Sixty-one per cent of young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) go into further education, compared with 34 per cent of the wider population, studies show. For these young people, it’s vital they receive support from FE colleges to get into employment when they leave.
The UK has major skills shortages in many sectors, and Brexit may mean we are less likely to be able to rely on EU immigration to help plug the skills gap. The education secretary, Justine Greening, recently made a speech in which she talked about creating "an army of skilled young people for British business", and with the introduction of new T-level qualifications, FE colleges will be at the forefront of helping to prepare young people for the world of work.
At the National Deaf Children’s Society, we recently commissioned research into the transitions that deaf young people make from FE into employment, and we found some worrying trends.
The research found that nearly 70 per cent of deaf young people go into FE. Based on the feedback we get from so many young people and their parents, we suspected that the support available to help them find work might be poor and patchy. Sadly our research confirmed this.
Some 59 per cent of parents of deaf young people said their child’s college did not help them find any work experience or placement opportunities, while 39 per cent of parents stated their child had not received any careers support or guidance at college.
On top of this, the research showed that when young people do receive work experience and careers support from their FE college, they are more likely to go into employment or further study as a direct result. Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of deaf young people who received career advice ended up in full-time higher education or employment, compared with 60 per cent of those who did not. Some 86 per cent of deaf young people who got work experience went in to full-time employment or higher education, compared with 64 per cent of those who did not.
'It's imperative that careers advice is improved'
It’s deeply concerning that the vast majority of deaf young people are being let down by FE colleges, and are failing to be prepared for a future that will already present many barriers for them. The research provides a strong case for deaf young people having access to tailored careers advice at school and college. It is not just about having the same access to careers advice that their hearing course-mates receive.
Do deaf young people know that they can benefit from Access to Work funding from the government? Do they understand their rights under the Equality Act? Are they aware of the organisations that might be able to provide further support when they leave education? Schools and colleges have a key role in making sure deaf young people receive this type of information.
It’s expected that work experience will be a compulsory part of the new T levels, so we need to make sure deaf young people are getting the support they need on these placements as well.
FE and skills reform has cross-party support and I believe that better investment in FE will benefit many deaf young people. However, before they embark on any technical routes, we need to fight for deaf young people to have better access to decent careers advice so that they can make properly informed decisions about the career opportunities available to them and understand what support is available in the workplace.
I’m deaf myself and I remember that leaving education to find work was very daunting. I am sure it is the same for many deaf young people finishing education today. With such a high proportion of people with SEND going into FE, and such high levels of unemployment for people with SEND when they leave school, it’s absolutely imperative that careers advice in the FE sector is dramatically improved.
Martin McLean is education and training policy adviser at the National Deaf Children’s Society