attainment, when compared with their neurotypical peers. In 2022, phonics screening revealed that only 38% of students with SEN met the required standard when compared with 82% of students with no SEN, a gap of 44 percentage points. These attainment gaps are either maintained or are increased across core subjects of reading, writing and mathematics at Key Stage assessment. Although schools recognise that additional support and resources are required to promote learning and to close this attainment gap, evidence-base is limited.

Poor attainment in the early stages of education translates to poorer post-secondary outcomes related to employment, housing and social engagement for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. According to 2018 figures, 3.7 million disabled people were reported to be in work in the UK with just over 100,000 of these having intellectual and developmental disabilities; the lowest represented group. As such, there is a compelling need for research into the development and validation of effective evidence-based methods that may be implemented early, primarily in a school context, that focus on the teaching of skills designed to improve on these outcomes.

Alongside supporting research projects aimed at teaching pre-school and academic skills to children and young people, the teaching skills group also conducts research into teaching skills to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including health and wellbeing skills. Many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are ‘cared for’ rather than ‘supported’ in their daily lives. This may be because the potential for adults to learn new skills may not be fully recognised by those providing support. The majority of research on teaching skills to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities focuses on children and young people, with effective approaches to teaching skills to adults being under researched.

The Teaching Skills group is currently supporting a range of research projects aimed at improving opportunities for both adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, with the aim of teaching health and wellbeing as well as academic skills, in order to promote good quality of life.

We are committed to carrying out research with real impact for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. On-going projects of the teaching skills group include:

  • Adapting a wellbeing curriculum for special schools
  • Behaviour analysis in education
  • Creating effective teaching and learning environments – Building a positive behavioural support (PBS) model for UK special schools (SWPBS)
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) to improve mental health outcomes for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD): A systematic review.
  • Embedding neurodiversity in the network
  • Keyboarding without tears in special schools
  • Methods for collecting the views of participants with intellectual disabilities who received educational and/or psychological interventions: A systematic review
  • Teaching skills to adults with learning disabilities
  • Quality review of systematic reviews from key behavioural journals
  • Social validity and acceptability of Applied Behavioural Analysis
  • Teaching Early Numeracy to students with Developmental Disabilities (TEN-DD)
  • The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) in schools
  • The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) for adults with learning disabilities
  • Using technology to teach literacy