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How to support SEND students into employment

4th March 2024

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), only 4.6% of people with a learning disability are in paid employment.

Our transformative journey to address this gap began with a Project Search supported internship at Musgrove Park Hospital, which is quite literally across the road from our Taunton Campus. Through this internship, we have seen fantastic outcomes for our students. Aaron, for example, was placed at the hospital in work rotations including the Acute Medical Unit. He overcame social isolation, his learning difficulties and anxiety, built a friendship group and has now gained a sustainable paid role at Musgrove Hospital.

It’s his story, and the experiences of others, that makes our supported employment provision essential.

The success of this internship has increased local demand for such programmes and resulted in us expanding opportunities and developing pathways in collaboration with our local authority and local employers.

Collaborating closely with Somerset County Council, local employers and supported employment partners, our curriculum now seamlessly guides students from education to supported internships and, or, onto sustainable paid employment. The department has an ethos of high aspirations for all students, and preparation for employment is embedded within all study programmes.

Employers play a role in planning and curriculum development – this is essential to ensuring employer buy in and learner success, and ultimately, creates a dynamic and inclusive ecosystem within the supported employment programmes.

Initiatives such as the Hinkley Point C supported traineeship and Avon and Somerset Police pathway to employment are great examples of this collaboration. Toby, for example, was offered a paid job with Wincanton after his Hinkley Point C supported traineeship. Before this programme, his anxiety was proving a barrier to progression, but the programme gave him the confidence and support to achieve. He has now been promoted and earns more than the job coach who worked with him on the programme.

While these programmes were created to enable further pathways into employment, the preparation and focus on employment begins earlier. Our study programme courses integrate work readiness, work experience, group work experience, employability in English and maths, and social enterprise, emphasising the development of employment skills at all levels of the department.

Looking ahead, Bridgwater and Taunton College are committed to continuous development. Plans for a college shop run by the foundation learning department for practical experience are well under way, and we are leading the digital for all project as part of the local skills improvement plan (LSIP) in 2024. Developing a social emotional and mental health (SEMH) specific supported internship programme for a tailored approach to develop further employment destinations for this specialist group of students has also begun.

The vision extends beyond today, ensuring students are well-prepared for the dynamic demands of the employment landscape.

The impact on our college and wider community has been profound. Students’ progression into work-based learning and employment is rising year on year. Positive destinations from our supported employment programmes rose from 75% in 2021/22 to 100% for 2022/23.

Staff and external partners actively contribute to a vibrant ecosystem that prioritises skill development and employment readiness. This is not just within the foundation learning department; our English and maths employability lessons involve support departments having students in their teams for some weeks to enable them to see English and maths skills being used in the workplace. It’s a new and exciting initiative to further enhance the views of developing employability skills throughout the whole curriculum.

For those looking to implement similar initiatives, the advice is rooted in our experiences. Align starting points and aspirations collaboratively to create achievable flight paths. Implement a stepped plan throughout study programmes to systematically develop employment skills. Work closely with employers and local authorities to ensure supported employment programmes are created in partnership, addressing real-world challenges and benefiting all stakeholders.

We welcome any colleagues to visit and see our provision in practice and share our experiences and continued development of curriculum.

Our journey at Bridgwater and Taunton College exemplifies the transformative power of collaboration, innovation, and commitment to excellence. As a finalist in the AoC Beacon Awards, we stand ready to inspire and influence educational practices across the FE colleges. Let's continue to pioneer study programmes that not only educate but empower, preparing our SEND and SEMH students for a future full of possibilities.

Lorna Whitford is the Head of Foundation Learning at Bridgwater and Taunton College

Find out more about sponsoring an AoC Beacon Award here.