Six ways to help learners with SEND find work

The principal of a special needs college shares her top tips for setting up a programme to develop professional skills

Caroline Allen

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In August 2013, the government introduced traineeships for young people who wish to get an apprenticeship or find other employment but lack the basic skills and experience that employers are looking for.

At Orchard Hill College, we grasped this initiative and ran with it for our students with special needs and I believe that it’s going very well. As principal and chief executive of the college, I know that our students have the potential to do amazing things: they just need the right support and help.

If you are thinking about setting up a similar programme for students with special educational needs and disabilities and want to encourage learners to apply and engage with it, here are a few tips.

  1. Appropriate marketing
    Aside from making sure that your communication and marketing is appropriate for your audience, try to ensure that you have open days that are truly open and encourage as much word-of-mouth activity as you can.

  2. Tell the success stories
    Make sure that you tell the world about your triumphs and make sure that your success stories are visible – get councillors, employers, the mayor, local MPs or anyone that you can involved. Let them be part of the success.

  3. It’s always about the student
    Make sure students know what you can offer. Gear the training to what they need. Our students are the learners who find it difficult to go to a mainstream training provider or college – we are able to offer them additional expertise, as well as support networks. But when we have a student who wants a mainstream traineeship, we make sure to introduce them to a mainstream provider: it’s always about the student.

  4. Face-to-face works best
    Open events, working with the community and grass-roots organisations are important ways to forge links. So are the local authority, councillors and other stakeholders. Take time to build the relationships with them and the wider community.

  5. Clarity is key
    Keep the language simple. Make sure you tell students, parents, local authorities, employers and other stakeholders exactly what you’re doing. And make sure that you ditch the education jargon: while programme names, initiatives and government priorities change, you must remain constant.

  6. Let’s celebrate
    Focus on raising awareness in an appropriate way and recognise students’ success. For example, each year we take part in a celebration for all colleges in South London at the House of Lords. Tea on the terrace is a real treat.

Caroline Allen is principal of Orchard Hill Multi Academy Trust, which runs five college sites and three schools across London and Surrey. She tweets at @callenorchardh1

This is an edited article from the 18 March edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTES Further Education subscription packages are available here

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Caroline Allen

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