Change that leads to better lives

Moving forward with inclusion: A matter of will, not money

Linda Jordan reflects on her recent trip to Portugal to learn about how they approach pathways into employment for young people with learning disabilities.

Erasmus portugal 2

On the 20th November a group of us travelled to Porto in Portugal for the third and final study visit of the Erasmus project that we are leading for England with partners from Portugal and France. Our group included me, Ellen Atkinson, the lead for Project Search at Barts NHS Trust, the head of SEND provision from a college of further education and a job coach from another college.

The purpose of the visit was to learn about pathways into employment for young people with learning disabilities. We visited schools, colleges, employers and support providers. The hosts for our visit were Miguel, Manuela, Silvia and Monica all based in the Department of Special Education and Inclusion at the Polytechnic of Porto.

Our fantastic interpreter was Carla Maia, and of course we spent the week with our French friends from Laval. We had a brilliant week. On the Wednesday it was Ben’s birthday and it had already been arranged that the whole group would have dinner together. A cake was ordered and everyone made it a special birthday for Ben. We had three free evenings which gave us the opportunity to spend time in the beautiful city of Porto. Ben has been working at Manchester airport. He loves the job but he really wants to work for the Fire Service. Miguel organised for Ben to visit a fire station in Porto. Ben was really happy to have had this experience and to be made so welcome.

What did we learn?

  • Portugal has a full blown inclusive education policy. It has been made clear to schools, colleges, families and young people that inclusion is the future. Every child is expected to go to a mainstream school. This policy is relatively new, but it is definitely being implemented and the number of children attending special schools is rapidly reducing. Where children are still attending special schools, parents have genuinely chosen it.
  • Schools are organised in clusters. Each cluster has multi-disciplinary teams attached and these professionals support children in schools within the cluster. They also train staff. They are based in a “lead” school which is usually resourced to support children with more complex needs.
  • We visited a resourced mainstream secondary school and met some young people with learning disabilities. We joined them in a sex education class which was fantastic! The young people were all confident to leave the class to go for break with their friends without adult support. Really inspiring.
  • Project Search has reached Portugal! We visited a large food company in Braga called Jerónimo Martins and met some interns. It would be good to see this approach being embraced by the employer in the future rather than as a separate project.
  • We visited a beautiful restaurant in the centre of Porto which employs young adults with learning disabilities. The support provider has a history of working with homeless people and supporting them into employment. They have now diversified and are supporting young learning disabled people.
  • There are still a lot of providers running traditional training programmes for adults including young adults and we twice had lunch provided by trainees at their centres. The quality of the training was high as was the food. The providers realise that it would be better for young people to train on the job and this is their vision and where they want to head.
  • There are well developed and robust approaches to transition planning.
  • Portugal has suffered greatly from the recession. They have ridiculously sparse resources compared to us but what we saw proves that moving forward with inclusion is a matter of will not money.
  • Although supported employment is relatively new there is definitely a passion to support people into work.

It was good for the group to be exposed to a different system and it really made us reflect on our own situation and the practice In England. We spent a lot of time discussing how we can make more progress in supporting young people into employment. We recognised that in many ways we are privileged and that the pace of change could be so much greater. At that time, we didn’t know that the Department for Education would create a grant to support an increase in supported internships and that NDTi would be involved in supporting local areas to do this.

Next Steps

The PfA team will be attending a transnational meeting in Paris on the 15th and 16th February. The purpose of the meeting is for all of us to reflect on what we learned from the three study visits and what we can use to support the work of the three countries going forward. A report will be written, including an easy read version.

Each country has a committee including four young people, four family members, four employers and four education providers. The English committee will meet in the spring to decide how to disseminate the learning from the project. The Department for Education is now requiring each local area to set up a supported internship forum, bringing together local areas, employers and education providers. I hope that the work of the forums will benefit from what we have learned as part of this Erasmus project.

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