From education to employment

Inspirational special school sets out to buck employment trends

Katherine Emms

The latest report published by the Edge Foundation follows the journey to employment for young people with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). Three case studies are included in the report; St Martins School, their Sixth Form offering at Horizons, and their internship scheme with DFN Project SEARCH.

The Edge Foundation visited the school, sixth form and hospital in March 2020 to gain insight into their practice and to speak to the teachers, young people and hospital staff.

Pupils with special educational needs or disabilities face many barriers during their education and as school leavers they struggle to find and keep jobs. St Martins School, part of the Shaw Educational Trust, is a special school in Derby where the local employment rate for young people with SEND is just 3.8%.

The school is tackling this issue by working closely with employers and community partners. Representatives from local companies come in to work with the students. Some provide independent careers advice and guidance while others set them enterprise tasks or special projects to enhance their employability and life skills.

It is a learning experience for employers and students alike. Recently students worked on a Mission to Mars’ challenge with Rolls-Royce who adapted some of the content delivery so it was accessible to pupils with SEND.

One of the destinations for school leavers is Horizons Sixth Form, a vocational post-16 provision for young people with SEND. Here they learn key skills, such as leadership skills and work in different roles in the on-site print company which gives them a chance to experience running a small business.

After students finish their compulsory education, the next step for some is an internship. At Derby Hospital, they have offered supported internships to nine young people with learning disabilities. This is part of DFN Project Search, an international programme of supported internships which improves the prospects of paid employment for students with learning disabilities and autistic spectrum conditions.

The interns have three ten week placements in different areas of the hospital from car park duties to portering, administration to catering. One young man worked in the pathology department, checking and labelling patient samples. Team members complimented him on learning the job processes quickly and described him as, ‘a valuable member of the team.’

Before their hospital shift, the interns spend an hour learning workplace conduct, health and safety, and generally supporting their hospital roles. The final hour of the day is a debrief where they identify the skills and knowledge they are developing and pinpoint their successes and areas for improvement.

It works. One of the Job Coaches says: ‘Seeing an intern progress from needing virtually 100% job coach support to hardly any in the space of a few months is awe inspiring. I think the real benefit of this project is that it promotes independence and opens doors.

It seems that St Martins School, with their sixth form Horizons and their partnership with DFN Project Search at Derby Hospital, offers an excellent model for preparing young people with SEND for more interesting and secure employment opportunities than are currently on offer in many parts of the UK.

Katherine Emms is an educational researcher at the Edge Foundation.

Edge is an independent education charity which via real world projects, research and policy work, strives to make education relevant to the twenty-first century.

Edge believes all young people need to be equipped with the skills that today’s global, digital economy demands, through a broad and balanced curriculum, high quality training, engaging real world learning and rich relationships between education and employers.

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