Research into practice

A three-year project to investigate the under-representation of young south Asian people with learning difficulties in post-school education and training is ending.

Run by the charity Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities the Aasha (Bengali for “hope”) initiative involved two project development workers, in Birmingham and Tower Hamlets in London, helping more than 90 young people and their families.

Many of these young people had previously just been sitting at home after leaving school. A major part of the workers’ brief was to listen to the young people and their families to find out what the main blocks were in moving on to appropriate provision.

The research shows that services are often not culturally sensitive to the needs of this group of young people. Service providers working in areas with south Asian communities need to develop a much better understanding of their culture.

Over the three years it became clear that the young people identified themselves first by their cultural background rather than by their disability. This contrasts with the way services tend to view these young people in terms of their disability in the first instance. An example of the way service providers may need to adjust their approach is in terms of their focus upon people with learning difficulties achieving independence where “independence” is often interpreted as involving living away from the family. This may not always be appropriate to the family-oriented south Asian culture.

The Aasha project has been particularly successful because the two project development workers, a young woman from a Pakistani background in Birmingham and a young man from a Bangladeshi background in Tower Hamlets, spoke the language and understood the culture of the people they were working with.

They also had the time to build up long-term relationships of trust with the young people and their families. Services need to recruit and train workers from a south Asian background, preferably from both sexes. During the Aasha project, the female project development worker ended up working with more young women than young men and the male project development worker with more young men than young women.

Services should consider how they can reach this particular group of people to make them aware of opportunities. Producing information leaflets in community languages may not be enough – face-to-face contact is likely to be necessary. Practitioners should look at the possibilities for working closely with local south Asian community groups. Benefits information, in particular, needs to be clearly and accessibly presented. Many of the families in the Aasha project found it difficult to understand the benefits system. Given that many of the families in the Aasha project lived in poverty, this was particularly serious.

The Aasha project has also shown how important social interaction with their peers can be for this group of young people. The project worker in Birmingham set up a women’s group which gave some of the members an important opportunity to interact in an environment that they felt comfortable in.

– The Aasha publication is available from Skill, priced £15. To order visit the bookshop at or call 0207 450 0620.

Liz Maudslay is policy director (further education) at Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities.

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