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Smooth transitions: how careful planning can ease the introduction to work for young people with SEND

Learners in schools or colleges experience change every day. Some learners need a great deal of support and preparation to effectively manage any change and can be derailed by even the smallest unexpected event. For the most part, however, small (micro) changes – like transitions between teaching staff, moving to locations around the school and shifts in activities – are completed without a great deal of upset.

But what happens when larger (macro) changes are required? Macro changes happen at various stages in education. This type of transition can include moves between year groups, phases, settings, and finally into the world beyond the school gates, and the focus of this article: school / college to work transitions.

They can be infinitely more stressful than micro changes, and while all learners benefit from having a positive experience of transition, learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) often find macro changes more challenging than their peers, and require extra support.

A smooth transition out of education is essential for preparing students for the demands of the professional world and coping with the many new experiences and expectations they will be faced with. Fortunately, there are plenty of general strategies proven to help prepare learners for employment. They include:

  • Career Guidance and Counselling – From the earliest years, exposing learners to the world of work and helping them to explore different careers can help children and young people make informed decisions about their future paths. Providing access to tailored career counselling and guidance can aid in identifying individual strengths and interests.
  • Internship and Work-Based Learning Opportunities – Incorporating internships and other work experience into the curriculum provides learners with practical exposure to fields that interest them. This hands-on experience enhances their skills and offers insights into the expectations of the workplace.
  • Industry Collaboration – Establishing partnerships with local businesses and organisations allows students to gain real-world insights, industry-specific knowledge, and relevant skills. This type of collaborative approach can also lead to potential job placements.
  • Life Skills Education – Beyond academic knowledge, learners need to develop essential life skills such as communication, time management, problem-solving, and teamwork. Integrating these skills into the curriculum prepares students for the challenges they will face in the professional world.
  • CV Building and Interview Skills: Guidance on CV building, interview skills, and professional etiquette can all boost learners’ confidence and readiness for the job market.
  • Networking Opportunities – Career fairs, networking opportunities and alumni connections can help learners build relationships with professionals and can even open doors for mentorship, work experience and job opportunities.
  • Preparation for Adulthood (PfA) from the Earliest Years – At every stage of the education journey, educators should be aiming to give learners the opportunity to develop the skills essential for the next stage, and establishing comprehensive programmes that encourage consideration and conversation about work from the earliest years is essential. Effective PfA needs to be embedded into the curriculum well before it becomes a requirement in Year 9 if it is to be a success.

Once a young person has determined their chosen pathway – be that volunteering, apprenticeships, traineeships or employment – more tailored strategies can be developed to reflect their specific needs.

The following activities might be useful to do before learners with SEND move to a work setting:

  • Working with the employer to create a 'transition pack’ containing information about:
    • the structure of the day
    • arrangements at break and lunch times
    • the physical environment
    • expectations of behaviour.
  • Providing familiarisation with new travel arrangements, including photos and maps.
  • Making prompt cards or checklists as reminders of new people or new routines
  • Organising extra visits to familiarise the young person with the work environment and the people who work there
  • Identifying a contact for young people and their families to contact for help, if required.
  • Working with external agencies to ensure that the environment is safe and accessible, and that any specialist equipment that may be needed is in place.

The hope is that by implementing these strategies, we can better prepare young people for the transition out of education, ensuring they enter the workplace with the skills, confidence, and adaptability needed for success.

Later this month, the theme of school-to-career transitions will be explored in greater depth in a two-part webinar from Whole School SEND, in partnership with DFN Project Search and BASE (The British Association for Supported Employment).

Successful Transitions are also the focus of a new Online SEND CPD Unit. Both the webinar and unit 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.