Column: The S word: special school students really ARE special

Sheila Quairney
Sheila Quairney
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Work can be great - for many people it’s fulfilling, challenging and rewarding, with constant variety and the opportunity to develop.

But we all know the reality. As employers or workers, most jobs contain elements which seem tedious, repetitive and boring. And it’s really hard to motivate the people doing those jobs to get them done well, even though those functions are vital to the prosperity of the company.

James at Dinnington

James at Dinnington

Wouldn’t it be great to find a group of people who craved the opportunity to do those sort of jobs, and who would do them well, with pride, day in and day out? And for those potential employees to feel valued for their contribution?

Well, there is such a group – they are the sort of young people who are in the special schools up and down the country who have some sort of learning disability and who are desperate to show an employer what they’re capable of. Many of them are on the autistic spectrum, and thrive on structure and order. They are very happy doing routine jobs, such as colour coding fruit in supermarkets, and because they’re happy, they do a good job.

I’ve recently started working at The Willows Special School in Rotherham as a volunteer Enterprise Adviser and have been struck by the focus of the school on what its young people can do.

We are increasingly recognising that, just because some peoples’ brains are wired differently, it doesn’t mean they can’t add value in the workplace. The school tries really hard to find the older students some form of work experience but it is an uphill struggle, because employers tend to focus on these people can’t do, rather than on what they can offer.

But taking on a student from a special school can be a very rewarding experience. Key is the support the school will give to make the placement run smoothly. Staff at Dinnington Library have found that working with James, from Hilltop School, has developed their own team working skills as well as providing an extra pair of hands – so much so that now libraries across Rotherham have been encouraged to offer placements to other students.

As Enterprise advisers, we’re trying hard to help the schools find work placement opportunities for their students. If you think you could offer a short period of work experience, on a daily or weekly basis, to a student with special educational needs, please do contact me on – wherever you are. It could be the best thing you ever did for your business.