Creating Destination Pathways for Young Adults with LDD
We are all shaped and formed by our experiences, with a little genetic inheritance thrown in for good measure.
For young adults with special educational needs or disabilities, the influence of experience can be highly significant to quality of life, opportunity and emotional health and well-being.
There are key moments in each child's life when people, places and experiences dominate the agenda and become critical components that shape expectations and raise, or limit, the young person's aspirations.
Providers of education, mainstream, alternative or specialist, in the post-16 sector have a responsibility for the future choices of young people with SEND, far more than most other educators or influencers.
In my experience of seeing young people in specialist provision, college settings or alternative provision, there is a trend for using as a selling point, a bespoke curriculum, signifying quality, tailoring and a highly personalised service. So much store is placed by the word bespoke that destination pathways are often neglected.
Whilst the personalisation agenda pushes providers to consider how well the curriculum is tailored to each young person's needs, we must not neglect the factor of time. What suits a young person now, may not be enough to ensure the greatest possible breadth of choice and opportunity in five years' time.
So, here are 5 pointers for ensuring that destination pathways are kept firmly to the forefront of thinking and planning for provision in the post-16 sector.
Be guided by, but not constrained by, the interests of the young person
Many young people with SEND have frequently had access to a limited range of social, leisure or sporting activities, and so their Personal Profiles are necessarily shaped and constrained by those limited life experiences.
At a Westminster SEN briefing, 17th June 2014, on the needs of parents and young people with SEND, one mother spoke of how her daughter aged 8, had never experienced a before or after school club, or been invited to parties, or been accepted into a leisure or sports club.
The young girl with autism and learning difficulties was often excluded on the grounds that the club or activity were not insured adequately, or did not have available support to include her. The mother's lament was that her daughter's life choices were limited, and so, by default, were her own.
In using the Personal Profile as a basis for tailoring a curriculum, gather also the knowledge and views of parents and professionals who may have additional information to share. Include an ambitious, rather than a conservative overview of opportunities waiting to be discovered.
Remember the adage about fleas born in a box and fleas born in an open environment? The fleas born in a box only learn to jump as high as the ceiling of the box.
Broaden, rather than limit, curriculum choice and opportunity for learners
Consider new skills and interests as a dominant theme, alongside keeping fresh and active those academic skills that have been for so long, a challenge and on-going difficulty. Secure a balance between academic and vocational tasks so that a good breadth of skills and competencies may be achieved in the duration of the placement.
Use collaborative networks and other local educational settings as a basis for sharing resources, whether teaching staff or loaning skilled craftspeople, to add to the breadth and range of the curriculum that is taught.
In this way, real links can be forged not just with the adults offering their services, but between students in the mainstream and specialist settings too.
Extend each young person's social contacts and support network
Just as education leaders need to make deliberate choices to build their professional network, so too must young people learn to develop their social support networks. They can most easily do that by being encouraged to meet, work and study with different people not just on home territory but in other locations too.
Build up a network of strong local business links for the workplace that encourage viable economic opportunities for young people with SEND.
Far too many young people with SEND enter the NEET register, broken by intervals of enforced placements or short term courses or activity. More still subsist for the duration of their adult life dependent on the state and welfare, and on a supportive family to ensure their well-being and community inclusion.
The Office for National Statistics have published a Life Opportunities Survey, Understanding Disability, Wave 2 (April 2014) considering the impact of disability on 8 areas of life -
- Education and training
- Economic life
- Leisure activities
- Accessibility in the home
- Accessibility outside of the home
- Social contact
Here is a link to their report - http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_358917.pdf which gives the background to the longitudinal study, its goals and outcomes.
Foster opportunities for work experience that has an economic value
Pathways into volunteering within the local community is a default option for many specialist providers, yet it denies important opportunities for young people with SEND to see an economic value to their work. There is a need not to set expectations so low that they create unsustainable futures and a life-time of dependency.
The need for providers to seek out viable paid work placements ensures that CVs have some value in the workplace and can translate to greater employment opportunities in the future.
What will this young person be doing in five or ten years' time if their only experience of the work place is being occupied in a voluntary capacity, with no requirement for learning essential and transferable employment skills? The most-likely answer is 'more of the same' unless active steps are taken to ensure there is a path into paid, sustainable employment.
Actively forge links for a future that exudes opportunity, choice and control
Considering destination pathways requires careful thought, planning and execution. The ONS Life Opportunities Survey presents a holistic approach to considering a young person's needs across 8 areas of life. As a guide, these are useful benchmarks in considering what more can be done to forge links for the future, for young people with SEND.
It also requires a constant vigilance to consider what are the qualities, skills and competencies of each young person at different stages of their life? Which of those qualities or skills can be built upon to create greater opportunities for social and economic inclusion in in society? Which aspects of their character are the key-stone of their likely future success and happiness?