Careers education for students with SEND

Written by: Jenny Bayliss | Published:
Innovative: Students and teachers from Melland High School in Manchester taking part in the Digital Inc programme, which helps teenagers with SEND to get digital jobs

Effective careers advice is vital for students with SEND, who are more likely to become NEET. Jenny Bayliss explains her school’s work to offer students the best advice and experiences

Employment figures for individuals with SEND are worrying. According to the charity Mencap, young people with a learning disability are three times more likely to be NEET (not in education, employment and training) than those without a learning disability.

Meanwhile, the National Autistic Society’s employment campaign tells us that just 16 per cent of adults with autism are in full-time paid work and, in 2017, the Guardian reported that only six per cent of people with learning disabilities are in paid work.

There are many reasons for these numbers, but one factor is the careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) that some students with SEND receive.

Indeed, the Department for Education (DfE) admitted in its recent Careers Strategy that “careers advice for young people with SEND can often be poor and lacking in aspiration” (2017).

This has been compounded by budget cuts, a shortage of supported work placements and little assistance for employers, many of whom lack the confidence to hire young people with SEND.

In 2014, the government introduced Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) to replace statements of SEN. EHCPs aim to provide tailored support for young people, bringing together their health, social and educational care needs. A key component of these plans is support for young adults around their long-term aspirations, preparing them for the world of work in line with the DfE’s Preparing for Adulthood agenda. Four Preparing for Adulthood outcomes are included in the SEND Code of Practice – employment, independent living, community inclusion and health.

The Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) has also established a £1.7 million fund which targets programmes supporting disadvantaged groups, including those with SEND. The funding focuses on improving employer engagement and confidence, resulting in more meaningful workplace encounters for young people.

In our school, Pendle Community High School and College in Lancashire, we have had some success when it comes to providing meaningful careers advice and work experience for both our young people and local employers. This has come from a tailored approach that empowers and inspires students by replicating real-life work environments, involving experts from local businesses and also focusing on digital employment.

For the past two years, we have been working with Digital Advantage and its SEND programme, Digital Inc, an innovative employability programme that helps teenagers aged 16 to 18 with SEND to get digital jobs.

There are several success factors involved in the Digital Inc approach, which other schools could take into consideration.

Surround yourself with SEND expertise

Delivering CEIAG effectively to students with SEND is not miles apart from delivering it to all other students. Indeed, Digital Inc was adapted from a careers programme for mainstream schools called Digital Advantage.
When you are planning your approach, it is important to work closely with SEND experts and to draw from research so that you can tailor your scheme appropriately. Speak to the SEND lead at your local council and co-design the programme with the parents of your SEND learners.

Look at evidence about how to successfully engage SEND students in CEIAG, such as the CEC’s “What Works” research series, which includes advice on creating transition programmes for young people with SEND (CEC, 2017).

Bear in mind that careers programmes for young people with SEND may need to allocate extra time to relationship-building between students, staff and external trainers and business experts before the scheme begins. For students with SEND, it is also important that their teachers are involved in delivery and receive training so they can support the project and drive it in the future.

Pitch real-life experience at the right level

Providing real-life, experiential careers education to students with SEND is vital. For us, Digital Inc set up a pop-up digital agency in the classroom. Young people were “employed” by the agency and received live creative briefs which involved them creating a business plan, writing scripts, making films and designing an app. They then pitched their concept to a panel of business experts.

Facilitating the thought process of students with SEND is key to making this real-life experience work. We need to draw out students’ ideas, enquiring in the right way, avoiding leading questions and being sensitive to the fact that some young people might be susceptible to suggestion.

Concepts needs to be explored at the right level and with meaning and imagination for students to understand and engage. Seeing business experts who are genuinely interested in and impressed by their ideas can be a huge boost and it is often these external professionals who most relate to and inspire the young people involved.

Make things digital

The best CEIAG will equip students with the skills they need to thrive in 21st century jobs. Increasingly, many of these jobs are in the digital sector or have a strong digital element, something borne out of the fact that the digital skills gap in the UK is huge and widening. Report after report identifies the challenge of getting students’ skills more aligned with the digital economy.

Many people on the autistic spectrum can be very focused, logical thinkers who have good attention to detail and strong problem-solving abilities. People with learning disabilities can often be very dedicated, loyal and reliable workers. These skills are in high demand in the digital industries, yet young people with SEND are not being given the opportunity to prove themselves.

Creating strong links between your school and local digital businesses is one way to educate parents, teachers and students about the range of job opportunities available in the digital sector.

Another idea is delivering the CEIAG digitally to students with SEND. Ensure there is a digital side to every part of the careers education you provide – from delivery methods to practical exercises, and from case studies to work placements.

Support employers closely

Businesses can feel overwhelmed by the prospect of taking on a pupil with special needs for work experience, citing “issues” like health and safety, not having the right insurance, or a lack of experience. This is where extra support and dedicated advice for employers can really pay off, showing them the benefits of taking on a young adult with SEND and helping to address any concerns.

After delivering CEIAG for us, Digital Inc offered a number of students the chance to take part in supported internships at a newly created agency where they will work on real-life briefs from digital companies paying for their expertise. The scheme not only aims to increase the confidence of students but also employers, offering on-going meetings with teaching staff, advising on the best approach to make placements work, and ensuring that internships are not too onerous for employers in terms of resources.

Managing learning visually

Clear verbal and written instructions are a must-have when delivering CEIAG to students with SEND – as they are when working with all students. Backing up verbal instructions with written or visual bullets on a whiteboard or piece of paper allows students to remind themselves about what to do as the task unfolds.

Ensuring that teachers and trainers refer back to the prominently displayed written instructions, keeps students on task. As a particular careers project unfolds, there are often a series of tasks and learning points – displayed on walls via lists, diagrams and illustrations – that readily remind students of their learning objectives.

Pick and choose what you communicate to external experts

If you invite trainers or business experts to speak in school, then consider how you communicate complex descriptions of students’ educational needs. These are often written in jargon that varies from school-to-school and can do little to help external experts work with the young person in front of them.

For example, a trainer recently told me that a student with a really tough stammer was described to him as having “verbal dysfluency”. However, after spending five minutes with the student it was obvious what the problem was and how it affected them. And his teacher’s advice – “just be patient, he doesn’t like it if you finish his sentences for him” (common sense backed up by experience) – was much more useful.


Following these pointers can help to provide a safe and aspirational environment for learners with SEND, nurturing skills that will prepare them for adulthood and the 21st century workplace.

Recognition: Pendle Community High student Abdul Ahmed, 17, receives his Digital Advantage Excellence Award, given to the student who has grown the most during the Digital Inc project

Certainly, the results we have seen so far have been remarkable. In a recent digital business competition involving 220 students, our group of students won third prize and those involved in the programme successfully applied for £10,000 in funding to take an app they had designed to prototype stage.

We have seen these outcomes time and time again, where young people with SEND – given the right support – display their true talents. Stretching students in a positive, caring and inspiring way is the key to effective CEIAG, preparing them for the challenges of the real world of work.

  • Jenny Bayliss is deputy headteacher at Pendle Community High School and College, a special school for 11 to 19-year-olds in Nelson, Lancashire.

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