The transition from education to adult life is one that is often hard enough without any added complications. What does life hold in store for young men leaving the school system with special educational needs?
As per the Department for Education in the UK, any additional need that affects the ability to learn falls into this category. This means that anything from interaction with others, concentration levels or physical ability can cause issues to arrive, and the thought of living a fully independent life can be daunting. More than half of councils responding to a 2007 survey for the book, ‘Growing Up Matters’ reported that young people’s care packages changed during the transition, and it generally represented a significant reduction in services. Alternatives are now coming up to bridge this gap and seeking to create a change by ensuring proper support well into adult life.
One such example rests in North Yorkshire in the UK, where the Hub seeks to create personalised plans to map out the path into adulthood. Extended from the nearby special educational needs school Springwater, it moves past sixth form (akin to junior college in other countries) and begins to tailor learning towards the individual’s life.
Caroline Grieveson-Smith has worked within the special educational needs sector for the past sixteen years. Stumbling into the career quite by chance, Caroline did only one day as a supply advanced teaching assistant before being offered a permanent post. It was a world away from the nursery she had spent the previous five years employed in, but it was an environment where she thrived. The school where she is now placed works alongside students aged from two to nineteen, with a range of physical, mental and complex learning difficulties.
Her current qualification keeps her posted as a higher-level teaching assistant, but Caroline learnt early on that her experiences would be far more important.
‘I worked on secondment, working away from my usual place of work but still employed by them, in a place called the Hub. This provided personalised learning pathways for the young adults in my care. The purpose here was to help young adults with special educational needs into the next chapter of their lives.' These learning pathways listened to the aspirations and hopes expressed by the students and helped adapt them to a living, working reality.
Caroline found that some issues did target the young males in her care. The age ranged from nineteen to twenty-one, the cusp of adulthood. Many pupils with special educational needs are at times seen as emotional, especially when something is challenging.
Yet in today’s society, it is often seen as a poor show of masculinity to display emotions.
Whilst Caroline found this vastly unfair, she had to work to prepare her students for life after education and the world they would face. She said, ‘It can be hard to find students with realistic aspirations with a real life outlook - and with an idea of the obstacles they might come across.’
Caroline recalled students that found this particularly problematic, ‘one student joined us with no confidence and whenever he found anything too challenging, he would become very emotional. We helped him to mature within himself and become self-critical whilst also giving him the confidence to try new things. He left us completely ready to join the world of work as a confident young man with his own thoughts and ideas and the social skills needed.’ This meant he was able to try work experience in realistic fields and grow his skill set in order to settle into an everyday routine. Even practising public transport became a huge asset as his independence and confidence grew.
Personalised learning pathways seemed to work well for the students of the Hub. With an array of challenges to overcome, each vastly different, the main objective was to give the students confidence and independence to move into adult life. Finding aspirations are key, but participating in the community, staying healthy and living independently are given equal importance.
Caroline stated, ‘Personalised learning pathways have enabled me to get to know the adult, as opposed to the student. Parents sometimes struggled to see their child with learning difficulties as an independent adult, but the programme helped the students progress through this.’ The personalised learning pathways highlighted key issues or obstacles for that particular student and helped to establish ways around them, whether it be understanding public transport or communicating their independence to their parents.
Caroline has since moved back from secondment and now faces very different challenges in a class devoted to pupils with autism. The age range of these students is from sixteen to nineteen. Reflecting on her time in the Hub, Caroline stated of those who were in her care, ‘I would hope they are leading meaningful lives whether this be working or not and they can lead as independent a life as possible.’
Alternatives, where individuals can continue to be supported for as long as possible, mean that young men and their families have peace of mind as they transition into adulthood. This is something that is often missed - the question of what comes next for those who live with limited independence. County councils, help provide stepping stones, working alongside schools such as Caroline’s, to make sure this is something that is no longer missed.
Jess Grieveson-Smith is a UK based freelance journalist, trained in both print and broadcast. Her writing has taken her all over the world, most recently into South Africa and Belize. She has worked for newspapers, online magazines as well as radio and TV.