LEP launches UK's first SEND Alumni Network resource

A new project has launched by the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to support the 60,000 young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) living in West Yorkshire.

With funding from the national body for careers education, The Careers & Enterprise Company, the LEP through its Leeds City Region Careers Hub will roll out a new programme to bring together disabled adults with their former schools.

Last year the Careers Hub, which is part of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, launched a SEND Alumni Toolkit to support local schools and colleges to help their SEND students prepare for the world of work, by bringing in their alumni who have gone through similar experiences. Launched in April 2021, this resource is now used nationally by SEND schools and colleges as best practice.

The SEND alumni toolkit is a resource that supports schools and colleges in establishing their own SEND Alumni Network. It allows students with SEND to be mentored, inspired and motivated by ex-students who have gone on to achieve successful careers and further education destinations.

This month the project will expand further, with £60,000 of funding from The Careers & Enterprise Company.

Clare Hutchinson, a Director at The Careers & Enterprise Company, said: “The work around careers education taking places across the Leeds City Region has been absolutely fantastic. This project, aimed squarely at breaking down the barriers young people with special educational needs and disabilities face, is being led by the evidence and shaped by the experiences of students across the region. We want every young person to be able to take their best next step out of the classroom and into the wider world confident and prepared for the future.  This work being done by the Leeds City Region Careers Hub will help to make this possible for many more disabled young people, both locally and across the rest of the country.”

Six schools have chosen to help take the project further by evaluating the impact of SEND Alumni on student’s aspirations. Three schools will complete a newly designed careers education programme with a SEND Alumni in place and the other three schools will complete careers activities without the support of a SEND alumni. The aim is to build an evidence-base for approaches to careers education that improve students' learning and futures. The learning from the project will be shared with schools and colleges across West Yorkshire to support the regions 60,000 students with SEND.

The six schools involved in the project are: Leeds EAST SILC, Brighouse High School, Trinity Academy Halifax, Cockburn John Charles, Allerton Grange High School and Pennine Camphill Community.

Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire said: “There are over 60,000 young people in schools across West Yorkshire who have SEND and it’s so important we support them all to achieve successful careers. It’s fantastic to hear that our SEND Alumni toolkit is not only supporting schools and colleges in West Yorkshire but across the UK too, just proving that this is a very much needed resource. 

We must give these young people the chance to realise their potential and feel motivated and inspired to start their career, knowing that people like them have succeeded and will continue to succeed in the workplace.”

Through the project, young people with SEND have said they value having positive role models who have faced challenges like their own when facing the workplace. With support from ex-students, they’re given the motivation that people like them who share the same social background, education and physical, mental or emotional qualities can succeed and contribute within the workplace.

Lorna Aitken, Careers Leader and Head of Information, Advice and Guidance and Continued Professional Development at Brighouse High school said: “We’re looking forward to implementing the SEND Alumni toolkit and creating an inclusive alumni network within our school, showing our students what their futures could look like.

We will always encourage our students to strive for the best and aim high, however, being able to learn from people like them who have already achieved success in their careers will only confirm this to our students.

We hope they will gain the confidence and motivation to go for job opportunities that they didn’t previously think were suitable for them, and realise that they can have successful and fulfilling careers too”

Beyond this stage of the SEND Alumni project, the LEP’s future aim is to expand the support to employers and parents and carers to help them understand the vast capabilities of people with SEND and give them the tools to be able to support their own children or employees, which would be another first for the UK.

To access the SEND alumni network toolkit please visit: futuregoals.co.uk/learn/send-support