Many learners with SEND are held back by self-doubt, writes Lee Dale
You are sat in a waiting room, scanning back over your notes, reciting your preparations quietly in your head.
You hear a clock ticking, a water machine quietly humming, then the ring of a phone on reception, “We’re ready for you, just through the door ahead, good luck!”, says the receptionist.
We have all experienced nerves prior to an interview.
For some, this is heightened even further by the daunting prospect of disclosing to their prospective employer at interview that they have a physical or learning disability.
The fear of rejection due to prejudice or discrimination can often lead individuals to choose not to disclose.
However, we would like to think that most employers are fair and, during their selection process, genuinely offering the role to the most suitable candidate.
For those supportive employers, the knowledge of a candidate’s circumstances can pave the way for supportive discussions around reasonable adjustments. They can also consider the benefits the individual can bring to their role, team and organisation overall.
The role of a training provider often extends beyond the core curriculum of a programme. We hold a social responsibility to actively promote and drive equality and diversity, where difference is recognised as an opportunity to contribute, rather than a detractor.
Working in a unique sector where employment is directly linked with education, we in FE are able to actively drive change through engagement with learners and employers alike.
Between 2013 and 2019, disability employment increased by over 1.3 million, according to the Office for National Statistics. And in 2020, the number of disabled individuals in employment continued to rise.
This is clear evidence that positive change is occurring amongst employers during the selection phase.
However, although the number of those in employment rose, the proportion of disabled people in work overall decreased.
That means there is a wealth of potential talent that is missing from the labour market, which would bring neurodivergent thinking and varied experience.
There is a wealth of talent missing from the labour market
Teams where everybody has similar experience and backgrounds stifles creativity and can reduce the potential for success.
A unique opportunity afforded to further education is to openly discuss this topic with employers that we engage with, potentially sparking change.
It could also open a potential talent pipeline that prospective employers could tap into, thus positively impacting SEND learners moving into full-time employment.
Further education establishments then have to consider learners themselves, by educating and supporting them to understand the rights they have, as well as recognising their own potential.
A key factor to succeeding in this is supporting learners to identify the areas of their SEND requirement that could positively impact in sectors they are seeking a career within.
Many learners can experience feelings of self-doubt, limiting their ability to reach their full potential. These feelings are often due to a lack of awareness of the support mechanisms available, or due to poor experiences within past education.
To ensure that every learner, no matter their background or circumstance, has the ability to achieve, our aim should be to have sound processes. These could lend themselves to positive discussions around the benefits of disclosure and support available.
For this to succeed, a genuine learner-centric culture, championing diversity and change, must be at the core of what we do.
At this point, I ask you, why did you choose a career in education? Passion for a subject you want to share? To make a difference?
This will take extra time, effort and focus.
But the amazing feeling of inspiring just one person to walk more confidently into that interview room, and positively promote their additional needs ̶ maybe that’s why you chose education?