Perspectives from the SEND sector

Derwentside College

Derwentside College

– Large further education college in County Durham

– Specialises in vocational courses and apprenticeships

– 20 per cent of full-time learners have SEN Support and 10 per cent have Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans


Derwentside College offers a range of vocational courses and is one of the largest apprenticeship providers in the region. We are located in a deprived area with relatively high unemployment and difficult transport links. This impacts on both aspirations to work and availability of work. Around 20 per cent of our full-time learners receive SEN support, with over 10 per cent having Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans – a high percentage have also been identified as having mental health concerns and as such our College Wellbeing Practitioners have a very varied caseload.

An employability lesson at Derwentside College


Crucial to running a careers programme that can support this variety of learners is having a team of expert staff working together. We have several teams of experienced staff to support different elements of our programmes, including our Careers, Employability and Learning Support teams. Our Careers Team focusses on career guidance and comprises two Level 6 qualified Careers Advisers who have worked in colleges and careers services for many years. Our Employability Team delivers standardised careers input throughout the college to full-time learners in all curriculum areas, with all members being experienced in delivering to learners with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). One member of this team has over 20 years’ experience supporting learners with SEND and ensures that employability is delivered with appropriate adaptations to ensure access to information.


When we adopted the Gatsby Benchmarks as our guiding framework for careers provision, I reviewed the careers material that students could access on our intranet. I was struck by the fact that a lot of these resources were only suited to very capable Level 2 and 3 learners. This material would be difficult for some learners with SEND to access, navigate and use meaningfully. This prompted me to carry out a full audit of our careers provision across the college.

Given that the majority of our learners are apprentices who spend a large proportion of their time off site, I felt that there needed to be something accessible both in and out of college, which could be worked through either with or without teacher support, and that this should be available for ‘each and every’ learner – including those with SEND.


The college intranet can be accessed both on and off site so this seemed the best place to host the materials. Differentiation of existing material and some creative thinking was the key. I created a Careers Workbook for each level of learner, with materials specifically for learners with SEND, and different activities available dependent on need. The workbook acts as both a careers lesson resource and also a permanent record of activities and discussions. This can be accessed by the student whenever they need to, helping us reach Benchmark 3: Addressing the Needs of Each Student, among others.


A catering course at Derwentside College

We recognise that learners with SEND often need more input from us in order to make careers decisions and follow through on action plans. Therefore, we offer as many appointments with our Careers Advisers as necessary to ensure we provide personal guidance for all learners, as outlined in Benchmark 8: Personal Guidance. These meetings also include parents or caregivers if our learners want this. This extra one-on-one support has been particularly useful to break down barriers to higher education and ensure that, with the right support, this option is achievable for our learners with SEND. These barriers can range from a lack of confidence through to constraints around securing student finance. We therefore also work with internal and external support agencies to ensure these do not impact on the aspirations of our learners.


Our Learning Support team consists of Wellbeing Practitioners who provide emotional and mental health support, as well as a qualified Job Coach who provides appropriate support to learners in the workplace during both work placements and supported internships. A Learning Support Co-ordinator is also based in the apprenticeship team to enhance support and delivery of frameworks and standards for any apprentice with SEND. Members of the team also attend regular forums to promote employability and employment options within the Durham Local Authority area. The forums focus on Preparing for Adulthood and supported internship development, both of which we are highly involved in as a college.

In summary, as a college we have found that the combination of extra time spent with learners with SEND, investing in staff with extensive SEND experience and adapting and creating careers resources specifically for learners with SEND has helped us to meet the needs of all of our learners in the college as they progress into the world of work.