Everyone gains from a supported apprenticeship  – not just students with SEND

I’m pleased others see my success as an inspiration, says Joshua Earnshaw-Potts, but apprenticeships could allow many more to achieve what I have

I’m pleased others see my success as an inspiration, says Joshua Earnshaw-Potts, but apprenticeships could allow many more to achieve what I have

29 Mar 2023, 5:00

My first day at Wat Tyler Country Park doing work experience was back in September 2019. I instantly felt freer; I hated being stuck indoors and I loved working within a group, getting tasks done.

Even as a small child I just loved playing with bugs and dirt. I remember getting told off for diving into puddles with my brother, but no scolding ever made me feel less happy about being covered in mud.

So I was hugely grateful when Wat Tyler gave me the opportunity to work for them. A traditional classroom isn’t for everyone, and I learned over time that I struggle to work in enclosed areas. I love the fresh air, the space. Being indoors to me is suffocating.

Working in the education area at the park gave me the chance to be part of a team that made an area safe and user-friendly for local schools. I had the opportunity to cut down the reeds in the ponds, cut back all the overhanging trees and discover creatures every day, knowing I was doing something for the environment, that I was making a difference.

With my apprenticeship, I can learn while doing something I feel passionate about – looking after our planet and being a guardian of the environment. Every week, after working with different volunteer groups, I can look back on our completed work and see tangible progress. I have also been able to plant new trees, and I think about this a lot; it’s crazy to know that through my work, tall trees will be here in years to come. It is a very satisfying feeling.

I knew a ‘traditional’ education pathway wasn’t for me so I was so happy and excited to get an apprenticeship, where I could learn on the job. I get to work with so many great people, experience the woods, meadows and community spaces and maintain these spaces for everyone to enjoy. I even get to talk to the public and educate them on what we are doing.

All my friends could have done what I have achieved

I feel like I’m part of the team, I blend in and it doesn’t feel as if my learning needs are important. I like being different and unique, but I feel normal here because I can just be myself and that is enough.

I feel I am more mature too. The apprenticeship gave me the chance to drive the all-terrain vehicle off-road and now I want to learn to drive, which I didn’t think I would do. This apprenticeship hasn’t just given me an education; it has developed me as a person.

My employers say I am an inspiration, which is a crazy feeling because I think all my friends could have done what I have achieved. They just weren’t as lucky as I have been in getting the opportunity.

That’s why I want more employers to look at supported apprenticeships. Young people with SEND can work hard, we can achieve and we do have bright futures. We might just need some extra help. I tell my work friends the things I find difficult and they help me. I get the job done, and it means I can have the life I always wanted.

I have been able achieve things that I didn’t think I ever would. Winning the nasen award for young person aged 16-25 being one of them. Writing this article for you to read is another.

I have learned so much through my apprenticeship that I hope I can become a fully employed and permanent part of the team one day. I tell the Castledon School students who come here now that I didn’t always want to do work placements, but now I love it. My school, and Basildon Council through my land management apprenticeship, gave me a route into work. I want to see more schools and employers doing the same.

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