- Last year's nine-month pilot involved 12 young people spending three days a week as Premier Inn interns, and a day a week developing functional and employability skills at Gloucestershire College. Eight are now employed
- The authority has increased the number of interns to 33 this year, through partnerships with three colleges and 16 employers
"The overwhelming majority of young people with special educational needs are capable of sustaining employment, with the right preparation and support," reads the government's 2014 guidance for councils and colleges on establishing supported internships, a work-based training programme helping 16- to 25-year-olds with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) develop the skills to sustain employment. The Department for Education has been keen to encourage the expansion of these internships since leading a trial with 15 colleges from autumn 2012.
Supported internships seemed the logical next step for Forwards disability employment service in Gloucestershire, where the council's disability employment commissioner Vikki Walters and colleagues were determined to tackle the fact that "young disabled people don't often get the same opportunities as non-disabled children, and can often be written off". Walters and colleague Chris Haynes, lead commissioner for learning disabilities, convened a meeting in September 2014 with colleges, SEN post-16 strategic lead Lynn Morris and the British Association for Supported Employment, to discuss getting supported internships off the ground.
Gloucestershire College needed little encouragement to pilot the initiative. Kirsty Foran, who heads its Independent Living and Discover Pathways for SEND students, was keen to develop supported internships. "Supported internships give our young people the opportunity to become employable that was never available previously," she says.
In January 2015, Gloucestershire College gave the authority a list of potential recruits: 18- to 25-year-olds with moderate to complex learning difficulties, all on education, health and care plans.
The college took on the pilot's operational management, contracting with disability employment specialists Remploy to find a suitable employer, provide "job coaching" to interns, and work with the employer to ensure a supportive working environment. The college asked Remploy to find an employer large enough to accommodate all interns, with local accessible sites, a staff turnover that enabled vacancies within interns' reach to arise at the end of placements and a commitment to helping disabled people into work. Premier Inn ticked these boxes.
In March 2015, the college invited selected students and parents to an assessment day. Two Remploy job coaches provided Premier Inn with participant profiles, outlining the direction and support they needed, before discussing with managers what roles they could make available. They agreed interns would start with housekeeping roles; preparing guests' rooms. The job coaches provided pre-internship travel training to participants, brokered introductory meetings with their new colleagues and learned interns' roles, in preparation for the coaching.
From September 2015 to June 2016, 12 interns were spread over seven hotels, working between 9am and 2pm three days a week. They also had a weekly day at college learning functional maths and English for everyday use, followed by employability workshops, when they developed CVs and assessed developing skills. Each intern was allocated a job coach, who spent one hour with each of them daily. Coaches were trained in "systematic instruction"; breaking down tasks into a simple set of instructions, sometimes non-verbally, through photographs or prompt cards.
Job coaches met weekly with staff to help them understand interns' needs and they were "buddied up" with colleagues for support and mentoring, resulting in support from staff that Remploy business manager Leon Fisher describes as "the makings of the project". The college worked with Remploy to identify the employment-ready interns, for whom they could broker employment contracts.
The programme was funded from the £6,000 additional Education Funding Agency cash provided for each "high needs" student. It expanded in September 2016 to 33 interns across three colleges: Gloucestershire, South Gloucestershire and Stroud, and specialist independent provider National Star College.
Of the 12 young people completing internships in June 2016, eight secured full- and part-time employment: two at Premier Inn and the rest at other employers, in roles including housekeeping, caring and catering. Forwards and Remploy are monitoring their progress to ensure retention, and supporting the remaining four to find work. "We now have people working who would probably never have worked before," says Walters. "This means they can fulfil their ambition, be part of the community and make a valid contribution." Gloucestershire Council now aims to provide 40 internships each year.
This article is part of CYP Now's special report on special educational needs and disabilities. Click here for more