Region’s first conference to boost career opportunities for young people with SEND

The Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) hosted the region’s first SEND (special educational needs and disability) Careers Hub conference

10 February 2020

The Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) recently hosted the region’s first SEND (special educational needs and disability) Careers Hub conference, bringing together over 80 delegates including teachers, training providers, parents, former students, employers and council officers to talk about how careers provision can be improved for SEND young people.

The SEND Careers Hub is supporting 29 schools, colleges and specialist provision who educate students with special educational needs and disability to work together and share best practice in helping their students to become work ready. The hub focuses on helping schools and colleges involved to reach the 8 Gatsby Benchmarks, statutory guidance for careers provision, which launched in September 2018. 

There were many speakers at the event including Katie Parlett, CEO of Lighthouse Futures Trust and Founder of Lighthouse school which was the first special free school in Leeds, Kelly Dillon from Careers and Enterprise Company discussing careers and OFSTED and Simon Gibb a law student who shared his inspiring story of how he overcame judgement, doubts about his ability from other people and how he hasn’t let his disability define him.

Simon Gibb, Law Student from Northumbria University said:

“Just because I have autism, doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I was always told that I would never make it in law, or to aim for something more realistic or that other people knew what was best for me, but I decided it was time to take back control and do things my way.

Now I’m at Northumbria University, studying law and I hope by sharing my story at the SEND Careers Hub conference I have proved that people like me can do it too. I want people and future employers to know that I’m Simon, a successful law student who happens to have autism.”

At the event, the schools, colleges and employers shared their expertise, experience and knowledge which kick-started the creation of a SEND specific careers plan and resources that can be shared across the hub, strengthening opportunities for more SEND young people through employer engagement, work experience, work-based learning, mock interviews and more. 

Throughout the event, teachers heard from employers and organisations who are committed to the hub, including Burberry, Engie, Morgan Sindall, Leeds Marriott Hotel and Department for Work and Pensions. They also heard from former students and parents who are passionate about the vision of the hub and it’s potential.

Jayne Uren, HR Manager from Marriott Hotel said:

“I’ve worked with SEND students for several years now and I think as an employer it’s important to give opportunities to these young people. The SEND Careers Hub event has been a great example of how businesses can engage with and benefit from people with special educational needs or disabilities.”

Employers are vital to the Hub model’s success, with all Hubs required to demonstrate strong engagement amongst local businesses and a clear plan for increasing employer engagement.

Sarah Hopkinson, Social Value Manager from Engie said:

“It was fantastic to see other like-minded employers at the event who also want to make a real difference within the community. For the SEND Hub to really work, we need more employers to get onboard, you can give so much and you’re developing your future talent.

It’s been great to meet first hand, the schools that have SEND students that we’re able to support and gain a better understanding of how we need to adjust and adapt our projects and our engagement to make sure it’s as meaningful as it possibly can be.”

The Careers Hub is based on a model first piloted in 2015 which saw rapid progress in schools and colleges against the Gatsby Career Benchmarks, a scheme to define world class career guidance for schools and colleges nationally, and independent evaluation showed increased attainment and career readiness among students. The SEND Careers Hub follows the success of the Kirklees Careers Hub where the LEP has supported 35 schools resulting in four schools already achieving all eight Gatsby Benchmarks.

Roger Marsh OBE DL, Chairman of the LEP and NP11 said:

"Of the 7.9 million people of working age with disabilities in the UK, only 53.2% are currently in work*. We hope to dramatically change this. The SEND Careers Hub is a great way to help young people with SEND to feel fully supported and go onto have successful careers.

I’m pleased to see employers getting involved with the SEND Careers Hub and I hope more local employers will start to see the benefits of supporting and employing these young people. We need to raise the profile of this agenda and break the stigma, because people with SEND really can benefit a business.”

Going forward, working group meetings between school, colleges and employers will now be held to work on collaborative projects, creating sustainable careers resources that can be shared and used beyond the lifetime of the SEND Careers Hub programme.

The LEP will provide a steady stream of advice and guidance to help the schools and colleges add value to their careers strategy including tips to present their careers strategy to their governing body or senior leadership team.

The LEP has made it easy for schools across the region to connect and reach out to each other for advice or to share best practice. At the start of the programme schools and colleges involved were asked to state the areas in which they had strengths and weaknesses to create a directory of support. For example, a school may feel they are weak at achieving Gatsby 5 and can now reach out for support to a school who have stated they’re strong in this area.

SEND careers resources will soon be shared on, the LEPs local careers inspiration website, making them accessible to schools and colleges who are not currently part of the SEND Careers Hub.  

Larger and more influential employers involved with the hub will work with other local employers, providing them with a model that they can use themselves when engaging with young people with SEND.

The LEP would like to encourage more businesses to get involved with the SEND Careers Hub to help more schools and colleges achieve a higher level of careers provision for the region’s young people with special educational needs and disabilities. For more information please email: