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How did COVID-19 impact post-school transitions for young people with disability and how can these be better supported?

Educational quality Disadvantaged students Children's participation COVID-19 People with disability Australia

The COVID pandemic has had wide impacts on children and young people with disability in their education. Students with disability have not only had their education interrupted, but the pandemic has reinforced the existing inequality they face in their education. This report explores experiences of young people with disability transitioning from secondary school in 2020 or 2021 and explores whether the COVID-pandemic has had a significant impact in the post school transition period. The research was co-produced between two academics and two young people with disability who were co-researchers employed by Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA), the national representative organisation of children and young people with disability.

Transitions can be difficult times that involve a number of practical and emotional implications for all young people and a key transition time is leaving secondary school. This has important implications for future economic and community participation. Young people with disability experience challenges with transitions from secondary school at higher rates than non-disabled peers.

Post-school transition processes are particularly high stakes for young people with disability given that this group is one of the most disadvantaged cohorts in the labour market, experiencing unemployment and underemployment at higher rates than their peers. The literature consistently evidences that where post-secondary school transitions are done well and are supported appropriately, they have a significant impact on the future lives of young people with disability.

In this research we interviewed eight young people with disability about their post- secondary school transition experiences.

Key findings:

  • We found that COVID meant that many of the young people we spoke to did not get the transition experience they expected. Usual transition activities were cancelled as learning moved online and ‘rites of passage’ events such as graduation, end of year events and trips were cancelled, leaving many experiencing anxiety and sadness.
  • The challenges that COVID posed in terms of schooling meant that many of the young people we interviewed were focused on this and not what would come next. Many people spent large amounts of time, for example, seeking adjustments and special considerations for final assignments.
  • Interviewees experienced a broad range of transition issues from not having access to technology, low expectations of what they might go on to achieve, not being supported to take risks, not being able to undertake appropriate orientation opportunities, missing out on social interaction, having to secure extensive evidence to support accommodation requests and additional challenges related to intersectional identities. What was common is that these issues were not well supported, and interviewees were not surprised by this as they are used to not being supported well and most had experienced challenges with schools and teachers over their education.
  • Interviews did identify factors that help in transition processes including individual teachers, friends and peers, family members and job coaches.
  • For many of our interviewees they had transitioned from secondary school despite the system and not because they had been actively supported by it. Many were left on their own to find a path and had to do extensive work to marshal resources to support this process. Given the levels of social isolation and disconnection experienced by young people with disability it is not hard to imagine the countless young people who will have missed out on the supports our interviewees described.
  • While our sample size for the research was small, we draw on these findings and the broader literature to set out a series of strategies and activities that might better support young people with disability as they transition from secondary school. We set out a range of short- and long-term strategies that are important to prevent the longer term scarring effect of the pandemic and also to work towards better inclusion of young people with disability in education.
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