New Bridge School is helping to prepare disabled and special educational needs (SEN) students for the workplace using vocational courses and carefully planned job placements.
A depressingly small proportion of pupils who attend special schools go on to work in full-time jobs. This knowledge concerned headteacher Graham Quinn and other staff at New Bridge School in Oldham, which caters for 11- to 19-year-olds who have SEN and disabilities.
"Presently, fewer than 5 per cent of young people who attended special schools and have severe learning difficulties are in paid employment of 16 hours per week or more," says Quinn. "This is prevalent throughout the system. Is the aspiration we have for disabled students nationally as they move into a world outside of school high enough? I would argue not."
New Bridge is attempting to change that by providing high-quality job placements and a choice of specially developed vocational courses for its post-16 students.
The work-based placements for sixth-formers each last between 12 and 14 weeks. The school has worked closely with two of the largest local employers - the Royal Oldham Hospital and Manchester Metropolitan University - to set up the programme, called Bridging the Gap.
The students are accompanied by a teacher and a job coach from New Bridge, who ensure that they gain the help they need to learn new skills and job routines and to develop core curriculum skills. Employers have found it reassuring to have school staff present to provide support. As the students become more proficient in the workplace, the job coaching is carefully withdrawn to allow them to become more independent.
"We don't carry them: once they have learned the job they work hard like the rest of us," says a member of the hospital team.
New Bridge also offers its post-16 students the choice of three work-based vocational courses it has created: Hortus, Lumenus and Sports Pathway.
Hortus develops students' skills in horticulture and construction from entry level to level 2. It operates as an enterprise, maintaining the grounds of five sites across Oldham, including those of sports facilities and other schools. Students are often helped to gain jobs by staff, who sometimes arrange work-based interviews instead of traditional spoken interviews.
Lumenus is a full-time course based on performing arts, which also offers a range of accredited qualifications. Students have taken part in a number of local theatre projects and performances, as well as projects further afield, including being involved in footage recorded for the London 2012 Olympics by Danny Boyle.
Sports Pathway gets students working towards gaining Sports Leaders awards and helping with PE in local primaries. All the courses ensure that the students continue to make progress in core academic subjects.
Signs of success
Half the students who have completed the Bridging the Gap programme are now in paid employment. They include Elizabeth, now employed in the Royal Oldham Hospital's sterilisation unit. "You work hard and see if you like it - they help you so you can learn," she says. "You meet new people and then you can get a job and get paid, like me."
New Bridge's success with vocational routes has led it to set up a centre for young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties. New Bridge Horizons operates separately to the school and offers more personalised work-preparation packages.
What the inspectors said
"Highly effective routes to employment and apprenticeships, as well as opportunities which enable students to make outstanding progress in becoming more independent, mean that post-16 students are extremely well prepared and motivated to move on to the next step."
Read the full Ofsted case study at: bit.lyUzaqAI
Name: New Bridge School
Type: Secondary special school
Pupils: About 300
Age range: 11-19
Intake: Pupils with special educational needs statements.