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Stuart Jacob, Falkland House School – Give those with ASN the support they need into apprenticeships and employment

Stuart Jacob from Falkland House School writes for Friends of the Scotsman, on behalf of the SCSC, on supporting those with ASN into apprenticeships and employment more generally.

The end of this month marks Scottish Apprenticeship Week (29th February to 4th March), celebrating the benefits Modern Apprenticeships bring to businesses, individuals and the economy.

It is an ideal opportunity to raise awareness of the merits of a Modern Apprenticeship for both employers and young people. This also provides the opportunity to highlight the considerable benefits in considering those with Additional Support Needs (ASN) as candidates for such positions and for employment in general.

Additional support for a child or young person may be required if, for example, they have social emotional and behavioural difficulties, learning difficulties, autism spectrum disorder, mental health problems or care experience.

Over 153,000 pupils in Scotland’s schools are classed as having ASN, representing more than one in five of the pupil population, of which 61 per cent are boys. Those young people with ASN and care experience represent some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised members of our society, with lower educational attainment than those not in this group, impacting on employment opportunities.

School leavers with ASN, for example, are more than twice as likely to be unemployed or workless as those with no ASN. In addition, those with care experience have some of the poorest educational and employment outcomes of any group of young people and are least likely to go into a positive destination after leaving school.

Facing barriers to employment, the young people in these categories often face disjointed journeys from school into post-school education and into the world of work, highlighting the need for early intervention and improved transitions into employment.

If we are to deliver sustainable economic growth and create a more equal society it is vital that all those in our society are able to reach their full potential and contribute economically. Without this we are doing not only our young people, but our economy a great disservice.

As a school which deals with boys who have ASN, primarily those with autism spectrum disorder, we offer realistic and everyday experiences which provide the pupils with the skills and resilience needed to meet life’s challenges.

One of our key priorities is to ensure we recognise achievement in the development of skills for work, employability, enterprise and independence.

Transitions are thoughtfully supported and the process of progression from the school starts early. Career advice and work experience is prioritised and tailored to help them realise their potential and focus positively on what they can do to achieve their career aspirations.

From the beginning of the placement, pupils are encouraged to consider how their personal interests and abilities can lead to future vocational opportunities.

An example of the way we individualise pupils’ experiences is Kieran, a 6th year pupil who has spent his secondary education with us. Kieran is currently participating in SQA courses at National 4 and 5 level. As early as 2nd year Kieran completed a taster work experience with the school catering team.

During his 5th and 6th years he also completed a work placement with the Scottish Government, tailored specifically for pupils with ASN, and continued in this vein by working at Perth Leisure Pool as a leisure pool attendant. As a direct result, Kieran is presently using part of his personal timetable to train at the Michael Woods Centre to gain his life-saving award (NPLQ).

Kieran presently attends Perth College on an infill placement participating in Level 5 Sports & Fitness. This has followed on from him successfully completing an evening course in Photography followed by Level 4 in Sports & Fitness.

What this all highlights is that educational and employment transition planning for young people should start early, linking with colleges and employers.

As a society, we have a collective responsibility to give the most vulnerable people the opportunity to realise their full potential and fulfil their aspirations. The rewards of getting these young people, many of whom boast excellent skills, into work are well worth it, with higher loyalty and retention rates.

The continued work of the Scottish Government in getting young people into employment, including those with ASN and care experience is to be welcomed. We would encourage employers to give these young people a chance and at the same time help their businesses succeed, especially in the sectors where we are currently facing a skills shortage.

As we mark Scottish Apprenticeship Week I would urge Scotland’s businesses to look beyond the label and look at the skills and talents of these individuals and help to get more young people, such as Kieran, into employment.

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About the Author

The SCSC is a collection of leading independent and third sector service providers. Members deliver specialist care and education services for children and young people with complex needs and care experience.