The Staffroom: The road to employment for students with SEND

Students with SEND are massively under-represented in the workforce but high aspirations and simple actions can begin to change that, says Gail Stonier

Students with SEND are massively under-represented in the workforce but high aspirations and simple actions can begin to change that, says Gail Stonier

6 Feb 2023, 5:00

Who has the upper hand in our labour market: employee or employer? With ‘we’re hiring’ and ‘vacancy’ signs commonplace, you might be forgiven for thinking that job seekers have it all their way – but that’s not quite the case for young people with SEND.

Currently, fewer than one in four young people with high functioning autism access education after GCSE level and only 16 per cent are in full-time employment.
As educators, we have to support our young people to be ready. Today, flexibility is key – whether that is in working hours, location or role demands – as is resilience to be able to cope with change, good communication skills and problem-solving abilities. Confidence in practical matters and technical skills to succeed in a digital world are vital too, as are the basics of good timekeeping, being personable and looking presentable.

All these attributes to being employment ready can be hard for young people with SEND. That’s why our student-centred approach is so important, providing the best opportunities for young people who may be disenfranchised from traditional education or whose needs simply are not being met elsewhere. Our ethos is that a young person’s learning need or disability shouldn’t hold them back.

We know our students have a lot to offer, they can be confident and employable individuals and they can pursue their dreams and succeed as young adults. We want them to have as many opportunities available to them as their peers in a mainstream school or college. It’s our job to give them the skills to help them achieve it.

We tailor every student’s study programme. They follow an individual learning journey that develops them academically, socially and culturally. As part of that, we work on their employability preparation and personal finance. However a key part of their study programme is the chance to access a supported internship linked to their own long-term target and career aims. This has only become possible by creating a strong network of local employers across a host of sectors from 3D design to groundskeeping who are willing to give our students that opportunity.

Businesses have quickly come to see how much our students have to give

We have worked hard to build this network. A member of our team is dedicated to growing these relationships, ready to work with employers to respond to their needs and questions and, importantly, resilient when some say no. As a result of this work, our business partners have quickly come to recognise how much our students have to give.

This work is ongoing as we seek to offer an even broader range of opportunities for our students. In the meantime, we continue to be innovative in our study programme ensuring our students and staff thrive in a culture that allows them to take calculated risks and not be afraid to fail.

Our learning environment is a point of difference and centres on a calm, creative and purposeful atmosphere where staff and students can be innovative in their approach to teaching and learning. The outcome is young people who have the life skills to help them overcome obstacles and achieve, all done at a pace that is right for each individual and their capabilities.

We were delighted to win nasen’s Award for 16-25 Provision last year as well as two Doncaster Chamber Business Awards, but it’s the feedback from students and their parents that tells us we’re on the right path. Our students have reported improved confidence levels, developing core skills, the ability to make new friends and being able to complete an apprenticeship which in turn has led to post-college employment.

For many of our students, this is the first time they have been happy in a learning environment; it is the first time they have made friends and they feel happy, safe and want to come to college and learn in a way they never have before.

We place no limits on what can be achieved, no matter their background or starting point. And slowly but surely, employers are seeing the value of doing the same – leading to a secure and prosperous future.

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One comment

  1. Kathryn

    It sounds like you are providing some amazing opportunities for young people in Doncaster which is well needed.
    I would potentially consider your wording of “high functioning “ as this can be misleading.
    Autism is a spectrum and individuals will have areas of strengths and areas they find challenging and these strengths and challenges may change throughout their lives.