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A picture of Tanzie at work in H&M

Great Preparation for Adulthood: Tanzie's road to independence


Preparation for Adulthood (PfA) is what a good education does for every learner. Sometimes, however, it can feel like adulthood is so far off that there are more urgent priorities to take care of in the here and now.

But a happy and fulfilling adulthood – including pathways to employment – does not ‘just happen’. For most learners, clear support and guidance are required from the earliest years to help them along to where they need to be. And for many children and young people with SEND, for whom entering the workplace is a huge ambition, a considered and planned approach is even more vital if they are to reach their potential.

Sharon Smith is Co-Chair of our Universal SEND Services Advisory Group. Amongst other titles, she is also known as Co-Director of Special Needs Jungle, Education Advisor, PhD Researcher and mother to Tanzie (19).

Tanzie has Down syndrome, and today – on World Down Syndrome Day – Sharon reflects on her experience of getting the support required to help Tanzie prepare for life after education.

“When my daughter Tanzie, who has Down syndrome, reached Year 10 we started to think about PfA. We knew that this really should have started in her Year 9 Annual review meeting but unfortunately nobody in that review meeting raised it or suggested anything that we should be thinking about. In advance of her Year 10 Annual Review, we asked that there should be a specific focus on the four Preparation for Adulthood outcome areas and that we should start thinking about the steps to take to provide Tanzie with the skills, strategies and knowledge she would need to develop independence and work towards future employment and independent living (whatever these might look like for her). Unfortunately, again, with the one-hour meeting there was very little time for this, and as it was only us, the school SENCO and one member of the SEN team present, very little discussion or planning took place.

“Tanzie went to mainstream school and whilst they were very happy for her to be a pupil in their school, unfortunately, we did not get very much guidance at all about how to start her planning towards adulthood. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and suddenly other things became more important.  This meant that we did not really start her PfA planning and preparation until she was in college, at which time as she approached her 18th birthday this all suddenly felt very urgent indeed!

“Following some long and protracted negotiations with the local authority and a SENDIST tribunal, we now have a brilliant educational package of support in place for Tanzie that is really working for her. Importantly, Tanzie’s education support now includes not only academic and vocational aspects (she wants to work with animals when older) but she is now receiving input from an Occupational Therapist who is working on the ‘Wheel of Independence’ with her. She is supporting Tanzie to develop a printed resource bank of information, tips and tools that she will be able to look back on when she is living more independently. Tanzie is also learning to budget, plan and shop for meals, and then cook and tidy away. Healthy eating is being prioritised. She is loving the fact she is choosing and making her own lunches two days a week. And finally, Tanzie is now receiving travel training to help her learn different routes and methods of travel, so that she can travel on her own one day. She is also being supported to use the Brain in Hand App, which is being funded by Adult Social Care, to give her the confidence and skills to be safe in her local community.

“Alongside her educational provision, Tanzie has also been able to get involved in developing important self-advocacy skills through the Down’s Syndrome Association Our Voice group. Our “Voice works on projects for different organisations such as the NHS and also helps to guide the work of the DSA and tells them what they think about the work they do. Tanzie was also involved in NDTi’s Time to Talk Training Squad, where young disabled people designed and delivered some training for professionals about how to work with young people. Both of these activities helped Tanzie practice presentation skills and sharing her ideas.

“Six months ago, all of this hard work paid off. Alongside her college studies, Tanzie now has a part time job as a Sales Assistant for H&M, secured through the Down’s Syndrome Association’s WorkFit programme. She helps on the shop floor, changing room, stock room and on the tills. She is thriving in this work environment and has just won Store and Area Employee of the Month for February. She was visited at work by her local MP too, who wanted to hear more about her success and how the store were supporting her employment.”

It seems fitting to take time today to celebrate Tanzie and the successful start she’s made on the road to independence. But we do well to remember that Tanzie’s experience was not always straightforward and other young people might not have such positive stories to share.

As educators, our efforts to empower and enable learners as they begin to move towards a life beyond our classrooms is key in ensuring a future generation that is happy and fulfilled and makes a full contribution to their communities. How we deliver this support through an embedded programme of PfA is one of the key themes we explore through the Universal SEND Services Programme.

Later today, we’re running the second in a two-part series addressing education to work transitions in partnership with DFN Project Search and BASE (The British Association for Supported Employment). It’s not too late to sign up, and the first part is available to watch on our website now.

Successful Transitions, Promoting Independence and Person-Centred Working are also the focus of three new Online SEND CPD Units. The webinar and units are free to access, thanks to funding from the Department for Education as part of the Universal SEND Services programme, and are just part of a wider range of PfA-related CPD available through nasen.