Making It Happen!

Achieving Good Outcomes for Learners
with Physical Disability

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There are over 36,788 children and young people with a physical disability in the education system.

This means that every year:

  • at least 3,000 children with a physical disability will start school.
  • over 6,000 make a school-to-school transition or transition to a post-16 pathway.
  • approximately 28,500 learners with a physical disability will transition to a new class or teacher.

Each one of these learners has a unique set of needs and requirements arising from their physical disability.

Without the right support, understanding and planning these learners are at risk of having a poor transition experience that goes on to impact on their:

  • general health and well-being
  • ability to make the most of the learning opportunities
  • preparation for the next phase of their education
  • achievement and reaching their full potential

Learners with a physical disability are at an increased risk of the following education, health and social outcomes compared to their peers. We need to make sure these risks are not made worse or increased by poor transition. Click or hover over the boxes below to find out more:

Twice as likely to be not in education, employment or training (NEET), post-16

30% greater chance of being diagnosed with a mental illness by the age of 14

Four times more likely to suffer a form of abuse

Poorer physical health and well-being

Greater threat of social isolation

More likely to experience poverty

What is physical disability?

Physical disability is an umbrella term, covering a range of difficulties which affect the ability to carry out tasks and take part in the activities of everyday life.

It is not just a health issue. It is often complex and includes a person’s medical, physical, social, emotional and mental health needs. They may also have other associated or co-existing conditions such as visual impairment, autism or epilepsy.

Whatever the diagnosis, remember the needs and requirements of learners with a physical disability are unique. Their needs and requirements may well change over time and so the provision will have to change to match.

Successful transition requires learners to cope with change and be able to adapt to a different school setting with different academic structures and expectations as well as changes in social interactions with teachers, support staff and peers. Getting it right, so learners with a physical disability are well prepared and can experience a fresh and exciting start at a new school or setting, takes time and careful planning.

What is transition?

Transition is the term used to refer to any life changes that children and young people go through.

Some life changes are experienced by all children. For example, starting school, moving schools, puberty, etc.

Click the arrow below to find out more:

Some life experiences will only be experienced by a few children. These might include:

  • having a long-term illness
  • a family bereavement
  • coming to terms with a family break-up

Other life changes will only be experienced by a child or young person with a physical disability. These might include:

  • losing mobility and/or hand function
  • managing new equipment
  • working with new support staff

Research suggests that moving to a new school or class impacts on all learners by increasing apprehension.

This is usually relatively short-lived, although a minority of pupils experience longer-term difficulties in adjusting, demonstrated by lower grades, poor attendance and increased anxiety over time.



Why is transition more challenging for learners with a physical disability?

Whilst the majority of learners with a physical disability are excited and positive about starting a new school or setting, some may worry about the additional challenges they could encounter.

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How am I going to manage my wheelchair and my bag?

How will people who don’t know me understand what I am saying?

Will I be able to join in with subjects like Food Technology and Science?

Will I make new friends?

How will I fit in with everyone? I don’t want to stand out.

Will I get told off if I am late for lessons?

Click on each heading below to find out more about the challenges these learners face:

They may experience difficulties in adapting to their new environment, for example:

  • taking part in lessons
  • using their individual equipment
  • taking part in their individual therapy programme
  • experiencing additional fatigue
  • losing physical skills and independence

They may be worried about:

  • being taught or supported by new staff
  • meeting new peers who may not have experience of people with a physical disability
  • trusting new adults, especially to undertake personal care

They may feel or be more isolated as they:

  • have less time or fewer opportunities for social interaction
  • find communication with unfamiliar people difficult
  • need a high level of adult assistance

They may:

  • have gaps in learning because of time out of class for therapies
  • have new or multiple staff with different expectations
  • be unable to access the learning offer without adaptation and modifications
  • have some learning needs

We need to get transition right to prevent learners with physical disability feeling:

  • overwhelmed
  • socially isolated
  • that they don't belong
  • angry
  • frustrated

Parents/carers will also have their own concerns:

Click or touch here

Will communication with school be easy and frequent?

Will my child be supported in the same way?

How will new staff know what to do?

How will intimate or medical care be managed?

Will staff encourage social skills and developing friendships?

How will I know if things are ok? My child’s communication is limited.

If these concerns are not addressed this can lead to parents/carers feeling:

  • uninformed about what is happening for their child
  • that school does not listen to their views
  • that they are powerless to change things
  • angry and frustrated

This can quickly cause a learner and their family to lose confidence in their new school/setting and the staff that teach and support them.

Staff in the school/setting may be apprehensive about how to:

  • Keep the learner safe
  • Communicate with the learner
  • Include the learner in class
  • Adapt tasks and activities
  • Manage specialist equipment

If not addressed, the learner may sense staff anxiety and find it difficult to trust the adults teaching and supporting them.

Responsibilities and legal duties around transition

For the last 20 years, all schools and settings have had a legal duty to be ready to meet the needs of a learner with a physical disability.

No school or setting should be unprepared to welcome a child or young person with a physical disability.

Schools/settings should already have:

  • Fully considered access to the environment, the curriculum and information
  • A robust Accessibility Plan which is regularly reviewed
  • Inclusive policy and practice so everyone is treated equally
  • Information on SEND and accessibility readily available to parents
  • Tried and tested processes which lead to successful transition

Remember there is no blueprint to inclusion for a child and young person with a physical disability. They are all unique and each will require a bespoke transition that is carefully planned.

How can we plan and prepare for positive transitions?

