How do you develop a meaningful pathway to employment for young people with SEND?

With Roseanna Gooder - Lead for 16-19 Pathway, Work Related and Vocational Learning at Swiss Cottage School, Development and Research Centre

When specialist leader in education, Roseanna Gooder, approached us about the employment pathway that Swiss Cottage School, a special needs school for pupils aged 2-19 in the London borough of Camden, had been developing, we thought that it was a great example of a preparing for adulthood initiative.

It is no secret that if you are disabled, you are going to face many more barriers when looking for employment. Sadly, this view that disabled adults somehow don't have as much right and desire to work as anyone else, is often reflected in the educational opportunities given to young people preparing to leave school or college.

It's great to see that there are projects going on in some schools though, and we'd love to hear of more of them, so if you or your child are involved in a similar project, do let us know.

The development of a meaningful pathway to employment for young people with SEND by Roseanna Gooder

The EmployMEnt Pathway: ‘Card & Design’ was the initial Social Enterprise that ignited the idea to develop an inclusive supported employment pathway at Swiss Cottage School. It’s the simple model of breaking a ‘business’ into departments and carving roles for individuals based on their skills and preferences.

At Swiss Cottage School, we are currently developing and running three EmployMEnt Pathways through our Post 16 offer; Card & Design- designing and producing greeting cards and pottery, Event Hosts- organising and managing events in our conference space, and Venture Café- a weekly onsite café service for staff.*

The EmployMEnt Pathway vision provides a meaningful and functional work experience and in-house supported internship pathway, for pupils aged 16-19. It supports pupils to understand, and be motivated to join, the world of work.

We also engage with the community, aiming to help local employers to successfully support people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) into employment.

The start of the journey

The idea for the pathways began when I was teaching a key stage 4 class who had complex autism and severe learning difficulties. As a team, we explored work tasks and job roles through a production line approach.

One of our first ideas was to prepare laminated symbols and PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) symbols for teachers across the school. For example, creating a set of symbols consisted of five different steps:

  1. cutting out symbols from printed paper
  2. sticking them into the laminating pouch
  3. putting them through the laminator
  4. cutting the laminated symbols out and finally,
  5. sticking velcro on the back of each one.

For any colleagues working in the classroom, they know this is a big job!

Each student sat at a station on a particular symbol-making production line and worked side by side, completing the repetitive tasks to create a finished pack of laminated and velcroed symbols. The students worked from left to right, picking up their task from a box to their left, completing it at their desk and then passing their task to a box on their right, ready for the next student to collect and repeat the process.

While this may not seem the most exciting job activity, it was the start of a structure that was familiar and could be built upon. The predictable and repetitive nature of completing one task that contributed to a finished product/item was meaningful.

The aim was not for each of the students to learn every step of the task so that they could make the symbols alone. It was to understand they were a valuable and important part of the production chain, working at a station that celebrated their skills and preferences for familiarity and systematic processes. Not only did they develop their teamwork skills, they developed job satisfaction and pride in their work.

Through the structure and predictability of the production line, we introduced a variety of different job tasks. These included work sourced from the community, such as charity mailouts and packaging greeting cards. The greeting cards idea stuck and has developed into one of the pathways we run today.

The model in practice

When we think of the job of ‘working in a café’ this can mean so much more than just preparing and serving food. Through our Venture Café pathway, pupils can work in up to three different departments: Marketing and Prep (designing and producing flyers or shopping for ingredients) Catering (preparing food) and Operations (serving customers or using a till).

As with the ‘Card & Design’ and ‘Even Hosts’ teams, the ‘Venture Café’ departments are based on skill sets. While a student may not enjoy or engage well with serving customers, they may enjoy the repetitive style job task of putting sandwiches together. Or perhaps they show fluency in matching, so would prefer to use letters to ‘write’ the menu on the peg board.

The pathways encourage students to explore job tasks and develop skills based on their preferences- just as we all do when engaging in work. 

Whether verbally, through use of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) or engagement and enjoyment in particular job tasks/roles, support staff collect evidence to inform vocational profiles and annual review reports.

As a support team, staff are continuously observing and making individual reasonable adjustments to the production process. This ensures students are working as independently and as naturally as possible. We recreate as close to a work environment as possible, so students feel and learn workplace behaviours. For example, putting on a work uniform and taking it off, signifies when work begins and when it ends.

The EmployMEnt Pathways give students the opportunity to trial in-house work experience and develop skills appropriate for the world of work. Through observing their preferences in school, it encourages successful community work experience placements or application of skills to a supported internship programme after they leave school. The end goal is paid employment.

It really is incredible to see the students take pride in their roles, whether through words or body language, which reinforces that they understand the importance and fulfilment of work.

Our Lockdown Wellbeing Postcard series are out now; designed, produced and packaged by the ‘Card & Design’ team. For more information, follow us on Instagram @sc_employme or explore the pathways and departments here: .

*Pre COVID-19.

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Renata Blower
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  1. sphil

    Great work being done at Swiss Cottage. We are starting a day service for young adults in Somerset which will follow a very similar approach – have shared on our FB page, which I hope is OK?

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