FE Week Staffroom Article

Posted on January 12, 2023

The road to employment for students with SEND

 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, while 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, 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 students study programme. They follow an individual learning journey that develops them academically, socially and culturally, 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. However this has only become possible by creating a strong network of local employers, including software quality assurance, 3D design and groundskeeping, accounting, administration and digital marketing, to name but a few, who are willing to give our students that opportunity.

We have worked hard to build this network. We have a member of our team dedicated to growing these relationships, being ready to work with employers to respond to their needs and questions and, importantly, being resilient when some say no. Very quickly, our business partners have recognised, like us, 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 and two Doncaster Chamber Business Awards however 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 actual apprenticeship which in turn has led to employment post college.

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, leading to a secure and prosperous future.

Gail Stonier is Senior SENCO at Harrison College. For further information on Harrison College, visit www.harrisoncollege.co.uk or follow on LinkedIn @HarrisonCollege

Harrison College won the nasen Award for 16 -25 Provision. For more information on the nasen Awards and to register for the 2023 nasen Awards visit www.nasen.org.uk/awards