First, a bit of background, our teenager attends a special needs school, and is rapidly coming up to the time where he will be out there in the ‘real world’ facing challenges from an educational environment which is not necessarily set up to cater for special needs. In line with other schools, our school put on a Careers Event and invited parents and young people along to browse through the local options!
What can I say….the Careers Event was not an inspiring experience, in fact, it simply highlighted the lack of understanding from these further education facilities!
What should have been an opportunity to give hope for our child’s future simply reinforced the challenges that he is likely to face. While the colleges who attended had a lot of glossy prospectuses none of them gave a convincing explanation of how they dealt with special needs, how they supported students with needs and what the realistic expectations were for a qualification and future career.
There seemed to be a level of disinterest in the process and we were not given the impression that the colleges actively encouraged applications from students with special needs. The material available to take away was similarly generic and did not take into account the fact that the event was being held at a school for special needs. Looking through these prospectuses there were no sections on courses for young people with special needs. To our horror, one of the college representative appeared not even to realise that they were attending an event for a special needs school, which speaks volumes for the level of preparation!
Ultimately, the event felt like one in a long series of school visits that the college representatives did and they were not prepared to put any effort into recognising the fact that our kids face different challenges.
My strong suspicion was that all of these colleges have had students coming to them from our school in the past, however, this was not evident when we were being met with these dis-interested people with no real knowledge about the support available. Instead, if they thought about how young people with special needs think and engage, they could have brought along some real world examples of success stories and this would have been more productive than their glossy prospectuses…for example;
“Tim came to us with x exams or credits, he entered on our foundation course and there were 10 other students on that course with varying levels of additional needs. We support these students in a variety of ways (examples). Tim then went on to take our catering and hospitality course which he completed in 3 years rather than the standard 2. During his last year here, he obtained work placements at a number of different catering establishments and we worked with him to coach him in job seeking and interviewing. Tim has just started an apprenticeship with an outsourced catering firm”.
A simple example of this sort would have shown some commitment from the colleges to students with special needs. Also, it would have confirmed to us as parents that a pathway exists from school to college to job. Unfortunately, we are left feeling no better informed, and no more hopeful, about our son’s future.
The overriding element missing from the event was real concrete examples of options that the students might take to reach a particular job. What do colleges expect as entry requirements and how do these translate into the qualifications that our kids are currently working towards? Are foundation courses typically required for students leaving a special school environment, which colleges have them and how successful are they at ensuring young people with special needs pass them? Which colleges offer the best courses for particular vocational courses? How do the colleges support their students, particularly those with special needs, to obtain a job at the end of the course? This is, after all, the ultimate aim of all of this education.
As any other young person, our son has dreams and aspirations to achieve success in life. It may be that he is left more confused than most about what those dreams may hold, but he still wants to contribute to society, to live a full life with all its challenges and joyful moments. We are fully behind our son, and will continue to help him achieve those dreams….even if it means we have to be more proactive than most and seek detailed answers ourselves.