Special Work Experience
March 28 2021
Joe White, Assistant Headteacher at outstanding Ifield Special School , talks about the WeCanAccess and Ifield School Work Experience Project. Here he describes how they made the interview process accessible for their pupils with autism or speech, language and communication needs.
Covid 19 and work experience
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted our work experience placement opportunities. We could no longer access external placements. In-school placements do not have the same learning potential in terms of responsibility, expectation and excitement.
In stepped David and Emma Bara from WeCanAccess, an accessibility focussed social enterprise that I had been working with. They offered our pupils the opportunity to run their Instagram account. This would be a real online work experience opportunity with a visible, lasting outcome and real responsibility.
To the right is our first instagram post. The text says: ‘Hello everyone! We are the pupils at Ifield School and we will be using the @wecanaccess account to share things that make environments and places #accessible for us and our families. #accesibility #education’
Work experience for all
As a PCSN (Profound, Severe and Complex Needs) school Ifield provides education for pupils with a wide range of special educational needs. We have PMLD pupils (Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties), pupils with a high level of sensory needs, as well as autistic pupils and other conditions that impact learning.
We wanted this to be a truly inclusive project from the start but due to medical shielding of some pupils we started with a smaller cohort of Key Stage 4 pupils (aged 14-16).
We planned the virtual interview process to remove as many barriers to success as possible. This involved careful thought around the language used in the questions and the number of questions. Environmental considerations, such as level of sound of the computers and number of people in the room, were also important. All the pupils taking part in the initial interview had a diagnosis of Autism or Speech, Language and Communication Need.
We prepared the pupils by giving them copies of the questions to be asked, illustrated with Widgit symbols. Before the interview we taught the pupils concepts they might need. This series of lessons covered online safety, use of hashtags, taking photos, uploading images, what Instagram was and how it could be used. All of these lessons were supported by bespoke resources tailored to the needs of the pupils.
We wanted to make the experience as meaningful as possible and to model the preparation we may go through when applying for a job. David provided a full job descriptions and Emma sent a letter to the pupils explaining the expectations of the role of “Social Media Content Creators”. The pupils decided which specific roles they were interested in, writer, photographer or both.
We familiarised the pupils with Emma and David through a social story of what was expected and by showing the video on WeCanAccess.com where Emma explains the purpose of their initiative. We were delighted when one of the pupils wanted to start the interview by asking how Emma and David’s daughter was.
Three pupils joined the initial interview from two separate classrooms. This allowed each pupil time to process the questions and observe their peers. This was helpful for one young man who was very nervous and was able to ask that another pupil go first. This helped boost his confidence in answering and familiarise himself with the expectations.
Other pupils used the time between their questions to ask support staff questions or gain reinforcement that they were doing well – a type of instant feedback that was particularly important when unplanned or follow up questions were asked.
Once the interview was complete we asked the pupils to feed back their thoughts on the experience, so future sessions could be more adapted to their needs. This forms the initial stage of the longer term aim of this project. We want to provide employers with ideas of how they can adapt their recruitment processes to make them more accessible to job-seekers with unique skillsets.
The feedback from the pupils was incredibly useful. These are their key points for us to think about.
- Conversations via zoom are more difficult with technical issues being distracting.
- It was really helpful to have seen the questions and to have a chance to practise interviews before hand.
- Pupils had not fully linked the lesson content with the interview as they didn’t have experience of an online interview.
- When asked extending questions they found it more challenging to think and process their ideas under interview conditions.
- “R”likes the idea of the company making places more accessible.
- “R” thought the interview wasn’t very exciting because they didn’t ask where he would like to go to take photographs, he wanted to share more of his ideas. He thought of more ideas after the interview that he would have liked to share.
- “A” thought it would be better if they asked how he would write it, he wasn’t sure how to access writing the captions, but we have discussed this in class.
- Emma and David were nice and friendly and made both pupils feel confident and relaxed.
After the work experience interview
Emma wrote personalised feedback letters to all the pupils which they could use as evidence of their achievements to date. Our next planned development in the work experience project is our first eye-gaze user interview where the interactions are facilitated by the eye-gaze hardware and software. We have worked with our Speech and Language Therapist to develop a system where the pupil can take a full and active role in this project using the specialist equipment he uses to communicate.
As this project continues we want every pupil to experience the interview process. We want to develop ways to make this process more accessible to all young people.
Please visit and share the WeCanAccess Instagram. We want as many people as possible to see how the environment, architecture and community resources can be more accessible.
Joe White is Assistant Headteacher at Ifield School for children with profound and complex special needs. His is also the founder and owner of Inclusive Teach.
Inclusive Teach started as a reflective blog for my training, and has developed into a SEND focused website that provides resources for teachers and over 150 articles relating to special education. Tweets at @jw_teach
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