Bespoke career pathways – providing ‘Futures Offerings’ for pupils with SEN

As the number of young people in schools diagnosed with SEN rises, the present employment opportunities look bleak for nearly 95% of those with a learning disability. The Nuffield Trust, Quality Watch (Oct 2023) reported, ‘The proportion of adults with a learning disability in paid employment has decreased over time, from 6.0% in 2014/15 to a low of 4.8% in 2021/22. A slightly higher proportion of men with a learning disability are employed than women; in 2021/22, 4.1% of women with a learning disability were in paid employment compared with 5.3% of men.’

These figures highlight the importance of ensuring young people with SEN receive the guidance and support they need to be successful in life.

Just over a year ago, in January 2023, new Government guidelines mandated that alongside in-school careers advice, all students should receive ‘at least six encounters with a provider of approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships’, between Year 8 and Year 13. For young people with SEN, these ‘encounters’ do not necessarily provide an accessible, supportive opportunity. Despite meeting the new guidelines, we felt our students were receiving exposure and advice that was not impactful.

We began to develop a bespoke careers guidance package – ‘Futures Offering’ – to meet the individual needs of our students and enable them to achieve qualifications in view of their future aspirations.

Finding qualified Level 6 Careers Advisors is difficult, finding advisors able to communicate and support those with additional SEN is almost impossible. Therefore, we created a central team of outstanding advisors. Team members are qualified teachers with a background in SEN, upskilled or undergoing mentorship for their Level 6 qualifications, to be incredible Futures Advisors. Currently, all OFG schools are planning to undergo their Quality in Careers Standard award and Level 6 Careers Lead, and we hope to have all schools qualified in 2024.

Each school has a Regional Futures Advisor, qualified to Level 6 or 7. Advisors complete annual 1-2-1 interviews with every student, ensuring their voice is heard. These sessions are not limited, so the student can meet and speak with their advisor as many times as needed to make informed decisions. Our advisors also help source meaningful work experience and provider access opportunities; support staff training and provision implementation; audit provision in compliance with the Career Development Institute (CDI) and Gatsby Benchmarks; and provide a consistent point of contact for each student throughout their educational journey and beyond.

This bespoke and individualised service, guarantees students have the support and the resources needed to make important decisions about their future, and continue to be supported when they start their employment.

Previously, careers guidance has often been considered an ‘add-on’ – in both mainstream and SEND provision – rather than an integral part of the curriculum. Often, lowered expectations from those around these vulnerable young people, can in turn lower their own aspirations about their abilities and their possible future.

Students need to explore their own aspirations and also other opportunities they may not be aware of. A robust and bespoke standalone careers programme helps open doors, rather than shutting down ambitions. Employment enhances quality of life, contributes to the community, and helps to avoid loneliness or isolation. In the words of Sir John Holman, author of the Gatsby Benchmarks, ‘Good career guidance is important for social mobility … it opens pupils eyes to careers they may not have considered.’