Blog by: Dr Angharad Butler-Rees and Dr Stella Chatzitheochari (PI)

Department of Sociology, University of Warwick

The ‘Educational Pathways and Work Outcomes of Disabled Young People in England’ is a 3-year Leverhulme longitudinal study, that seeks to understand the association of adolescent disability with educational and occupational disadvantage in England. While there is evidence to suggest that disabled young people lag behind in educational and work outcomes, there is still very little known about the social processes and mechanisms behind these inequalities. This project aims to rectify this omission by focussing on the educational and occupational transitions of disabled young people. By utilising existing nationally representative longitudinal data alongside conducting a longitudinal qualitative study of disabled young people, we seek to produce a novel conceptual framework for the sociological understanding of disability differentials in educational and occupational attainment, challenging perspectives that consider disadvantage as a natural consequence of disability.

The qualitative element of this study consists of interviews with disabled young people at age 15/16, with a second wave of interviews being conducted approximately one year later. In total, 35 young people have been interviewed as part of this study, stratified by parental social class and impairment/condition. This allowed us to understand the influence of parental social class on young people’s lived experiences and educational progress, and to explore differences by impairment/condition. Given our relatively small sample size, we sought to distinguish between two broadly constructed social class categories (working class and middle class), using information on parental occupational and educational attainment. We also focused on three types of impairments/conditions: autism, dyslexia and mobility difficulties. Due to the pandemic, these interviews were conducted online or over the phone. While we were at first sceptical as to how young people would respond to these methods, the familiarity young people had developed with these platforms due to online learning, meant that many were at ease and able to adapt these platforms in line with their individual needs e.g., enabling magnification, subtitling, increasing volume or turning off their cameras. During the interview young people were asked about their background, individual biographies, experience of disability, along with their future personal, academic and occupational aspiration. A second interview, in the following year will focus upon their post-16 transition, how this went and whether their academic or occupational aspirations have changed. While some young people were inevitably more talkative than others, feedback from participants indicated that they generally enjoyed the process. 

Information will also be gathered from participants’ parents through a series of individual interviews, helping us to achieve a fine-grained understanding of transmission of social disadvantage. 

Rarely are disabled young people asked directly about their experiences, with parents, teachers or specialists often speaking on their behalf. The project endeavours to provide young people with agency through bringing their individual voices and experiences to the forefront.

The study is still very much in its early stages, with analysis of the first wave of young peoples’ interviews only just beginning. You can however find out more about the project by visiting our webpage or reading our recent policy brief