Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality is the theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
According to Scope, disabled people in the UK are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, underlining the importance of this agenda.
Four C’s of empowerment
At City College Norwich, we believe that further education has a vital role to play in empowering young people with disabilities. We have more than 200 students in our Inclusive Learning area who are empowered in four key ways, in relation to the curriculum, college, community, and their choices.
This applies equally to our students with profound and multiple learning difficulties, with high support needs, as it does to those with autistic spectrum disorders enrolled on mainstream courses, or to young people on our specialist pre-employment provision. We aim to fully empower our students so that they can be more empowered in their next steps after college, be that independent living, further study, or supported employment.
We offer our students with disabilities a highly tailored, flexible curriculum. Rather than fitting students to the curriculum, we shape the curriculum around the needs of each individual student. We start with the student’s interests and aspirations and work with them to build a learning programme that ties in with that. We call this: co-creation of the curriculum.
For example, we had one student with an interest in space travel. Whilst we couldn’t, unfortunately, fly them to the moon, we were able to secure the perfect work experience for them in a shop with sci-fi memorabilia.
Students are also empowered in their learning through their involvement in target setting. We have the flexibility to enable students to set their own goals, which is a key first step in the empowerment process. We don’t tell our students with disabilities what to do. They tell us what they want to do and we then work together to support them to get there.
Our college is a large and diverse learning community. Students with disabilities learn alongside teenagers on A levels and further education, ESOL students and adult learners, apprentices and degree students.
Through collaboration with other curriculum areas – for example joint activities with students in sport, hair and beauty, health and social care – we make sure that Inclsuive Learning students feel that they fully belong to the wider college community. This is further supported by their involvement in enterprises that operate across college, such as a stationery shop and deliveries of milk and snacks to staffrooms and offices throughout the campus.
We work hard to ensure that our students with disabilities are fully included and heard within the college’s participatory frameworks, which is backed by an active Students’ Union. Through an effective system of elected class reps, our students with disabilities are active participants within the college’s democratic processes. They are supported and encouraged to have a voice and be part of change, to be full citizens within college and beyond.
This aspect of empowerment is reinforced within the curriculum, with all students learning about their rights and equality within the context of understanding British Values.
As well as being active members of the college community, we empower students with disabilities through involvement with employers and other organisations in the local community.
This takes many forms, such as horticulture students planting flowers across the city as part of our Norwich in Bloom partnership with Norwich City Council, a wide range of work experience placements, voluntary work for charities such as supporting the Royal British Legion’s annual poppy appeal, community projects, and much more.
Once students are ready for external work experience, we have specialist staff and programmes – such as the award-winning Project Search and our MINT Supported Employment Service – that provide students with the support they need to adapt to employment settings. This is incredibly empowering for our students, who in some cases may not have imagined this transition to be achievable. It further supports their empowerment by helping to educate employers who, in turn, see what is possible and are then more likely to offer opportunities to young people with disabilities.
For all this empowerment of our students with disabilities to mean anything, it must be sustainable beyond their time at college. That is why we do a lot of work on their choices – in particular, to support the transition to adulthood and to employment opportunities. We seek to empower students to have a voice, treat them as adults, and put in place clear progression options over which they have a choice.
All our work with students is with their next steps, and choices within that, in mind. It can come as a very pleasant surprise for the student, and their parents, to see just how much progress they have made from the start to the end of their journey with us. Our end goal is that students are empowered to move forward from college with real options and choices before them, particularly in terms of employment opportunities.
Find out more
Whether you are a parent or education professional, if you are interested in finding out more about City College Norwich’s approach to supporting young people with disabilities we would love to hear from you!
We are proud of the work we do in Inclusive Learning, which is rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, and we would be very happy to show you around.