Students with SEND will need extra support to identify and secure work experience and schools should be committed to ensuring that despite any additional challenges high quality placements are found for this group with a minimum of one experience by the age of 16 and a further one by the age of 18.
Finding a high quality placement for a student with SEND can come with additional challenges but that should not prevent it from happening. Depending on the needs of the individual the opportunities for a placement may be more limited and the student may also need a degree of supervision. Employers may also be unsure of offering a placement to a young person with additional needs if they do not understand how best to include them in the workplace.
Cornwall Ambitions Project can help make referrals to a number of professionals to support students with SEND to develop the skills necessary to successfully transition on to the workplace.
It should be a real workplace – aim high for external workplaces where possible and opportunities where the students can try out real roles or elements of them. If the placement is going to be in school (and sometimes this is the best option for the student) ensure that it is meaningful and gives the individual a good grounding as to what is expected in that role – treat them accordingly and as much as possible give them a ‘real life’ experience of being an employee and not a student.
Think about the model which will suit the young person the best – is a work shadowing experience a more relevant option? Citizenship learning, visits and volunteering roles can also develop skills and knowledge of the workplace. Perhaps a combination building up to work experience would be beneficial in order to develop confidence in stage.
Make sure it is tailored – students with moderate learning disabilities may need a graduated employer engagement working up to a placement when confidence is built. Students with SEMH or behavioural issues may benefit from a placement that is well planned and structured and delivered on a 1:1 basis. For students with more severe learning disabilities a more sheltered or internal work experience may be more suitable to reflect more complex needs – these can still offer development of the softer skill, confidence and self-esteem.
Leave plenty of time for preparation – ensure that the young person is well supported and has time to plan and consider the placement making sure there is understanding and expectations are acknowledged and agreed.
Prepare and debrief the employer – many employers although willing may be concerned about the best methods of communication or how to best to support the young person in the role. Good practice would recommend having an introductory visit with the student to build confidence on both sides and to offer support and training to the employer to answer any questions they may have. A good debriefing after the placement will help encourage the employer to host again and to improve planning for future placements.
Studies have shown that work experience develops a number of employability skills including better communication, interpersonal skills, increased confidence and maturity.