A collaboration between Nescot Head of PFLAW, Lynn Reddick, and a charity supporting youngsters with autism has seen changes to SEN provision announced during the Queen’s speech to Parliament last week; the launch of a national College Inclusion Charter and a visit by US President Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for Education, Dr Alexa Posny, to meet students and staff at the Surrey college.
The Finished at School campaign was launched by the charity Ambitious About Autism in October 2011 to address the unhappy lot of many autistic school leavers, who are unable to access education or employment after their statement of special educational needs ends at 16.
The campaign came to the attention of Lynn Reddick, whose work with learning disabled youngsters has seen her receive a Star Award and an invitation to consult at 10 Downing Street under Gordon Brown.
Reddick brought her experience in giving the learners at her college ‘bankable skills that employers need’ and her understanding of the challenges facing SEN youngsters and their families post-16, to the working party to lobby Parliament for change.
‘When you realise that just one in four youngsters with autism access any sort of education after finishing school you can see just how difficult the situation is. They are left with no goals, ambition or hope of escaping dependency on benefits or care,’ says Reddick.
With the group preparing to launch a College Inclusion Charter, encouraging FE providers to sign up to improving their offer to young people with learning difficulties, the campaign received a boost when the commitment was made in last week’s Queen’s speech to Parliament to extend the legal right to educational support up to the age of 25 for young disabled people.
The Charter launch on Monday May 14 by FE Minister John Hayes at the Ambitious About Autism Annual Lecture was also attended by US Assistant Secretary of State for Education Dr Alexa Posny, who was due to give a talk on the evening.
Watching the launch film, featuring Nescot students and illustrating the dramatic difference good quality local training can make, Dr Posny was keen to see for herself what was on offer at the college.
The following day saw a contingent of US education officials, college principals and directors accompany Dr Posny to Nescot College to see what was happening on the ground that has such a positive effect on outcomes for students with special educational needs.
While Dr Posny was pleased to see courses for youngsters with disabilities being offered in a mainstream local college, it was the independence and employment-focused approach which had the most impact on the visitors.
Asked if there was anything she had seen on her visit to Britain which would inform her work in the US she said:
‘Absolutely. As part of our visit to Nescot College, the depth and breadth of the career programmes offered to students with autism was awesome. It included the building of a mini mall, on the job training in upholstery work, running cafes, developing and selling pottery and so much more. This is what is needed – a wide breadth of work options for all students. Three students will become designers of video games and they talked about the market research in which they have become involved. I was humbled by their knowledge, intensity and most importantly, their complete engagement.’
It is this potential which drives the work of Reddick and her team. Reddick’s learners go on to find employment in hospitality, horticulture and retail and many other areas where their skills are extremely valued. The contrast between these youngsters, with careers, social lives and prospects, and the fate of those not lucky enough to live near a college offering suitable training is unacceptable to the team at Nescot.
Sunaina Mann, Nescot Principal says, ‘The thing to remember is that the work we do here is not difficult or super specialised.
‘It’s about making a commitment to the students, focusing on what they are good at and want to do and giving them the tools they need to achieve. If every FE college signed the charter we really would be half way to getting the results these kids deserve.’
For further information about the Finished at School campaign, including the new College Inclusion Charter, please go to:http://www.ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk/page/get_involved/finished_school/join.cfm
For information about Nescot Preparation for Working Life courses please go to: http://www.nescot.ac.uk/further-education/preparation-for-life-and-work