Perspectives from the SEND sector
In my role as Careers Leader, I work in partnership with directors and senior leaders to plan, implement and evaluate all careers activities across both Catcote Academy and Catcote Futures. The Gatsby Benchmarks and The Careers & Enterprise Company’s SEND Gatsby Benchmark Toolkit have enabled us to develop a structured plan to provide an effective careers programme.
We critically evaluate our current practice against the eight Gatsby Benchmarks to ensure that we are equipping our students with the knowledge, inspiration and ability to take ownership of their own career action plans and succeed in their future careers.
Giving young people the opportunity to experience a variety of workplaces opens their eyes to roles they might never have otherwise considered or thought they could succeed in. At Hartlepool Aspire Multi-Academy Trust, we believe that this is particularly important for students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), who are so often defined by what they can’t do, rather than what they can. Having high aspirations for each and every student is at the heart of the Benchmarks, which has made it easier for us to whole-heartedly take them on board.
One of the Trust’s strengths is our network of over 60 employers who can offer our students external work experience opportunities to put the skills they have learnt at school into practice in a range of sectors. This network has taken time to build up but has proven to be invaluable, helping us to reach many of the Benchmarks.
We also run our own café, The Vestry, within Hartlepool Art Gallery. This enables us to deliver training in customer service and catering. We also operate Catcote Metro, our retail outlet in Hartlepool town centre selling an eclectic mix of ethically sourced goods from around the world and our own products created in enterprise and catering classes. Our students gain invaluable work experience in both of these areas as part of their key stage 4, sixth form and post-19 study programmes. Working in the community with members of the public, it is a real-life workplace with ‘nowhere to hide’ but they are still in a very supported environment with highly-skilled job coaches who are trained in task specific instruction.
In addition, we offer a range of in-house opportunities to boost our students’ confidence in the workplace and to develop their employability skills within the following areas: reception duties, horticulture, grounds maintenance, ICT, admin, hair and beauty, enterprise, reprographics, hospitality and catering and classroom support.
We can see that the range of initiatives we have in place has had a huge impact on our students. They have gained confidence and employability skills and progressed onto supported internships, supported apprenticeships and paid work.
We have seen a growing trend in the number of young people who have the desire and ability to pursue paid work, but are not as engaged within the traditional classroom environment. We therefore developed the Steps programme for 16–24 year olds, to help our students gain the relevant skills and experience needed for the world of work. Students are based in the training room above Catcote Metro in the town centre. This offers students increased independence within a safe environment, allowing them to feel that they have transitioned from school and progressed to college-style training and work.
The students are then offered up to three days of work experience in a variety of chosen sectors, to help and encourage them to make clear and informed choices when participating in a particular career pathway.
We have embedded literacy and numeracy within the programme, which has greatly reduced the pressure and associated stress on students, and has allowed them to develop their work skills at a pace that they are comfortable with.
Within the Steps programme, we are working in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Hartfields Retirement Village, based in Hartlepool, to develop our students’ soft skills and help them gain further knowledge of the labour market. Students attend Hartfields one day a week to access three different work areas per academic year. Departments involved include maintenance, domestic support, horticulture, retail, catering and administration.
All of our efforts to introduce students to the workplace are because we believe that offering a real insight into what a specific job entails, rather than having just a perception of what it might be, is a better way to help our young people make decisions about their futures. We believe that without a strong careers programme it is impossible to fully prepare our young people for their next steps.
We have regular meetings with our Enterprise Adviser (obtained through The Careers & Enterprise Company) and carry out regular audits using the Compass tool to identify our strengths and to close any gaps in our careers provision. This process has been extremely useful and has meant that we are consistently able to meet Benchmark 1: A Stable Careers Programme.
I am confident that the future for careers within our school and college looks increasingly bright, and I look forward to learning from other special schools as they continue their journey towards meeting and embedding the Gatsby Benchmarks.