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Stronger links urged to help those with special needs

Clare Jenkins looks at latest Government moves to make the careers service more accountable, while Allen Edwards, below, reports that schools are being urged to be more imaginative in finding job opportunities for pupils with special educational needs

Careers officers and teachers have been urged to think creatively about improving job opportunities for young people with special educational needs.

Research by the Careers Research and Advisory Centre has emphasised the importance of looking for help from businesses and further education colleges.

Barbara McGowan, of the advisory centre, has studied the links between schools and businesses and the opportunities for work experience. She believes there are jobs available for many pupils with special needs, but says teachers should be trying to develop stronger and more varied links to help prepare them for work because of the disadvantages they face.

Her report, Special Needs and Partnership Programmes, show that school SEN co-ordinators tended not to know about all the help that might be available from businesses. Many teachers are under pressure and could find it hard to develop the sort of strong links that are needed to encourage firms to take on young people with special needs for work experience.

Ms McGowan said: "Education is short of funding and extra funding is not going to happen. But there is a lot that you can do without getting more money. The potential for developing linked programmes with the community is much greater than is recognised."

She said her research showed that a steady, persistent and well-organised approach would lead to far more help from business. Schools that slowly built up relationships with employers were also more likely to work better with them.

Employers were more likely to offer work experience if they already had links with children with special needs, she found. Leading firms which offer opportunities include McDonald's and Tesco.

Special schools could save time and effort by using work experience channels set up by mainstream schools. And getting school governors to use their contacts could be an important way of developing links with businesses.

It was also important to make time to plan and to set up policies to encourage staff to get involved, she reported.

Ms McGowan said she was optimistic about the careers opportunities for young people with special needs.

Technological changes and the increasing number of jobs in service industries were making it easier for physically disabled people to find work. Jobs such as telephone sales are becoming increasingly accessible to people who use wheel- chairs, for example.

However, she emphasised that opportunities for simpler manual jobs were declining. These traditionally had been taken by people with moderate learning difficulties. But Ms McGowan said she was not completely pessimistic about this group because the job market was changing so quickly that new opportunities might emerge.

The research was carried out last year using a postal survey of 4,800 British schools, to which 520 replied.

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