Pathways to Employment for Young People with SEND

The SEND Code of Practice states that all children and young people are entitled to an appropriate education, and “every school is required to identify and address the SEN of the pupils that they support”.

The code lays out a clear set of obligations that schools, academies and local authorities must adhere to in order to help maximise the potential of children and young people with SEND, as explored on the IG Schools blog.

It is also important for educational establishments to focus on post-16 and post-18 pathways, as a key part of preparing for adulthood. This includes supporting young people to enroll for further education and training, or entering the world of work – typically areas where young people with SEND lag behind.

According to the Department for Education (DfE), in 2018 18.4% of pupils identified with special educational needs in year 11 entered higher education by age 19, compared to 48% of pupils who were not identified with special educational needs. Furthermore, during the 2018/19 financial year, just 5.9% of adults with learning disabilities aged 18-64 who were receiving support from social services were in paid employment, compared to 6% in the previous year.

Supporting young people with SEND into work

Despite these alarming figures, the DfE states that “the overwhelming majority of young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are capable of sustainable paid employment, with the right preparation and support”. Therefore, what can school leaders do to ensure that young people with SEND are better prepared for life after compulsory education draws to a close?

As part of the DfE project, “Employment is Everyone's Business”, the National Development Team for inclusion (NDTi) and the British Association for Supported Employment (BASE) published a “planning guide for schools, colleges and careers advisers on how to work with young people from year 9 onwards to understand the world of work and to think about their skills, interests and work aspirations”.

The key considerations outlined in the guide include:

Raising aspirations: Consider introducing conversations with young people with SEND about careers. Partake in activities that can boost a belief that paid work is possible, including hosting annual events that provide young people and their families with information, advice and guidance, whilst also highlighting positive case studies. In addition, the guide recommends displaying images of people with SEND in employment around the building, using video testimonials, and engaging with local supported employment agencies.

Vocational profiles: Create vocational profiles to “understand an individual’s experience, skills, abilities, interests, aspirations and needs in relation to employment”. This will help to determine suitable job matches or work experience placements. “It provides a picture of the ideal conditions needed in a workplace for the student to be successful,” the guide states. This profile can be fed into the young person’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan.

Work experience: Any work experience programme should be based on “in-depth knowledge of the student”, “have clear educational and vocational goals” and “involve on the job learning”. It is important to ensure that support and feedback is provided.

Additional considerations include the following: working with social care to maximise opportunities for holiday and weekend jobs; creating more work opportunities through traineeships, supported internships and apprenticeships; ensuring that employment support is of high quality; and guaranteeing that follow-on support is in place for young people after they leave education to maintain or gain paid work.

Using technology to help young people with SEND find employment

Assistive technology also has an important role to play. In November 2020, Vicky Ford, Children and Families Minister, announced new research aimed at helping to bridge the gap between education and employment for young people with SEND.

The study brings together a body of research on assistive technology for the first time, helping schools and colleges better understand how to harness the benefits of existing tools and approaches to raise the outcomes of pupils with SEND.

In a keynote speech to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Assistive Technology, the minister said:

“Assistive Technology can be life-changing and for many it is vital to communication, learning and overall independence.

“In recent months, the importance of Assistive Technology has been demonstrated like never before. The essential collaboration provided by groups such as this APPG is vital to ensure that we make policy which is informed by as much research and evidence as possible.

“Our review will give schools and colleges a helping hand by providing greater transparency in what tools and interventions can improve outcomes of SEND students and bridge the gap from education into employment. It will also support the technology sector in embedding accessibility features – such as text to voice tools – as part of their service development, and policymakers to better embed inclusion into their policies and services. This will lead to real, meaningful differences in the quality of education for children and young people.

“This is key, because we need to be clear: accessibility should never be an add on, it should be the norm.”

Success stories of helping young people with SEND into the workplace

It is positive to read various case studies where schools have put in place initiatives designed to better prepare young people with SEND to enter the working world.

One example comes from Jenny Bayliss, Deputy Headteacher at Pendle Community High School and College, a special school for 11 to 19-year-olds in Nelson, Lancashire. The school worked closely with Digital Inc, an employability programme that helps teenagers aged 16 to 18 with SEND to get digital jobs, to set up a digital agency in the classroom.

“Young people were 'employed' by the agency and received live creative briefs which involved them creating a business plan, writing scripts, making films and designing an app. They then pitched their concept to a panel of business experts. Facilitating the thought process of students with SEND is key to making this real-life experience work. We need to draw out students’ ideas, enquiring in the right way, avoiding leading questions and being sensitive to the fact that some young people might be susceptible to suggestion,” explained Jenny.