This week (November 12 – 16) is Colleges Week and new research from the Association of Colleges reveals the desperate need parents and teachers have for good careers advice. This is more true than ever if the young person they are supporting has a disability. Securing the right training for them is crucial, and yet their options seem to be under threat. When Matt Horspool approached his GCSE’s he knew that he should be thinking about how he would get into work. Not only via the right training and with the right qualifications, but how he would – quite literally – get into work. Matt, now 20, was born blind (as a result of Bilateral Microphthalmia and Coloboma) and went to a state funded special school in Birmingham until he was 16. “I did well at school but was a bit of a loner and a slave to my computer. I loved music too but always playing on my own. All the emphasis had been getting my GCSEs, but I had come to see there was no point in getting qualifications so I could get to uni or get a job if I couldn’t get to the interview by myself, cook a meal while I was away, or share my music with other people. I think I lacked the confidence to do any of those things until I went to RNC, a specialist college for the blind in Hereford.
“I started learning independent living skills while I was studying IT. What’s more I was able to get some work experience I was there, and so get advice from businesses about my future. “Now I am at Coventry University, have a place on my own and the busiest life. I play the piano for the local church, go down to the pub with my mates, sailed in a Tall Ships race this summer, and competed (and won) the Scottish Acoustic Shooting Championships,” says Matt. “Of course I am studying for an IT degree too. It was only when I got to university that I really felt the full benefit of what I did at RNC, of the independence and confidence the college gave me.” During this week – Colleges Week – the Association of Colleges has published new research underlining how many parents and teachers can feel out of their depth when advising their children or pupils about the right choices for their future. A staggering 82 per cent of school teachers don’t feel they have the appropriate knowledge to advise pupils on careers and 93 per cent of parents and teachers want children to have more access to employers and businesses as they make their choices. Perhaps an even more shocking statistic reveals that less than one third of visually impaired and blind people are in work today. At the same time they and their families are seeing the new Support and Aspiration Bill threatening specialist provision and centres of excellence that are working to give them training and so improve their hopes of getting into a job. At the same time draft legislation on Special Educational Needs reform does not allow families to request a place at a specialist college, even though they have researched their options and know that it would be the best option for their son or daughter. This means students like Matt Horspool would simply not be where he is today. That is why Matt is among the growing number of graduates speaking out about the power of specialist education and the way it transformed their options and outlook when they moved onto university or into work. They are urging young people who are visually impaired to think not only about the academic or vocational qualifications that are on offer to them as they choose a college, but the level of specialist teaching, the life skills and the work experience that are on offer, too. “We train students who have grown up with sight impairment or who have lost their sight due to illness or accident,” says RNC Principal Sheila Tallon. “What we see, in every case, is the hugely positive impact of very specialist teaching combined with specialist support and independent living skills training. We also offer students temporary employment posts so they can get real life experience of the work they want to do, and advice from the business partners we work with. “Over and over it makes the difference between our students moving onto university or into work as opposed to moving back home to rely on family care or benefits,” says Tallon. “Among our graduates are teachers, bankers, athletes, therapists, business managers, musicians and artists, computer specialists; men and women who are living full, independent lives. “At the moment the changes seem to be all about budgets, but reduced lifetime costs of an independent, working adult more than offset the funds required for specialist training. There are, of course, other benefits to be factored in, like emotional wellbeing and happiness when a young person fulfils their potential and moves away to start work, a family and an independent life. There are a shocking number of students who sign up to local courses, for want of choice, then drop out because of the lack of support, knocking their confidence while fuelling those NEET statistics that are such a concern,” says Tallon. “National centres of excellence – and we are one of a range of such colleges – are needed and valued. It would be a travesty to see them disappear.” This week – Colleges Week – RNC is inviting families to call or visit the college to get advice about the qualifications and life skills they’ll need to get into university or move onto work. RNC can also offer advice on funding rights and appeals. For more information about RNC, or other local options, call the college enquiry line on 01432 376621 or visit http://www.rncb.ac.uk/. Note to Editors Colleges Week, now in its fifth year, is a national initiative that seeks to raise awareness of the vital role colleges play in improving people’s chances of getting into work and helping businesses to grow. Working to a central theme of employability and work-readiness, activities will be held up and down the country to encourage people to ‘get into College’ and find out what it can do for them.