  • Step 1 - Gather information  

    Identify a named member of staff from the new school/setting to co-ordinate transition.
    Ensure the new school/setting develops an understanding of the learner's needs and how to meet them.
    Observe the learner in the 'feeder' school or setting being included and using their equipment.
    Become familiar with their paperwork, e.g. Individual Healthcare Plan (IHCP), risk assessments, intimate care plan, personal emergency evacuation plan, moving and handling plan, etc.
    Meet the learner and their parents, listen to what they have to say, find out what works to manage their physical disability and their concerns.
    Acknowledge any sensitive issues such as what parents/carers have told the learner about their physical disability/condition.
    Plan lots of opportunities for staff from the new school/setting to learn about the needs and how they are met by the 'feeder' school/setting, e.g. physiotherapy plan.
    Build working relationships with other professionals in the team around the learner and understand their role in supporting them with their physical disability.
  • Step 2 - Reflect  

    What training will staff require?
    What, if any, further adaption is required?
    What level of assistance does the learner require?
    What can they do independently?
    What equipment and/or technical support do they need?
    What staffing is needed to support the learner?
  • Step 3 - Plan  

    Talk with the learner and their parents about expectations and what their personal learning journey will look like in the new school/setting, acknowledging any differences.
    Organise additional visits (without other learners present) supported by staff from the feeder school/setting to try out equipment and facilities.
    Provide an opportunity for key staff from the new school/setting to shadow staff in the feeder school to see what support strategies work.
  • Step 4 - Prepare  

    Ensure that all staff are aware that a learner with physical disability is starting and knows how to welcome and include them by understanding how they will be supported.
    Ensure that all staff are made aware in general terms about the learner’s physical disability, needs and provision.
    Ensure that key staff are competent in supporting the learner with a physical disability, their role in supporting them and the need for confidentiality.
  • Step 5 - Implement  

    Follow the plan and monitor progression.
    Check in with staff and respond to any feedback or concerns.
    Check in with the learner and parents/carers and respond to any feedback or concerns.
    Take a solution focused approach to any unexpected problems and liaise with the learner and parents/carers.
    Set regular review meetings to update the transition plan.

The learner with a physical disability should be at the heart of all planning processes. We need to make sure we fully involve and empower them.

Whilst the transition plan shows the steps a school/setting takes to welcome a learner with a physical disability, there are more subtle things that you can do to make them feel valued, accepted and that they truly belong in your community from the start.

Developing a ‘sense of belonging’ in the new school/setting takes time and is dependent on their experience and the attitudes of those around them, staff and peers. The little things can easily get overlooked.

Pause for a moment and think about the school day from the perspective of a learner with a physical disability. What worries or concerns might they have?

"Can I get into and out of the cloakroom to hang up my coat and use my locker?"

Click the arrow below for more examples:

"Can I get in and out of assembly easily and sit with my friends?"

"Can I get along corridors without having to stop or avoid clutter?"

"Can I do my therapy in a private space?"

"Can I make choices about how I am going to spend my play/break times?"

"Can I make new friends without an adult always being around?"

"Can I use the lift with a friend?"

"Can I enjoy taking part in PE games and sports (which may be adapted for me)?"

"Can I take part in practical tasks such as science experiments and food tech?"

"Can I tell staff if I have any problems and know they will listen and help me?"

Some learners may have a different way of communicating. Be aware that when frustrated, upset or tired this can make it even more difficult for them to make their voice heard.

You may feel a little daunted, but don't forget the learner's early years or school should have already managed their needs through the SEND Graduated Pathway and any next steps can be built on this foundation, whether they are at School Support or have an Education Health Care Plan.


Every year over 9,000 learners with a physical disability make a successful transition to their new school/setting. The key things that make it a success are:

Starting early

Gathering information

Listening and responding

Careful planning and preparation

Working with others

Keeping everyone informed

Other sources of information and support

Remember you are not alone! There are many specialist charities and organisations offering trusted advice, information and training about physical disability and how to support transition.

pdnet provides a range of resources and, training which support positive transition. The offer includes:

  • Free online training modules designed for anyone working within an educational setting who needs to develop their awareness and understanding of physical disability and the impact it can have on learning. If you have not already completed pdnet Level 1 training, we recommend that you consider doing that training next.
  • Free standards and audit tool to self-evaluate your current provision and identify how to strengthen practice to welcome a learner with physical disability.
  • Online pdnet Level 2 training designed to provide support staff with knowledge and understanding of physical disability and how to deliver effective support.
  • pdnet Accessibility Toolkit to support review of your Accessibility Plan so you are better able to include a learner with PD.
  • A wealth of free resources in the pdnet Effective Practice Hub including feedback forms to collect learner and parent views and transition templates. For example, an Audit Tool to support transition planning.
  • The pdnet Forum provides a valued and well-used platform to share information, knowledge and best practice with other physical disability professionals .It can be used to seek advice and support from colleagues around issues related to supporting a learner with a physical disability including transition.

SCOPE’s online community connected by disability offers a telephone helpline and forum where individual issues, including transition to or between schools can be discussed anonymously and solutions found.

nasen's mini guide offers a quick guide to supporting the needs of CYP and their families when moving between educational settings

Young Minds recognise transitioning from primary to secondary school is a particularly significant change for children and it is important to acknowledge how the individual feels. They offer free online resources and activities to help children gain skills and to find solutions or strategies to manage these feelings.

This free resource pack provides support, materials and practical tips to teachers and other school-based professionals to secure good transitions and destinations into the next stage of education and/or employment for Key Stage 4 Pupils with SEND.

  • The Jennifer Trust for those who are affected by Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).
  • SHINE - providing specialist advice and support for Spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
  • Muscular Dystrophy UK for those affected by muscular dystrophy and other muscle-wasting conditions.

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