Stepping Up for the next generation
In the spring of this year, the Scottish Government will set out a plan to ‘halve the disability gap’ in Scotland following on from the DWP’s ‘Improving Lives’ plan to do so in the rest of the United Kingdom.
‘Improving Lives’ is largely focussed on reform of health and welfare programmes, as well as some LMI pilots – some of which focus on the transition from school into work. In this regard, Scotland is ahead of the rest of the UK, with an established programme already making a difference to the lives of young people who have learning disabilities and their transition from school.
Since 2009, ENABLE Works’ Stepping Up programme has engaged 1571 young people with learning disabilities all across Scotland, from Angus to Ayrshire.
Largely supported by funding from Inspiring Scotland (as well as some local authority partnerships), we have achieved a 98% positive destination rate for young people on the programme.
That’s 98% for young people who have learning disabilities, in comparison to the 78% national average for young people who have a learning disability.
Even the national average for young people without additional support needs is 3 points lower at 95%.
Of the 1571 young people, 335 have gone into sustained employment and 297 have started vocational training (such as paid Modern Apprenticeships).
Those who have left school and gone into Further Education, 60% have gone into vocational courses with supported provided by the college, rather than non-accredited courses.
Stepping Up features on Education Scotland’s National Improvement Hub as an effective intervention particularly able to engage young people in the labour market and was included as an example of Best Practice in the Scottish Government commissioned “Education for All – Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce by Sir Ian Wood.
Why has this programme been so successful for us? A number of factors…
1. Practical Partnerships
As a national programme operating in over 80 different schools, there are numerous stakeholders. Whilst it has been important to maintain senior relationships within local authorities and with governing bodies, we have made a more concerted effort to develop partnerships which can directly influence the support to young people.
Working regularly with teachers, support staff, parents and carers – our exceptional staff manage relationships which ensure the biggest impact for the people they support through collaboration.
That little bit of support from mum to make sure their son or daughter sets the alarm clock before their work experience, or the information from the teacher about a particular learning style – it’s all key to the right support.
2. Complimenting the Curriculum
Like all young people in the senior phase of school, disabled pupils have loads going on – and it’s been really important for us to compliment that, rather than disrupt it.
From the start of the year, we work with the schools scheduling in our times for group support and for one-to-ones and agreeing when we can start work experience programmes when pupils can be out of the school for many weeks in the workplace.
Where we deliver accredited training, such as the Introduction to Workplace Skills, we work with the schools to compliment prior learning and to ensure the school are evidencing learner outcomes we are supporting them to achieve. In this way, schools meet and demonstrate their own Quality Indicators, such as those set out in ‘How Good Is Our School’.
3. Early Aspirations
The Stepping Up programme starts at S4, when pupils are 14-15 years old, introducing them to broad concepts of work in peer groups. When they reach S5, we maintain some group work but start to work with pupils as individuals, widening their experiences of jobs through short work tasters lasting a few hours or a day in a variety of settings. The number of pupils who completely change their dream job after one day on their feet in the salon or slogging away in the refrigerated area in ASDA is incredible – but that’s the point!
When pupils reach S6, we work with them very intensively to create a transition plan tailored to their own aspirations. It does involve regular employability coaching (developing CVs, working on presentation, etc.) but mostly involves an extended piece of work experience supported by one of our team, tailored to their own ambitions.
This prolonged and early (though we’d like to start earlier!) intervention is key to a number of things – the relationship between the young person and our staff member, the commitment from the young person’s circle of support and most of all, the creation of aspiration.
So many young people with disabilities have little or no aspiration when they start working with us – and it’s this aspiration, and realisation that they can do whatever they set out to, which is key to them achieving success.
4. Individual Action Planning
The phrase ‘person centred’ has become ubiquitous in employment support services to the point where it doesn’t always deliver on its promise.
Stepping Up, however, definitely does deliver on that – particularly given the school environment in which it is delivered.
The young people we support have a huge range of support needs; often have complex social and emotional barriers; may have many different support services in their lives, and may live many miles from their school as it’s the nearest one in their local area…as well as having their own distinct and personal set of skills and ambitions for work.
Our employment coordinators are amazing. If someone lives in Stepps (for example) but travels to Motherwell every day for school and wants to work in a pet shop…we will support them to find work in a pet shop in Stepps. In this regard, we can achieve what schools usually cannot because we are able to work outside of the school campus, and we have many brilliant examples where our team have met the individual expectations of the young person as a result.
5. Specialist Support
As a learning disability organisation, we believe in the principles of supported employment as the most effective tool for supporting disabled people into work.
Whilst Stepping Up is a Transitions programme first, all our team are trained to the highest standard – the PDA in Supported Employment – and able to deliver 1:1 job coaching with systematic support, working with an employer to make modifications to working practice to make the role accessible.
Our programme and support is highly individualised, with thorough vocational profiling, regular reviews and complete ownership of the process by the person receiving the support.
Stepping Up is one of the most impactful and significant projects I’ve even been involved in – it has the potential to change many thousands more lives, such is the scalability of its proven model.
If Scotland wants to close the disability gap, and keep it closed, we need to look at models like this, supporting aspirations in the next generation of young disabled people and their opportunities for making a successful transition into employment.